Love to Excess

    • John 12:1-11
    • Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago
    • Monday Noonday Holy Week Service
  • There’s no way around it: whatever his motives for saying it, Judas was right. How many others in the room must have thought the same thing? That perfume was excessive. A year’s pay, wasted. Imagine what good you could use that money for!

    The excess in this story is uncomfortable; at odds with Lent as a season of scarcity. Allow yourself to ask the question with Judas: what good does excess do?

    I spent my junior year of college in England, and on weekdays nights, I would sample the evensong offerings at the churches and the cathedral in town. In those churches, surrounded by music and history, sculpture, painting, carvings, song and prayer, there might be five people in addition to the choir. Here were churches that had taken decades to build, choirs with centuries-old endowments, so much excess, and the churches were empty. What good had all that excess done?

    When I came home, Mrs LaMaire, one of many wise older women at my church, mentioned how this struck her when she went to England—“Every Wednesday night,” she said, “they sing, they do the whole thing. And there might be 2 people there. Like they’re singing for no one, just for God.”

    Just singing for God: What good had that excess done?

    What good does excess do? How do we reconcile excess with the Jesus who tells us to follow the narrow path, consider the lilies and birds who do not worry about clothing or food. The Jesus who calls disciples to follow him into itinerant homelessness and calls us each to take up a cross with him on the road to Jerusalem? Judas knows it is excess, and he says so.

    But Jesus says, “Leave her alone.” The excess is just right. It is right for Mary to anoint Jesus, to wipe his feet with her hair, to give beyond what she really ought to give. It is right for Mary to love Jesus this way, while he is here. This is the way to love Jesus—with excess.

    And how often do we love Jesus this way?

    How often do we gaze up into the excess of space in high church ceiling, and see that it is not empty and wasted, but room for God’s praise to reverberate?

    How often do we sing in the shower out of sheer joy and gratitude for this Jesus who walks with us?

    Last October, I drove to the Salvation Army on Belmont with a woman from New Orleans. She had $150 in vouchers to buy a new household. And so we found the least stained mattress they had, sorted through racks of sheets and pillows, looked for warm blankets, sifted through boxes of utensils, pieced together a set of plates and pots and pans. And then, with two full shopping carts, we waited in line, waited for a manager, and waited for a total.

    She had $80 left. The manager said she had to spend the whole $150 at once—there was no way to use it later. So with $80 left, we passed the electronics, and she spotted a TV and a DVD player. We plugged them in. They worked. She added them to the cart. I wasn’t sure how much more would fit in my car. And wasn’t there something they needed more? Coats, another warm quilt? Wasn’t this TV a little much? What good would that excess do?

    You will always have the poor, Jesus says to Judas, but you will not always have me. Love me with excess while I am here, Jesus says.

    Mary does more than she can—gives a year’s salary, an indecent display, her own hair as a towel. This is the way to love Jesus. More than seems appropriate. To excess.

    This is the way to love Jesus, and this is the way Jesus tells us to love the poor.

    And for those who God places in our path—the poor, the homeless, the lonely, the prisoner, the refugee, the evacuee…our call is to love them like Jesus. Beyond what seems appropriate, to excess.

    How often do we second guess how much it is appropriate to give, to love? How often do we wonder how much those people God puts in our path really deserve? Enough to scrape by? Enough to get past the rough patch?

    How often do we love ourselves enough to douse with expensive perfumes and potions, fine clothes, the best meal
    and give others the things that are shoddy and little smelly?

    How often do we love our children enough to give them the best education and a little more
    and leave the schools of poorer communities crumbling and straining to care for their children?

    How often do we pile on the little comforts we can’t live without
    and forget those who have no comfort?

    How often do we love others to excess, to the point that it makes those around us gasp at the excess?

    According to Psalm 36, this is the way God loves us: steadfast and strong and forever; high as the mighty mountains, deep as the bottom of the sea; all the way to the clouds. God feeds us not just enough, but the abundance of heaven, and gives us not just cups but whole rivers of delight to drink from. God loves us to excess.

    God loves us to the excess of coming to us, entering the midst of our messy lives, living our human pain and sorrow, God loves us to the excess of sacrificing a child. God loves us to the excess of death.

    Thanks be to God for the excessive gift of Jesus Christ