What Love Does

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  April 3, 2022

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John 12:1 – 8
By now, I think most of you know or could probably deduce that I am a child of the 60s – meaning I was born in the 1960s, not that I am actually in my 60s – at least not yet.  Although, if I am careful and keep living, I just may get there, sooner rather than later.
Now, some of you may remember or may have heard me talk about Hal David and Burt Bacharach writing a song back in the 1960s that was recorded by Jackie DeShannon, entitled “What the World Needs Now.” 
What you may not know about this particular song is that it was originally released on April 15, 1965, just 10 days after Ledgewood Christian Church was started.  What the World Needs Now… is a brand-new church… 
Now I am sure there is some symbolism that we could unpack there but for the sake of time, I will just plant the seed and let you think about that some time later…
And although Dionne Warwick re-recorded the song that has now become one of her best known classics, she initially rejected the song.  In fact, according to the lyricist, Hal David, it was the only song that he and Burt Bacharach wrote that Dionne Warwick ever turned down.  Perhaps there is some deep seeded symbolism that could be unpacked there as well, but I will just keep planting seeds and move on for now.
But the lyrics to the refrain of this song that has been recorded or performed live by more than 100 artists, came to mind when I thought about today’s New Testament Lesson:

What the world needs now is love sweet love,
It's the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.
(“What the World Needs Now,” Burt Bacharach & Hal David © 1965)
And as we think about that “Love, Sweet Love”… I want to invite our attention to the theme WHAT LOVE DOES.
As we look at our text for today, we encounter Jesus in the home of His friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, just six days before the Passover. 
Perhaps you may have heard of them before… Mary, Martha and Lazarus… a trio of siblings who were known to be dear friends of Jesus. 
In Luke 10, the story is told of Martha, whose last name may actually have been Stewart, complaining to Jesus that her sister, Mary who Martha seemed to think was quite contrary, had left her to do all of the cooking and cleaning and tending to the guests. 
And in a temper tantrum of sorts, Martha, even had the nerve to ask Jesus, “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.” (Luke 10:40, MSG).
To which, Jesus replied, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).  Mary seemed to have a better sense of WHAT LOVE DOES… it sits at the feet of Jesus to learn from Him.
Now, over in John 11, in the chapter preceding our text for today, we find the story of Jesus encountering Mary and Martha again… this time after they had sent word to Him that their brother Lazarus, who they described as “the one you love so very much,” was sick. 
Yet in spite of the fact that Jesus loved Lazarus, He did not immediately go to Bethany to see what was happening with him.  John 11:5 says that, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,” but He waited for two days before He returned to Bethany.
Now some might suggest that waiting two days to begin the journey to see about a beloved friend is a pretty strange way to show your love for someone.  They might even question, “Is that WHAT LOVE DOES?”
But, as the story would unfold, it was an opportunity for Jesus to not only show His love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha, it was also an opportunity for Him to demonstrate God’s love and power for everyone else as well… because that is WHAT LOVE DOES… it reveals the glory of God.
Now, raising His friend Lazarus from the grave was actually the last miracle that Jesus would perform before He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane…. And it was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back for the chief priests and the Pharisees. 
It was the last act that set things in motion and led to Jesus’ journey to Calvary where He showed everyone what unconditional love looked like… where He gave His life as a ransom in exchange for ours because that is WHAT LOVE DOES… at least that is WHAT LOVE DOES when you are Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
But before we actually leave Bethany and head to Calvary, we come to this story in our text for the morning of Jesus once again spending time in the presence of His dear friends whom He loves so very much… Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead and his sister, Martha Stewart, I mean Martha, who was still busy serving… dear sweet, Mary.
Mary, the one who at one time sat at Jesus’ feet, who now came in with an expensive jar of oil or ointment that she used to anoint Jesus’ feet.  And the text says that when she anointed His feet, she dried them with her hair and when she did that the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Now I want you to try to imagine how much love it takes to not only anoint someone’s feet with oil but to then dry them, not with a towel, not with a cloth, but with your hair. 
That takes some serious love… to not only touch the feet of someone else but to use perhaps one of your most valuable possessions – a very costly oil of spikenard – to anoint their feet… and then to get so close to their feet that you are actually able to use your hair to dry them.
In the purest sense of the word, that is WHAT LOVE DOES… it puts aside one’s own discomfort to show love and compassion to someone else.
But not everyone was impressed by Mary’s demonstration of love and devotion.  In fact, Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus, said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages?”  (John 12:5).
The text then goes on to point out that Judas was not even the least bit concerned about the poor.  The fact is that Judas was a thief who used to make a regular habit of sticking his hands in the till, so to speak, and taking out whatever had been put into the money box.
And the prospect of having a year’s wages in the money box, which in Biblical currency was the equivalent of three hundred denarii… let’s just say that was far more enticing to Judas than using that precious oil to anoint Jesus’ feet.  In Judas’ greedy mind all of the money that they could have gotten in exchange for the oil had just been wasted.
But Jesus told Judas, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honoring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you. You don’t always have me.”

In other words, He was telling Judas that he and the rest of the disciples not to stop Mary’s act of kindness and compassion that was a once in a lifetime thing… preparing Jesus for His burial.  Once He was gone, they would have ample opportunity to help the poor, although Jesus knew that was probably the last thing that Judas would actually ever do. 
But for the benefit of all the others who were gathered around and could hear the exchange between Jesus and Judas… Jesus wanted them to understand that this selfless act that Mary had just performed was a perfect demonstration of WHAT LOVE DOES.
So just what is the lesson for us today?  Does this mean we should be going out to buy expensive bottles of Armani, Burberry, Chanel, or Dior and pouring them on each other’s feet?  Not at all.
But we should look at this text with a sense of appreciation for the extreme sacrifice that Mary made in order to show her love to Jesus.  However, there is also another message we can take from the text. 
And that message is simply this… once we show our love and devotion to Jesus, we are to take that love and devotion and share it with others… because that is WHAT LOVE DOES… it keeps giving and giving.
It is a very good thing to give the Lord the praise and glory He deserves, but He doesn’t want us to just stop there.  Jesus’ word to the disciple was that they would always have the poor with them… that there would always be opportunities for them to show love and compassion to those in need.
And we know this to be true, because 2,000 years later there are still people in need… people to whom Jesus wants us to show love and compassion… both here at home and abroad.
There is no shortage of people who are hungry and need to be fed… people who are homeless and need to be offered shelter… people who are naked and need to be clothed… people who are sick and imprisoned and need to be cared for and visited.
Jesus taught the disciples, and us, that that is WHAT LOVE DOES… it continually looks for ways to tend to the needs of others.
With your indulgence, I would like to go back to a line in the refrain of the song I mentioned earlier… what the world needs now is love, sweet love… no not just for some, but for everyone.
In the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song, Hal David shared that as he was writing the lyrics to the song, he was actually talking to God.  And if we take look at the lyrics to the first verse, we can see that:
Lord, we don't need another mountain,
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb,
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last until the end of time.
It is as if he was saying there will always be problems for us to tackle… there will always be people for us to help… there will always be ministry for us to do… there will always be opportunities for us to show love, sweet love, not just to some, but to everyone… because that is who Jesus came to seek and to save, not just some, but everyone.
In John 6 (39 – 40) Jesus said,
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
During the season of Lent, our attention is even more focused on Jesus’ sacrifice for us at Calvary.  A sacrifice born out of love… a sacrifice of far greater value than even the costliest oil that could ever be used to anoint Jesus’ feet… a sacrifice that made the gift of eternal life available not just to some, but to everyone… because that truly is WHAT LOVE DOES.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Lenten season is the time when we remember the extreme sacrifice that Christ made for us but it is also the time when we can rejoice in the promise of what is yet to come. 
Jesus’ death on the cross at Calvary is not where the story ends… in fact it is just the beginning of eternity for those who trust and believe in Him.
It is the beginning of living a life filled with hope and promise as we take Him at His word even as it is found in John 14 (1 – 3), where Jesus said:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
I don’t know about all of you, but I think it is, without question, a wonderful thing to know that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us and that He is going to come back to take us there to be with Him some day. 
It is what gives me strength to face the future, even when things can seem so bleak… because I trust Jesus and know that if He says He is coming back… He will honor His promise and He will come back… because that is WHAT LOVE DOES.
Regardless of the craziness that is happening in the world around us, we can hold onto hope as we trust in Jesus and as we take Him at His word.  That is why in John 16 (33) we read, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Things in this life may be more than a little challenging to say the least… all we need to do is look at what is happening over in Ukraine, or what is happening right here at home, at the gas station and the grocery store…
But let me assure you, when we trust in Jesus, we do not need to worry…
In fact, in His Sermon on the Mount, after Jesus explained to those who were gathered, that if God takes care of birds, and flowers, and the grass, there was no need to worry because He would surely take care of them.
Jesus told them:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31, 33-34).
Things may seem dismal and bleak right now, but we have the assurance that no matter what storms may come our way, Jesus will speak peace in the midst of them, and they will be still…
No matter how dark and dreary things may be, as long as we put our trust in Jesus, we will have the Light of the world who promises we do not have to walk in darkness.
And no matter how lost and alone we may feel, we have the assurance that we will never actually be alone, because Jesus has promised to be with us, “…always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Let us rejoice today because Jesus continues to bring the peace, the promise, and the protection that all of us need… because that is exactly WHAT LOVE DOES.