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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.
Having a picture of your pastor appear in the newspaper (website), dancing at an Oktoberfest may raise a few eyebrows.
“Big beers, chicken hats and lots of dancing at Addison Oktoberfest”
Dallas Morning News (9-20-13)
Let me explain.
First, I don’t like beer (not that I have a problem with beer in moderation – I just don’t like the taste).
But regarding the dancing – guilty as charged.
THE ALPINE DANCERS
For the past four years I have been part of a German dancing club called the Alpine Dancers G.T.E.V. Edelweiss. Last year I became the Vorplattler – which is the person in charge of the weekly practices. I get the dance room ready, set the agenda, teach dance techniques and search out new dances.
All that to say – that this has become a major commitment. In addition to being the busy pastor of a small church and teaching part-time at a seminary – I devote several hours a week, and many weekends to German dancing.
WILL YOU DANCE WITH ME?
While there are several answers to that – the main one has to do with my two daughters. Hayden and Taylor.
Hayden is now in college. But as a sophomore in high school she had a love for German culture, language and food. Because of this she was invited by a friend to come to a dance practice with the Alpine Dancers, who practice near our home. She enjoyed it and kept going.
I only paid it marginal attention, until she asked, “Dad, I’d rather not dance with other men. Will you come and dance with me?”
Fathers – if you ever have a daughter ask you, “Will you come and dance with me,” you know there is only one answer. So I put on lederhosen and began to learn how to polka, waltz and Schuhuplatter.
Hayden and I danced together for two years. We drove to practices together. Learned dances together. Debriefed on the goings-on in the club. Helped with fund raisers. Went to a dance convention in Orlando. It was our thing.
WILL YOU DANCE, TOO?
When Hayden graduated from high school and left for college my second daughter Taylor was 14 years old. This time it was me asking her, “Taylor, would you come and dance with me?”
Daughters – if you have a father who asks you to dance with him – please know that this took some courage. And also please know there is only one good answer.
Actually, I was not going to assume that just because this was something special for me and her sister, that it would be something special for the two of us.
But she was a good sport, came out to try it and was hooked.
Taylor and I – Addison Oktoberfest, 2012.
And so, now Taylor and I drive to dance practice every Tuesday night (actually she drives as she has her learner’s permit), and we debrief on club goings-on. She usually dances with another dancer – a teenage boy in the group – but I cut in whenever I can, and we practice at home. We will perform at five Oktoberfests over the next few weeks. It is our thing, too.
And Hayden loves that the dancing tradition continues with her sister – she is the first to “like” all those pictures on Facebook!
A NOTE TO PARENTS
Moms and dads – allow me to encourage you to find “a thing” that works for you and each of your children – something special – for just the two of you.
Yes it will take time, and money and weekends. But it really is true that time flies and soon your baby girl or boy will leave the nest – and those opportunities to dance, camp, run, play sports or something else will be gone.
If you are interested in German dancing – give me a holler.
I am pretty sure that someday each of my girls will find a young man of their own. And if tradition holds, my wife and I will pay for the wedding reception. And that is fine with me – because I want to make sure there is dancing.
And when the father-daughter dance comes up and I take my daughter’s hand in mine – it will feel like old times.
You can be sure the song will be a waltz – probably a German one, and we will dance.
That is our thing.
“The young women will dance for joy,
and the men – young and old – will join in the celebration.”