A few years ago I was preparing to preach from Mark 14:1-11; the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar.
You may remember that the perfume was worth a year’s salary. Judas took issue with the extravagant act, but Jesus defended her. “Leave her alone,” he said, “She has done a good deed to me.” The woman was preparing Jesus for his burial.
We learn that no sacrifice is too great for the Lord.
While He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table,
there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard;
and she broke the vial and poured it over His head. – Mark 14:3 (NASB)
LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT STORY
I was at the point in my sermon preparation when I was looking for illustrations. I wanted to find a modern version of the woman in Mark 14. Someone making great sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. Preferably a woman.
One of my favorite resources for sermon illustrations is From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya – a wonderful collection of short missionary biographies by Ruth Tucker.
So I pulled out the book and turned to the “illustration index.” My finger scanned the pages until I came to the letter “S” and to the topic of “sacrifice.” Seven missionaries were listed there. I picked one – a woman – and started to read about Marianna Slocum, page 363.
I had never heard of her before, but “sacrifice” was a good description of her life. She was a Bible translator for Wycliffe – who faced great hardship and never married. She gave up her life to missions so people could have God’s Word in their own language. She reminded me a lot of the woman in Mark 14.
So I came up with this introduction to my message:
MARK 14 – INTRODUCTION:
“How much does it cost?” That was the frequently asked question from the hundreds of Bachajon Indians who stood in line in 1965 to purchase the first ever translation of the New Testament into the Bachajon language. “How much does it cost?”
It had taken Wycliffe Missionary Marianna Slocum eight years to finish the job, which may seem to be a long time, but it was nearly half the 15 years it took her to translate the New Testament for the Tzeltal Indians – another tribe deep in the jungles of Mexico.
She had started work there in 1943. Two translations of the New Testament in 22 years! And once the dedication of the Bachajon Bible was complete, she was heading to her third project high in the Andes mountains of South America.
“How much does it cost?” Marianna Slocum turned to face the young Indian woman who had just asked her that question.
She was asking about the cost of the BIble.
Marianna considered the question – in its fullness – and then said with deep satisfaction – “Only seventeen ½ pesos”. She received the small payment and joyfully gave the woman her Bible.
Marianna Slocum is one of the great heroes of the faith. How much would it cost her to produce those three translations? It cost her everything – her whole life.
Author Ruth Tucker gives us this account of her and co-laborer Florence Gerdel’s life: “For both women the task seems insurmountable. Marianna worked long hours each day, struggling with the complexities of the language, and Florence struggled against the alcohol, filth, superstitions, and the demonic powers of the local witch doctor. And for all their struggles there were so few signs of success…”
But because of her great sacrifice she lived a life of great significance…
…So I was pretty happy with that opening story, and felt the sermon was heading in a good direction.
A LITTLE EXTRA WORK
Now one thing I did back then – and still do – is research my illustrations. So I “Googled” “Marianna Slocum,” and was quite surprised to learn that she was still alive! I sent an e-mail to the generic “contact us” link at Wycliffe, mentioning my use of the story.
I didn’t hear back and pretty soon it was Saturday – church was the next morning, and the sermon was done. Or so I thought.
AN UNEXPECTED PHONE CALL
Marianna Slocum and Florence Gerdel (2011)
Saturday morning the phone rang.
It was Marianna Slocum.
She was 91 years old, and still lived with her partner in ministry, Florence Gerdel. They lived in south Dallas, one block from the International Wycliffe offices.
Someone at Wycliffe had gotten my note, but my phone number had become separated. Marianna’s niece found our church’s website and my phone number.
We chatted about 15 minutes.
And that conversation not only ended up changing my sermon – but my perspective about sacrifice and ministry.
I explained to Marianna that I was preaching from the Gospel of Mark and was planning to use her life as an illustration of sacrifice – like that woman in Mark 14.
I even told her I had found her name under “sacrifice” in the index of my missionary book.
So I asked, “Tell me about the sacrifices you made as a missionary.”
And she said, “I never considered any of it a sacrifice but a privilege and a joy.”
It was not the answer I expected.
I wanted more colorful stories of mud huts and demon possessed adversaries. I wanted to hear how her fiancee had died, and why she never married. I wanted to hear about all the alabaster jars she had broken for the sake of Christ over the years.
So I tried again. “Yes, yes. But what about all you had to give up, to be used as a Bible translator? Can you tell me about that?”
And she said again (a little more forcefully), “Young man – I never considered any of it a sacrifice but a privilege and a joy.”
Maybe “sacrifice” in the index was not the right place for Mariana Slocum.
And it got me to wondering how the woman with the alabaster jar would answer that same question: “How did you feel sacrificing so much?”
How would you answer that question?
“Well, I gave up more than I wanted to… my service for the Lord has really set back our retirement fund… Since no one else stepped up, I felt I had to…”
Would the woman in Mark 14 have said such things?
I believe she too would have said – “It was no sacrifice at all – it was Jesus I gave it to!! What a privilege and joy! I only wish I had more to give.”
If you have given up much for the sake of the gospel – week-nights, week-ends and never had time for that hobby you think about from time to time. If your bank account has taken a hit for the sake of Christ. If you have broken all your alabaster jars – can I remind you what Jesus said?
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What a blessed reality that is!
If we are doing His work, our sacrifice is always and ever – a privilege and joy.
Marianna finished by saying, “To see people come out of darkness, and witchcraft, and fear of the devil and to be delivered into the marvelous light of Jesus. What more could you ask for?”
Nothing at all.