Party Favor Grace


April 30, 2014 by Beth Hess

Grace Tattoo in Pennsylvania

Grace Tattoo in Pennsylvania

Grace is such a pretty word. A single syllable of soft sounds. Not a single sharp edge. Like gentle rain falling on rich soil. A lovely and appreciated drink upon stable ground.

Amazing Grace is a beautiful song – a lyrical ballad born to be accompanied by church organ. We love to sing it with our hymnals perfectly perched at the end of our manicured hands. All cleaned up and wearing our Sunday best.

We say “grace” before a bountiful dinner table because most of us have never really tasted hunger. We bow respectfully and fold our freshly washed hands.

And for a long, long, long time – this was the grace I understood.

I was comfortable with Clean Grace.

But God is not in the business of keeping me comfortable. Or clean.

I listen to an American Christian responsible for training pastors and other ministry partners in the Middle East speak about his life’s work, and when he is asked about his biggest challenge to continuing the unparalleled success in sharing Jesus with Muslims, I am completely unprepared for his response.

He did not speak of political unrest. Or zealous factions looking for martyrs. Or deep-seated Muslim tradition.

No. The strongest opposition, he said, to reaching this region with the Gospel of grace is much, much closer to home.

“We struggle to gain the commitment and support of Western Christians who find it hard to imagine a revival could be at work among a people who have caused the rest of the world so much pain.”

And my heart broke.

We’ve not changed much in the last 2,000 years. We’ve always preferred our grace in the clean variety.

“Who is worthy?” It was a favorite pastime of the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. Round after round of “Why is Jesus talking to the __________?” Tax collector. Prostitute. Leper. Sinner.

Messy people.

We measure one sin against another. We rank each other’s worthiness. We pray passionately for victims, then with the same mouths, curse the perpetrators. We write off the worst offenders and condemn them to a “they did it to themselves” life.

And we turn God’s free gift of grace into a party favor for those we deem presentable enough for the Kingdom.

But I have finally come to learn that there just is NO SUCH THING as Clean Grace. Because we are all filthy.

None of us has walked the road and arrived with dust-free feet.

All of us need a lowly servant kneeling with a basin to rinse off the journey. And while we crave the washing, we could never have dreamed of the washer.

With a towel wrapped at his waist, Jesus himself pours the water, wipes away the dirt, and declares our feet clean. And then he was beaten and killed in the messiest of ways. All to finish the cleaning of our souls once and for all.

His grace is unmerited favor. By its very definition, it has nothing to do with deserveability or cleanliness. It’s not available only to those with certain categories of indiscretions and out of reach for others who stray too far out of our comfort zone.

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God,” Paul instructs the Church in Hebrews 12:15.

Which is why we who have been cleansed are instructed to grab a basin. We are called to bend low. To wash feet. To get dirty.

For the sake of the only true message of lasting forgiveness.

For the sake of Messy Grace.

Linking up with #ThreeWordWednesday friends. Link on the photo below to read more.


8 thoughts on “Party Favor Grace

  1. Very convicting post! I’ve been reading some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and your words remind me of some of his writing on the cost of grace.

    “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer


  2. Simply Beth says:

    Beth, I just loved this post. So much I’ve gone back and read several times now. A powerful message which you have shared beautifully. I’m so glad you shared with TWW. One more time…really, really good post. Much love.


  3. Beth, you struck a deep chord with me here. I’ve given this theme a lot of thought, so I apologize in advance for the length of this comment. 🙂

    We are so good at playing the “worthiness” game – assigning our own set of conditions to the coming of the Kingdom – aren’t we? If there’s anything we can read in our Bibles (after they cease being the rule-book they were never intended to be), it’s that God doesn’t choose the worthy. Because that would be NONE of us. Or ALL of us. (Depending on how you look at it.) So much of Christianity is all about trying to prove who is worthy and who is not; who’s in and who’s out; who deserves grace and who does not. But when we come face to face with our own existential limitations, we must eventually admit that we certainly have no way to see past our dark-glass-vision enough to parse sins – because whenever we do, we are rudely interrupted by the fact that our conclusions are (even subconsciously) according to our cultural values and denominational pet peeves, our life-story and personality preferences. In short: we are in no place to judge. (Sounds a lot like something Jesus said …)

    By the way, did you see the Rich Mullins Film, Ragamuffin? This movie was (in my humble opinion) one of the best portrayals of the absolute laughability of the “worthiness” game. I highly recommend it.

    Oh, and you know me – I can’t leave here without mentioning a related quote:

    “God is asking of me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of all my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God’s likeness. And to laugh, after all, at all preposterous ideas of ‘worthiness’.” (Merton)

    Fantastic post, friend. You were right – one of THE most important things ever written or learned.


    • Beth Hess says:

      We spend our time, don’t we, showing off how we can jump an inch or two higher than our neighbor when the goal is the moon. The Merton quote speaks to this beautifully. Thank you for adding it to this conversation.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, excellent By His Grace, pastor ron mcclung


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