Symbol (Oil)
February 14, 2016
Matthew 26:6-13

As early as three we were taught we had five senses: taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight. However, we have others: the sense of balance, the sense of acceleration, and the sense of proprioception, which is the sense of internal touch, where the body knows what position we are in, even with our eyes closed. This sense comes in handy if you are piloting an airplane in the dark.

UnknownIf you are a woman, some have said that you have the sense of intuition. I will confess on behalf of all the men that we are often clueless about anything that requires extrasensory perception.

For example, how many of you men have ever been clueless that there was a problem between you and a woman until you were informed that there was a problem? When you asked, “What did I do?” She said, “Well, if you don’t know I’m certainly not going to tell you.”

Then every time you guess and you are wrong, you are in more trouble than when you started because you end up confessing things she didn’t even know about, even though she’s supposed to have this sixth sense. images-2The point is men, if we were intuitive, would have known there was a problem but we were clueless.

Here is another example to prove my point. How many of you men have ever done something wrong and you thought you had covered your tracks so well that not even a blood-sniffing hound could know where you had been or what you had done? But she knew. Somehow, she sensed it. It’s an ability that was handed down to her from her mama that’s called intuition. Dad’s clueless, but mama knows.

I am, of course, stereotyping and over-generalizing, but I’m still hitting home with some of you. But before I get in trouble with women on this Valentine’s Day, let me say that when this intuition of yours is fueled by the Holy Spirit and laced with love, it is a beautiful thing.

Let me show you an example from the Bible.

In his gospel, Matthew shares that Jesus visited a man in Bethany that had contracted leprosy, a terrible disease where people lost parts of their extremities from infection and injury caused by this disease. Leprosy can be spread from person to person and this was known in Jesus’ day so lepers were often cast out of the community and forced to live in colonies. They were also cast out of the temple and synagogues because they were considered spiritually unclean.

However, Jesus did not exclude lepers from his ministry. In this story Jesus is visiting a man with leprosy in his home. It might have been the first visitor Simon had had in a while.

Jesus wasn’t alone. His disciples were with him. My intuition tells me that this visit was Jesus’ idea and that the disciples were tagging along without much enthusiasm.

For these disciples, leprosy must have felt as scary as the AIDS virus did to us in the 1980’s and Ebola in recent times. I bet they kept their distance.

That’s what made this woman’s entrance into Simon’s house a surprise. Without saying a word she made her way past the disciples and right up to where Jesus was reclining at the table with Simon the Leper.

images-4What she did was the result of her intuition. It was something most men would never have done or even have thought of doing. She came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume and she poured it over his head. Later Jesus said she did this because she was preparing him for burial.

This woman had an intuitive sense that Jesus’ life was coming to an end. She could see that his radical love for her, his radical love for Simon the leper, and for other marginalized people was causing such a stir among the established religious leaders that Jesus would not survive their hatred for him.

Perhaps she didn’t need that much intuition to see that. Perhaps she was just a better listener than the disciples because Jesus had said to the twelve, and perhaps to others, that his time was near. It doesn’t take a lot of intuition when we listen.

Isn’t that part of our problem in our relationships? We don’t listen. Whether it’s between spouses, co-workers, church members, citizens of community, between racial groups, friends, or enemies, we don’t use the senses God gave us to hear or see what is right before us, which means we don’t have the right touch to maintain the proper balance in our relationships.

We see but we do not perceive. The disciples saw a woman pouring an expensive ointment over Jesus’ head and they saw waste. They did not perceive the deeper meaning of her gift.

“They were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor’” (vs. 9-10).

Yes, they could not smell the sweet sacrifice that this woman was making as she lavished Jesus with her love. While she could have given the money to the poor, she could have also kept it for herself.

Jesus defended her and told the disciples to leave her alone because the poor would always be with them but he wouldn’t be with them long. This was part of this woman’s intuition. She knew she would not have many more opportunities to use what she had to bless her Lord and she wasn’t going to let that opportunity go by.

How many times have you allowed precious moments to go by when you could have lavished your love on others, thinking you had all the time in the world to do it, but you wanted too long?

I cannot tell you all the ways that this woman’s anointing of Jesus with this oil ministered to his soul but let me explain it like this.

Many years ago when I was the pastor of Trinity Baptist church in Moultrie, one of our female deacons came to my office and told me she had a gift for me. She said, “I know you have had a very stressful week. I want you to get out of the office and go down and get a massage. I’ve already paid for it. It will do you a lot of good and help release some of the stress you have built up in your body.”images-5

Now this was a very thoughtful gift. Sometimes, no one knows better than a deacon about the stress that the pastor deals with in a given week.

Her intuition sent her my way and I think the way she chose to help me relieve my stress was also something only a female deacon would have thought of.

As a part of the experience the masseuse gave me a choice of healing oils that would be used. I’ve learned that massage therapists like to use oils like Hazelnut, Almond, Grape Seed, Coconut, Jojoba, Avocado, Apricot, and Sesame Oil.

At the time I didn’t know anything about any of these oils. All I knew is that when I left I was going to smell like either a fruit or a nut.

images-8Massage oil has a practical purpose, which is to help reduce friction between the hands and the skin, but it does a lot more. The oil is part of the reason people recall massages with pleasure and return at times when stress in life has built up and they need the touch of healing hands.

Here’s the reason: the olfactory nerve carries impulses for the sense of smell from the nose to the brain. It is connected to the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is associated with memory and emotion.

This is the reason when you smell old canvas you might remember the days when you camped as a boy scout; or when you smell mothballs and it might make you think of your grandmother’s house because she always stored clothes in mothballs; or if you smell a specific fragrance and it makes you think of an old girlfriend who used to lace her letters with perfume.

Not only do we remember these things, but also the emotions that are attached to these memories can catch us by surprise. They can bring a smile to our face or take our breath away.images-9

Since this is the way our mind and our body work together, now you understand why businesses want to associate pleasurable smells with pleasurable experiences. Some realtors will bake a batch of cookies in the oven just before they show a house.

So when this woman anointed Jesus’ head with oil, this experience connected him with his faith.

All throughout scripture, oil is used to connect people with God. There are nearly 200 references that speak of oil to light our lamps, honor our guests, mark a sacred place, solemnize a commitment, comfort, consecrate, heal, anoint, and to prepare for burial. (“Search for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church” Rachel Evans, p. 2722 of 4048).

God is the one who connected our sense of smell with our ability to remember so it should be no surprise that he used these senses to His advantage in worship. He instructed Moses to see that incense burned on the altar at all times and he instructed Aaron to light the lamps at twilight (Exodus 30).

These smells became the smells of God. Light became synonymous with God. Worship became a sensory experience.

images-10My grandfather always smelled like Lord Clinton cigars. My grandmother often smelled like Jergens hand lotion. My dad often smelled like sweat.

Just as some people have a unique smell, the smell of incense in the tabernacle was designed to trigger the memory associated with God, that God cared about our pain, that God wants to soothe our sorrows, that God desires to help us manage our stress and anxiety, that God desires to heal our wounds, take away our pain, and help us choose a path that would prevent us from bringing loss into our lives.

So, when Mary and Joseph received and opened the gifts brought to baby Jesus by the wise men, they discovered
Frankincense oil. When they caught the aroma of the oil, they may have thought of the times they traveled to the temple with their families and smelled the burning incense and saw lamps burning as the priest offered a sacrifice for their families.

images-11When they opened the myrrh, a resin that had been used throughout history as a perfume, incense, and medicine, they may have thought of other times in their lives when someone in their family had applied myrrh to them when they were sick in an effort to bring them back to health. Myrrh was also used as a resin for preparing the dead for burial.

Now these gifts were given to Jesus as a baby, not just for the family to use, but these gifts were also very symbolic of the ministry Jesus was going to have, a ministry where he would be anointed with the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to the poor, a ministry where he would use his gifts to comfort and to heal, a ministry where he would anoint others to share his love with the world, a ministry that from birth he was destined to give his life for others.

So, it comes as no surprise that Jesus said these words at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).

In fact, the word Messiah, or Christ, means “Anointed One.”

So now, here he is at the end of his ministry and once again he has been brought healing ointments.

But what is so wonderful about this gift is that this woman had already been healed and this gift to Jesus was an expression of thanks for the healing she had already received. The anointing of Jesus is a celebration of her healing because of his ministry.

The disciples were seeing and smelling but they did not perceive. But this woman got it. And other women got it. It’s the reason they were the first to announce the Good News of the resurrection. She understood that the Anointed One had come to share the healing properties of his love with us. He had come to anoint her and no one had ever come with that message.

Through the power of His Spirit Jesus brings dignity to those who have been disenfranchised and inclusion into the kingdom for those who have been cast aside.

Grace has been given to those whose sins have kept them from God and separated them from others. A soothing of the wounds has been offered to those who suffer from domestic or sexual violence and courage is given to them to face the future.

A calming of the spirit is available to those who suffer from PTSD.

Hope and power to live a sober life is possible for those who have been addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The power to escape the clutches of an abuser and the resources needed to begin to piece one’s life back together become the hope of the abused.

A road map to financial recovery can be developed and followed for those who have suffered financial loss.

Unknown-6All of this and much more can happen because God is the Great Physician.

Forgiveness of our sins and the promise of heaven are the gift to all who come to Christ.

Not only does God wish to anoint us so that we might be healed, but God desires to anoint us so that we can help others find healing.

This morning I invite you to come to receive an anointing of oil as an ancient symbol of the healing which the Holy Spirit can do in your life. You can come with a prayer on your lips for God to use you as a healing agent in the lives of others. You may want to experience God’s presence in your life through the love and forgiveness of Jesus. This oil can symbolize God anointing you with His Spirit as you invite Him into your heart. Simply come with your hands cupped and our lay ministers will apply some oil to your hands. A staff member will be prepared to meet with any of you following the service.