Here’s my children’s sermon on John 12:1-8, “The Anointing at Bethany.” I wrote it for the fifth Sunday on Lent, but it might work quite well as a Thanksgiving children’s sermon. (You can find my regular Monday Meditation on the same text here.)
The Lectionary is mostly in Luke for Year C, but for the last Sunday before Holy Week begins it jumps here to John. In terms of John’s chronology that’s nearly right. He tells us it was six days before Passover, so really it was very close to Holy Week.
Anyway, John’s telling of the Anointing at Bethany is very interesting for its connections to other passages of Scripture.
- The story of anointing is recounted in all four Gospels.
- But John sets it as the aftermath of the raising of Lazarus.
- And only in John, the woman who anoints Jesus is Mary, Lazarus’ sister.
- This changes the apparent motivation: instead of gratitude for sins forgiven, this is gratitude for a brother’s life restored.
- Additionally, John’s telling subtly echoes Luke’s famous story of Martha serving while Mary sat and listened to Jesus.
As well as all that, John turns the focus strongly onto Judas, setting him up with a pretty rotten character. Judas, here, is a friend trusted with the group’s money, but who is actually an embezzler. He then covered his greed by hypocritically acting like he cared about the poor. It all seems to set us up to believe that Judas really would betray his Lord for cash.
But how much of this stuff is good for a children’s sermon on John 12:1-8? Probably not the embezzling and hypocrisy. Kids don’t need encouragement to be judgy.
You are, of course, free to use this children’s sermon, or adapt it as you find most useful. But, if you use it, please do one (or more!) of the following.
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A Children’s Sermon on John 12:1-8
Good morning kids! I’m so glad to see you. I think it is just wonderful that you are here in worship today. Thanks for coming up to hear the children’s sermon.
Today is the fifth Sunday of Lent. In Lent, we spend 40 days, plus six Sundays, getting ready for Easter. Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, but on Easter Sunday he was alive again. When Jesus rose up alive again, he gave us the greatest gift ever. He gave us new life, real life, forever life with God.
On each Sunday of Lent, our Gospel reading gives us something to help us get ready for Easter.
A Party Says “Thank You”
Jesus had friends who lived in the village of Bethany. They were two sisters and a brother: Martha, Mary and Lazarus.
Not long before today’s story, Lazarus had died — but Jesus came and brought him back to life. In today’s story, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are so grateful that they held a big dinner party for Jesus and his friends.
“Wow!” said Jesus when he came into the house, “It’s so nice of you to have us all over for dinner!”
“Well it’s the least I can do,” said Martha. “I mean, you saved my brother’s life! I’m just so grateful to you.”
“Martha,” said Lazarus, “he didn’t just save my life. He brought me back after I’d been dead for three days!”
“I know!” said Martha. “It’s still so amazing I can hardly think of words to say. So I’m cooking for you. That’s my way of saying ‘thank you.’ And of saying ‘I love you.’”
“Aww,” said Jesus, “that’s just great. You are totally welcome. And the dinner smells amazing!”
“Well come on in,” Martha said. “Sit down and I’ll bring the food. Where’s Mary? She’s supposed to help.”
Being Close Says “Thank You.”
“Well I’m going to sit down with you,” said Lazarus.
“Aren’t you going to help me serve?” asked Martha. “How come you never help serve?”
“Oh Martha,” said Lazarus, “I’m so thankful for what Jesus did that I want to stay really close to him. That’s my way of saying ‘thank you.’”
“You’re welcome,” said Jesus. “I’m so glad you are alright. I was really sad when you died.
“Okay, fine,” said Martha. “But I think the best way to say ‘thank you’ is to serve someone a really special meal.”
A Present Says “Thank You”
Just then, Mary came in with a beautiful white jar in her hand. It was made of alabaster, and seemed to almost glow with warm light.
Jesus and his friends were on the floor around a low table, leaning on cushions, enjoying the first part of the feast.
Mary came over to Jesus, where his feet were sticking out.
- She knelt down.
- She opened the jar.
- Gently, gently she picked up one of Jesus’ feet, and poured something out of the jar on it.
- Then she did the same with his other foot.
- And then she took her long brown hair and wiped his feet with it.
The room was filled with the smell of perfume — because that’s what she had poured out.
But just as soon as you could smell the perfume, you could hear an angry voice. It was Judas.
“What a waste!” he said. “That perfume could have been sold for a lot of money! Why didn’t you do that so we could give it to the poor?”
“Hey, it’s my perfume!” said Mary. “I get to use it for whatever I want. And this is my way of saying ‘thank you’ to Jesus.”
“You are welcome Mary,” said Jesus. “That was a beautiful, generous gift. Thank you. And Martha, thank you for this wonderful meal. And thank you, Lazarus, for sitting here and talking with me tonight. Those are all wonderful ways of saying ‘thank you.’
“I still think it was a waste,” grumbled Judas.
“Oh Judas,” said Jesus sadly. “You can show your thankfulness by caring for the poor some day soon. But Mary’s gift helps me feel ready for the hard things that are about to happen in Jerusalem.”
- I wonder how Mary’s gift of perfume helped Jesus feel ready for what would happen on Holy Week?
- I wonder if there are things you would like to thank Jesus for?
- I wonder what you might do to say ‘thank you’ to Jesus?
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