Wednesday-Unconditional Grace

We come to Wednesday of Jesus’ Last Week. Tuesday had been a long day, filled with a lot of teaching and a lot of tension. Wednesday begins with Jesus and his disciples at a house in Bethany, the home of Simon the Leper. Bethany was not far from Jerusalem, about two miles or so. We don’t know if Jesus is staying there or simply sharing a meal, but he is there with his disciples and with some other people who have gathered in this home. The focus of the story becomes a woman who is not named.

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Mark 14:1-9

The storm clouds are gathering over Jesus. The authorities have managed to convince on of his own followers to hand him over on a trumped-up charge. He is eating in the home of Simon, a leper. By the way, eating at the house of a leper probably would not have cast Jesus in the best light, be he is there. Where else would he be?

An unnamed woman brings an expensive jar of ointment of nard and she breaks it open. Nard had a very pungent smell, somewhere between mint and ginseng. Imagine this scent filling the room as she proceeds to anoint Jesus’ head with the ointment.

A group at the table begins talking, probably loudly asking why in the world is she wasting this ointment. It’s worth about 300 denari, which would be the equivalent of almost a year’s income for the typical laborer. It’s worth a lot of money. Some at the table perceive her to be wasting it. But that is the last thing that she is doing.

Typically, you wouldn’t use this type of nard but she does. Jesus defends her for using it. She gets it, she understands where this week is heading. He says, “let her alone she is anointing my body before its burial. Whereas the disciples don’t understand this unnamed woman does understand. She understands that Jesus will lose his life for his cause, for God’s cause. She acts out of the fullness of her own heart. She was willing to give up everything she had to honor this man. This is why so many refer to this woman as the first Christian. She believes who Jesus is before anyone will discover any empty tomb.

This unnamed woman understands the nature of God, understands what Jesus’ life has been about even when those who have followed him closely do not. She knows that God’s grace is priceless and it is not meant to be stored up. It is meant to be freely poured out, freely shared because it is so abundant. There is enough to go around, there is no need to limit it, no need to place to conditions upon it.  Those at the table think that the woman has wasted what is valuable This moment is valuable for the value comes not from what it in the jar, but what happens in this moment between the woman and Jesus is a moment of extravagant and unconditional grace.

There is enough. Where God’s grace is concerned there is always enough.  As we travel with Jesus on the road to the cross, we are reminded that what is really important is to see the mystery of grace reveled to It is revealed to us every way,  in moments large and small. that it is abundant and unconditional. Thanks be to God.

An Open Table

Mission TableIs your congregation liberal or conservative? 
The man asked me the dreaded question right there in the middle of the coffee shop. This conversation got serious fast. We had only been chatting for a bit after I told him I was a pastor. I know he was trying to get a feel for the church and my brand of theology. I told him we were an open table church. So, is your church liberal or conservative?

Brian McLaren writes that we “have intelligence on ice and ignorance on fire” in today’s religious landscape and by and large he is correct. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly we begin defining ourselves and more importantly God with neat lines and definitions. We don’t dare venture outside those boxes we put ourselves into for fear of being labeled. You love and are passionate about Jesus,you must be an evangelical. You believe its okay to read the Bible with a critical eye towards context. You must be a progressive. Where is the line? I suspect that the terms that us “insiders” cling to like a life raft mean very little to those outside of our institutions, except to serve as a turn off.  Are we more in love with our theology than we are with God and God’s mission and call upon us?

It’s a futile act to try and reduce this beautiful, wonderful, life-giving and even terrifying mystery we call faith to a simple term or two. In doing so, we are closing off so many possibilities for ourselves and our communities. One of the roles of pastor is that of public theologian. For me, a large portion of this calling is helping people to do their own theology (God-talk) on a daily basis. Could it be that we do our best theological work while also doing our best to follow the way of Jesus? Why are we afraid to let God’s movement of love and grace in our lives and churches stand on its own? Why can’t justice for all, compassion, and working together towards God’s shalom speak for itself?

It’s what Jesus would do, I told him. Best I can tell, God welcomes us all. An open table means that all are welcomed and there are no litmus tests of faith or labels.  God meets us where we are on our journey and continues that journey with us. There is room enough for me and there is room enough for you. There is room for everyone. 


Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Grace, and Lent

PeytonIn full disclosure, I watched none of the Super Bowl. I was tired, a bit under the weather, and didn’t want to watch a Vol and a War Eagle battle it out for NFL supremacy. 

I’ve read a lot today about Cam Newton’s actions during the Super Bowl. He didn’t pay proper respects during the National Anthem, showboats on the field, was a poor sport in defeat. Today, Peyton Manning is being heralded as the consummate professional who always wins with class and accepts defeat gracefully.

We have always been a culture that loves winners and had the ability to pile on others when they are down. It feels like its gotten worse, this practice slowly seeping into almost every life. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that people were piling on Manning because of an accusation that he had taken HGH? It’s easy to dismiss this as social media’s fault because of the anonymity, but I think that’s just an easy excuse. Could it be that we are simply more critical of one another?

We are lacking grace towards one another and this lack of grace is finding its way into every corner of our lives. Cam Newton is only 24 years old and will probably learn as he goes what it means to be a professional. I’ve witnessed guys at college games yelling from the upper deck at 18 year old kids on the field that they are idiots. We simply do not leave anyone any room to fail or fall short before we pile on them and give them the proverbial kick to the curb. I’ve seen this in how we interact with one another and how we talk about others.

We too often lack the gift of grace towards another. We do not allow ourselves or others the room to fail, therefore we become fearful to try new things. The consequences of failure in the eyes of others has become too great. The greatest lessons we learn often come from failure, but we aren’t extended the grace to make mistakes from which to learn.

This week, many Christians are making decisions about what to give up for Lent. I wonder what would happen if we gave up being critical of one another for Lent? What if we instead embraced the gift of grace that has so richly been given to each of us and generously offered that to others?



From Danny – A Note to the Sandy Springs Christian Church

Lent SeriesDear Church,

I hope this finds you doing well and having a great week. As we move through the season of Lent, I hope and pray that you continue to find a deepening in your spiritual journey and in your relationship with God. As we continue to move through Growing Together, I hope you see all the ways in which our church is making a difference. Continue reading “From Danny – A Note to the Sandy Springs Christian Church”

Signs of the Kingdom (especially on a day called Moral Monday)

Tomorrow  is Moral Monday in Georgia, a day set aside to rally our state government to put the needs of people over politics. It is especially ironic that on a day when we lift up people, the state plans to execute the lone female inmate on death row. Kelly Gissendaner, who was sentenced to death for her involvement in the death of her husband in 1997, is awaiting one last gasp effort to avoid death. In the last couple of days, over 400 area clergy have signed a petition calling on the state to halt the execution. Continue reading “Signs of the Kingdom (especially on a day called Moral Monday)”

Are You in Love with Your Model or Your Mission?

Kodal FilmI am probably on more church leadership email lists that I really need or want to be on, but most every article I receive has some nugget of wisdom I can file away and use some time. This morning I read one such article, which was around predictions about church attendance patterns. We know the general narrative: people attend less often today, even those considered regular church attenders. This theme has been pointed out in great detail by many, with nary a solution in sight.

Continue reading “Are You in Love with Your Model or Your Mission?”