The Alabaster Jar

The Anglican internet lines are hot tonight with reaction to the Rev. Elizabeth Keaton’s unfortunate posting about the Rev. Anne Kennedy. StandFirm has the scoop here and here.

I received an e-mail this afternoon from an old friend I know through Alpha North America. Rob Horton has been a faithful and cheerful worker in the evangelism field for so long and he was one of the first people I met in the early days of the Alpha Course in the United States.

This past Wednesday, his wife, Jenny, after 32 years of marriage, died. Here’s what he wrote me today:

Jenny, my wife, came down with an extremely rare, untreatable, fast-moving and fatal neurological disease in February. Over that time she went from feeling sick, to not being able to walk, to falling.

About three weeks ago she had a very bad fall, and when I took her to the emergency room, she was tested and then admitted to the Neuro Diagnostics floor where she stayed for a week. After about a million tests the doctors diagnosed her with the disease and said she had 2 to 12 months from the onset of symptoms. By that time we were about 4 months into the symptoms so she was released to hospice where she continued on a downward spiral and finally died early in the morning of July 4.

We are holding a memorial service for her in Dallas, where she grew up and where she and I met and were married 32 years ago, on Saturday the 14th of July at Wilshire Baptist Church at 10am.

She was perhaps the most creative person I ever met, and was very strong in her faith. I am sure she is happy to be with the Lord, and even though my daughter Sarah and I miss her terribly we are confident that she is now at peace and in God’s hands, and the suffering is far behind her now.

In the midst of all these battles, and the battles are real, we are reminded of the commitment Jenny made to support and love her husband and her daughter. With all the uncertainties in the world and for a life in ministry, Jenny remained strong and creative and faithful and I am sure he drew from her faith, her love, and her life.

We seem to be fooled into thinking that leadership is made in front of us. But leadership is made through accountability, through sacrifice, and through meekness. “Blessed are the meek,” Jesus told the crowds assembled that day on the hillside. “for they shall inherit the earth.” Wondering about property? Try meekness. The meek not only inherit the earth, they are indeed down to earth. But to choose to be meek when everything around us says to “take charge” to be “in charge” to “charge on,” is so counter-cultural. But Jenny I am sure was such a person. Her absence is a hole in Ron’s life, a hole that only Jesus can fill. The meek are often overlooked, but at our own peril.

Meekness. When we think about what constitutes a follower of Jesus, we don’t see flashy lights, or flashy cars, or flashy houses, or flashy titles, or flashy fame. We see death. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Elizabeth Keaton writes that “the goal of feminism is the liberation of the human spirit.” But true feminism, to be a redeemed woman with the freedom to choose is bought with a price, it is not free – it comes at a costly price – and we don’t pay it, it’s been bought for us and we are dependent, the antithesis of feminism. The cost of our freedom was death.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Indeed, “liberation of the spirit” is a seductive guise for slavery. “”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor. 12:9). When we are weak, then we strong. But our freedom has been bought with a price.

Tonight Rob has lost his wife and Sarah has lost her mother. We may not all have known Jenny Horton, but countless thousands have been blessed by her, for she provided a way for her husband to equip so many to do the work of evangelism in the United States and around the world. I am reminded of another woman who has died recently who also was witness to the world of great service as a wife, a mother, and teacher, Ruth Graham. Is she also someone to be scorned?

I am reminded of the witness and testimonies of the women in my own family, who have married career naval officers and spent their lives following their husbands to every port the United States Navy called them. I think of my grandmother, who eloped with my grandfather and followed him through two wars and one of my earliest memories is sitting with my grandfather, by then an admiral. We sat by the window of his house in Arlington, I was very young, and I remember he was very sad and he told me, even then, about his wife, my grandmother, who had died right after I was born. He did not want me to forget her.

I think of my mother, who held the family together six months out of the year for a dozen years as my dad went out to sea on a Polaris Submarine during the Cold War, the times the car got smashed, the living room ceiling fell in, the heat didn’t work and we sat at the kitchen table in our winter coats – and so many other extraordinary memories and she held us together and rejoiced when Dad came home. I think of my aunt, who followed my uncle to so many other ports of call – he was gone for years sometimes and she carried on, with humor and energy and spark. And now, my sister-in-law – I have a front row seat to see her amazing work with her family – and you may not even know her name. But she’s my hero.

We may know Anne’s name, and now we know Jenny’s name, and we knew Ruth’s name, but there are so many other Ediths, and Marians, and Claras, and Luannes out there. And Jesus knows their names.

Remember when the woman with the alabaster jar comes to see Jesus:

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

-Mark 14:1-9

She ministered to Jesus and found ridicule from the other disciples. He defended her, in a way he never defended anyone else. Look what he says. “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

This is the work of women who face the ridicule of serving radically, sacrificially, and from the heart, women who don’t see their names up in lights or down in books. Jesus makes an extraordinary claim about her and it’s a claim we should not forget. If we don’t know how this continues to be accomplished, then we’ve missed everything.

But if we know, if we cherish those empty alabaster jars, then we are indeed free.

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