Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Sweet Smell of Grace!

I have spent a good deal of my life thinking about the theological concept of grace.
What is grace?
How does God offer grace?
To whom does God offer grace?
However, the wonderful thing about the Gospel’s is that they don’t spend much time giving us great theological treatise about grace.
Instead they give us images, and stories that show that grace.
Our Gospel from John this morning is a good case in point.
In the first chapter of John’s Gospel John has told us that it is from Jesus that we receive, “grace upon grace”.
The rest of the Gospel is then images and stories that show us in real time what that grace looks like.
This morning we also get to an image of what it smelt like.
“The whole house smelled of the fragrance.”
Grace is not so much a theological proposition as it is a lived experience.
It got me thinking about all of us here this morning.
How do we experience grace upon grace?
What does grace smell like?
What does grace look like?

One thing I love to do on my day off is cook.
In fact, my perfect day off is cooking a meal for friends and family.
There is something about making food and then being in the company of people who will enjoy it with you.
I love it when people walk in my house and say, “something smells good.”
That is what grace smells like.

I used to work at home for abused and neglect kids.
That house had a certain smell.
Not all that pleasant.
Imagine a home with 13 teenagers living together.
This winter I was able to volunteer a couple of nights at the emergency cold winter shelter at South Church.
The shelter once all the guests where there had that same smell.
To me that is the smell of grace.
Where there is trouble and hardship.
I find God to be there.
In the midst of people struggling, and yet finding a way, I find God.
It isn’t always pretty, but it is graced filled.

I can still remember the smell of my grandparents house in New Jersey.
Or the smell of my grandparents house in Worcester, MA.
That is the smell of grace.
Because it was a place I loved going to and always felt welcomed and loved there.
How about the smell of pine needles, at camp calumet as you enter the outdoor chapel?
I have a friend who hadn’t been to camp in many years.
She said that when she walked on camp and smelled that smell of camp she cried, because it was the time in her life she felt most loved.
The smell of campfire late at night while camping, or the smell of the ocean?
All these things remind me of God’s grace, because they fill me with scenes of a living God at work.

That day in Bethany, Mary brings the smell of grace to that dinner.
She brings a jar of perfume and uses it as a gift for Jesus.
And it seems to others as too extravagant.
“This could have been used for the poor.”
Mary uses a year’s worth of wages on anointing Jesus feet.
Surely that is over the top.
Surely the money was better spent somewhere else.

That is what grace looks like.
It is extravagant and perhaps even indulgent.
Who in our lives have we indulged?
Who have we been extravagant too?

Yesterday, we had a service of gratitude that included many partners from our AA groups that meet here.
During this worship service people from AA got to share some thoughts on their sobriety.
Each story that was told was a ray of God’s grace.
You could feel and hear grace come out of those stories and be a blessing to all of us who heard them.
During the service people were cooking corn beef and cabbage.
You might still be able to pick up some of the smells of that meal.
This was our second year of having that service with people from AA.
Now the smell of corn beef and cabbage will remind me of God’s grace.

Grace is not merely a concept but it is tangible and has a feeling, a smell, a look.
And we always know it when we see it.

My grandmother loved to tell this story about my dad.
When he was in high school he got a new car.
One day he got into an accident.
My grandfather was away on business.
So she took it to the garage to have it fixed.
She told the man, “I would really like this done before Bob returns.”
The car was fixed and my grandfather never knew until years later when she thought it safe to tell the story.
It is story of indulgence, and grace.

My father learned that lesson well.
In high school when I got in a car accident I thought my Dad was going to be real mad.
All he said was, “I am glad no one is hurt, and I am glad you are ok.”
I didn’t deserve that response.
But that is what grace looks like.
It is extravagant, and it is indulgent.

Grace often makes us act like Judas.
We don’t like it.
We want someone to pay for what they did.
We want people to be smart and “do the right thing.”
God’s grace is like someone taking all the money they have and wasting it on perfume to wipe on someone’s feet before they die.

I like to think about God in this way.
I like to think about God over indulging us.
Sure you want to waste my gifts go right ahead.
I will be here when you get done.
God is extravagant to us, because despite all the ways we have tried to ignore God, he still sent us Jesus to show us this grace.

As we enter Holy week, as we contemplate together the death and resurrection of Jesus we remember the extravagant love of God.
We remember how much Jesus went through to show us this grace.

What I have discovered since leaving seminary is that the world is desperate for these stories.
The world needs to know of this indulgent extravagant grace.
What many people don’t want is the doctrinal answers, or canned theological propositions.
But they hunger to see and smell that grace.
And they do experience it in their lives.
Just as all of us do.

May all of you see God’s extravagant grace upon grace.
May all of you have sweet smell of that grace fill your house.
And may all of us learn to share, as Mary did, our own acts of extravagant indulgent grace.

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