The Love Language of Giving Gifts

Scripture: Mark 14:3-9
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
March 6, 2016

A woman woke up one morning, turned to her husband and said, “Honey, I just had a dream that you bought me a new gold necklace.  What do you think it means?”

He said, “I don’t know, but your birthday is coming soon.  Then you’ll know.”

A few nights later, she again woke up after having a dream.  She said, “This time, I dreamed you gave me a pearl necklace.  What do you think it means?”

“You’ll know on your birthday,” he replied.

The morning of her birthday, she again woke up telling him about her dream:  “This time I dreamed that you brought me a diamond necklace.  What do you think it means?”

“Honey, be patient,” he said.  “You’ll know tonight.”

That evening, the husband came home with a package and gave it to his wife.  Delighted, she opened it – and found a book titled, “The Meaning of Dreams.”

Clearly, this woman’s love language is “gifts”.  So far, in our sermon series, we have covered the love languages of words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, and today, we will more closely at the love language of giving and receiving gifts.  Gifts are visual symbols of love.  Most wedding ceremonies include the giving and receiving of rings.  I will often say in a wedding ceremony, “These rings are  outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual bond that unites your two hearts in love that has no end.”  Gift giving can be found in every culture; it is a fundamental expression of love that transcends all cultural barriers.  

Visual symbols of love are more important to some than to others.  Let’s take children for example.  If you give gifts to a child, and the gifts are quickly laid aside, and the child rarely says “thank you”, and the child does not take care of the gift that you give to him or her, chances are that “receiving gifts” is not his / her love language.  If on the other hand, the child responds with thankfulness, shows off the gift to friends and family, puts the gift in a prominent place in his or her room, and takes good care of the gift, then perhaps “receiving gifts” is her / his love language.

A gift is something you can hold.  It is tangible.  It says, “She was thinking of me.” We must think of someone to give that person a gift.  Some gifts are expensive, others are free.  Gifts do not need to be expensive.  Some may be purchased, found or made.   Of the five love languages, gifts are at the bottom of the list for me.  But they are at the top of the list for Karen.  So I carry with me a “Gift Idea Notebook”.  I try to listen carefully and any time I hear Karen say “I really like that” or “I would love to have this” I write it down in my notebook.  This notebook serves as my guide when I am ready to select a gift for Karen.  What I have discovered is that when I give gifts to Karen, it is one of the best investments I can make.    I am investing in our relationship.  I am filling Karen’s love tank.

As mentioned before, gifts do no need to be expensive.  But the woman in our scripture passage today shares a most expensive gift with Jesus. She gives the gift of Spikenard.    It was one of the last oils Jesus received before going to the cross.  Spikenard is an oil extracted from the root of a nard plant, grown in India.   Its going rate was 300 denarii, which was equivalent to a year’s salary.  Since it was so valuable it was carried in an alabaster jar, which the alabaster itself was a valuable work of art.  Alabaster was a soft stone, imported from Egypt into Palestine, especially popular for storing perfume and ointments.  It was light and creamy in color.  Those who have studied ancient customs tell us prostitutes of that day often wore a vial of perfume hanging by a cord around their necks.  In a culture where bathing was infrequent, a drop or two would be used to entice prospective customers.  But she brings, not simply a vial, but an entire alabaster jar.  

It is this spikenard that the woman in today’s gospel passage pours over Jesus’ head.     A woman walked into Simon’s home.  The woman was not invited.  And so her act was preposterous, scandalous, tenacious.  Who did this woman think she was?  Without hesitation, she snapped the long neck off of the alabaster jar, the oil dripping onto her hands.  Then she raised the bottle and extravagantly tipped its contents fully on his hair.  The fragrant perfume oozing down his temples, his cheeks, his neck, his chest, comforting him with love when it mattered to him most. This was a socially inappropriate, spiritually intimate act.  And Jesus lifted his gaze; his eyes met her eyes with gratitude, with kindness, with a smile.   I wonder whether the scent of that fragrant oil lingered in the air just a few days later when Jesus was on the cross. I wonder whether that scent brought comfort to his weary soul.

During this very intimate moment between Jesus and this woman, rejection and condemnation fill upon her.  The people in the room shouted:  “How dare she!”  “What a waste.” In the Gospel of John, where this story is also found, Judas leads the rejection, “The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!”  Funny it was Judas of all people.  Judas is the one who was willing to sell out for 30 silver coins – about 120 days’ wages or 4 months worth of salary – whereas this woman blessed Jesus with a gift worth closer to a year’s salary.  

Yet, Judas did have a point.  It was the Passover celebration, a time when traditionally gifts were given to the poor, not to each other.  Yes, she could have loved Jesus by serving the poor.  Many moralists among us would agree – that a year’s worth of wages could have done so much good for the needy among us.  After all, didn’t Jesus tell us earlier to serve the least of these?  

But in this moment Jesus’ response is simply “Leave her alone.  Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me?”  This woman knew that there would be other opportunities to give to the poor, but now was her time to give to Jesus, to adore Jesus.  Without a sound, she cried out praise.  Without a syllable, she spelled out the desire of her heart, to love him.    She gave a gift of lavish, excessive, wasterful love.

And then Jesus said something that has stuck with me through the years:  “She did what she could.  And because she did what she could, what she did will be remembered as long as I am remembered.”  And he is right – 2000 years later and we are still talking about this woman and her extravagant gift of love.  

“She did what she could” said Jesus.  What if…what if I did what I could?  And you did what you could?  And we did what we could?  Right here, right now, wherever God has planted each of us – all of us What if?  What if this was no longer just her story, but it becomes our story?   

I would like to share a story with you about a young idealistic college student who was wanted to share with others about his love for God.  

Through a church group, he decided to minister in one of the worst-looking housing projects in Philadelphia.  Frightened and anxious to share his new faith, the young man approached a very large, intimidating tenement house.  Cautiously making his way through the dark, cluttered hallways, he walked up a flight of stairs and heard a baby crying.  The baby was inside one of the apartments.  He knocked on the door and was met by a woman holding a naked baby.  She was smoking, and she was not in the mood to hear about Jesus.  She called the boy a few choice words and slammed the door.  The young man was devastated.  He walked outside, slumped down on the street curb and cried.  “Look at me,” he said to himself, “How in the world could someone like me think I could tell anyone about my love for God?  I can’t so anything right.”

Then the young man looked up and saw a crumbling old store on the corner.  It was open, and he went inside and walked around.  It was then he remembered the baby in the apartment was naked and that the woman was smoking.  So he bought some diapers and a pack of cigarettes and headed back to the woman’s apartment.  He knocked on the door and before the woman could start yelling at him, he slid the cigarettes and diapers inside the open door.

The woman invited him in.

The student played with the baby.  He put a diaper on the baby — even though he’d never put a diaper on a baby before.  And when the woman asked him to smoke, he smoked — even though he’d never smoked before.  He spent the whole day playing with the baby, changing the diapers, and smoking.  He did what he could.

Late in the afternoon the woman asked him, “What’s a nice college boy like you doing in place like this?”  He told her about his love for God.   When he stopped talking, the woman looked at him and said, “Pray for me and my baby that we make it out of here alive.”  He prayed.

This young man’s love for God led him to change diapers and to pray for a struggling women and a crying infant  (Doug Webster, The Easy Yoke, pg 136 – 37).   This young man did what he could!

So, like this young idealistic college student, like this woman in today’s passage, what if we did what we could?  What if I did what I could?  What if you did what you could?  What if we quit focusing on what we don’t have and considered instead what we do have?   What would our spikenard look like?

+ We might offer a homeless person a Subway gift card.

+ We might make a casserole for someone who is sick or in need.

+We might clean out our closet and give the clothes that we haven’t worn in the last year to a homeless organization.

+We might buy a new basketball for the teenager in our life.

+ We might plant spring flowers in the garden.  

+ We might give a living gift and plant a tree in honor of another, maybe in a park or forest, where others can enjoy it, too.

+ We might send a note of appreciation to our child’s teacher.

+We might enroll in an art class: ceramics, painting, wood carving – for the sole purpose of making a gift for a friend or family member.

What if…we did what we could?  I invite you to share extravagantly your gift of spikenard, whatever that may look like. I invite you to do what you can.