Mazie Chesser’s Memorial Meditation

October 6, 2018

(This was delivered at her service on September 30, 2018)

John 12:1-8

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


Mazie Lauthan was on course to live a life of exemplary Christian service and commitment. Upon graduation from college she began working at a boarding school for young African American girls who wouldn’t have had access to an education in their racially segregated and oppressive hometowns. She also participated in these caravans of young people who would go to churches in different places to help rejuvenate youth programs. That’s what she was doing when the fine trajectory she was on took an unforeseen turn – she met Lewis.


I couldn’t quite remember the details of how they met and got together, but I remembered it being pretty unusual. I asked Lewis to remind me of the story and it turns out that it was even stranger than I thought. Mazie was on one of those youth ministry revitalization caravans in northern Washington state, and Lewis was working for Boeing in Seattle. He had been invited to meet a friend from college at the caravan sight, and when he went up there he met Mazie and was instantly smitten. Over the course of that first weekend he was asking her where they should spend their honeymoon. She said she didn’t know where he should spend his but that she planned to go to Mexico.


I think Lewis saw her again a couple of weeks later at a church in Spokane, Washington, and right after that he asked the Boeing human resource officer to transfer him to a location closer to Asheville NC, where Mazie was living and working. The closest Boeing plant was in Florida, and that’s where he was headed within a couple of weeks, and on that trip he stopped by Mazie’s parents house in Nebraska. When Mazie’s mother answered the door, he asked her if she was Mrs. Louthan. She corrected his pronunciation of her name, and after fumbling her name again and not telling her his own name he said he wanted to meet her because he intended to marry her daughter. A reasonable response would have been to shut the door, but she responded by saying, I’ve been praying that she would meet someone this summer.


I don’t know if she became more specific with her prayers after that or not, but Lewis’ intentions became a reality before long. He said it took about four months to win her over, but she did warm up to him. And with that, Mazie went from living an exemplary life of Christian service and commitment to an extraordinary life of discipleship. Lewis was an equally committed Christian, but I dare say her marriage to Lewis took her in to some unexplored mission fields. I know this to be true because I was one of the students at the Wesley Foundation where Lewis and Mazie both worked when I arrived there in 1977.


Lewis was the director, but Mazie was the host. I think her official title was secretary, but she’s the person you could count on seeing and who made sure you feel like you were one of her favorite children.


When I think of this image of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with that costly perfume I think of a person who knew how and when to exhibit extraordinary love. Nobody other than Mary really understood what Jesus was facing and how timely it would be to anoint him in that way. I think Mazie had a similar ability to know when and how to extend extraordinary love. I don’t really remember her words (actually I do remember some of her words – I can recall very clearly the way she would say: Ooohh Lewis!) but I remember her kindness, and her ability to make you feel loved.


I also remember her authenticity. She had a genuine presence. And she also had something that’s not easy to describe in church, but I think you’ll understand what I mean when I say she had a sensitive bull-bleep meter. Mazie was an authentic person and she had little patience with inauthentic religiosity. I never heard her use the word bull-bleep to describe the behavior of someone parading their faith, but she knew it when she saw it. And we all know it happens in this business. It started happening before Jesus was crucified. This criticism that Mary got from Judas wasn’t motivated by his concern for the poor – it was his love of money that motivated him to say what he did, and I know Mazie had little patience with anyone who was more interested in money than the truth.


I consider Mazie to have been a truly holy person. As did Lewis and anyone else who knew her. Occasionally I would tell Lewis of some frustration or obstacle I was facing, and he wouldn’t say he would pray about it, he would say that he would get Mazie to pray about it, and I was always glad to hear that.


Mazie set out at an early age to live an exemplary life of Christian service and commitment. I’m so glad Lewis altered her trajectory and brought her to Arkansas where she came to bring us the love of Christ in her particularly extraordinary way. Mazie Chesser was a true and gifted disciple of Jesus Christ. Her presence was a gift, and I feel blessed to have known her.


Thanks be to God. Amen.


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