Monday, June 29, 2015

their abundance, your need.

7Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you — so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
8I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.9For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something — 11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has — not according to what one does not have.13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.15As it is written, "The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little."

Jack was 78 and Larry, somewhere in his late fifties, early sixties, and they’d been together for 38 years. When the G.A. passed the amendment allowing churches to marry folks in same sex relationships, Mike, the associate pastor at Hot Metal, and I, played paper, rock, scissors for the right to officiate their wedding. And then Larry said, “Why can’t you both do it?” So we did. They had a flower girl and wore ties and Jack even removed his baseball cap for the occasion. It was an amazing day. Jack said he didn’t really need to get married, but that he was doing it for Larry, because he knew how much it meant to him. But later, Jack told anyone who would listen, how he didn’t know he needed it, but that it was so important to him to marry his love in the church, supported by the community that he loved, that loved him. 

This week was a good week for Jack and Larry. A whole lot of wins for all kinds of folks living on the margins of society.

So, naturally, the lectionary refuses to cooperate. Instead, it’s the perfect week to hear a really manipulative lecture from Paul about how we all need to dig a little bit deeper, scrape the bottoms of our savings accounts a little more, and cough up more money for all those disenfranchised folks in Jerusalem. 

I’m guessing most of us here would consider this week to be a really good week, perhaps one of the politically brightest weeks of our entire lives. We were right! We finally have justice!  Love wins! 

So…I do suppose it’s time to get dumped on with one of Paul’s grand guilt trips. “You have all the things!” he says to the Corinthians. “Look at how much Jesus has given you! How much he sacrificed! Surely you can cut out your latte fund and give a little,” he writes. “I mean, look at those Macedonians! They don’t have two drachmas to rub together, and look what they’ve done, how much they’ve given! You guys had a rough time of it with the last letter I sent. But with this new report card, you Corinthians get A+s in all the things. You are at the top of your game with all the stuff. You excel in the careers and the academics and the speech and the knowing, so why can’t you excel in this generosity thing too?” 

“And anyway,” Paul says, “I’m not really asking for much, just a reasonable amount, something that will fit easily into your budget, no need to go crazy here; for just a quarter a day you, too, can feed a hungry Jerusalemite.”
But, as usual, it’s easy to miss the crazy behind Paul’s eyes. It’s easy to turn this in to a stewardship sermon about how we all should just give our fair share and then, voila, we’ve done our part, we can go back to binge watching Orange Is the New Black. It’s easy to miss that Paul is asking these folks to do something completely counter-intuitive. Those folks in Jerusalem kicked the Greeks out of their church. They gave them a list of things to do, prayers to pray, sacrifices to offer, and then and only then could they come into their homes, into their communities, their church. 
Paul is telling these Gentile churches to collect money for those folks who, at least at first, likely wouldn’t have welcomed them at their dinner tables. Paul wants these folks to give money to the equivalent of the small conservative church at the city limits whose members you saw protesting in front of the court house, demanding a constitutional amendment for a “traditional” interpretation of marriage. Paul tells them, give them your cash, help them repair their leaking roof. Give money and prayers and even your sense of pride to those who kicked you out.  

No. This isn't a stewardship sermon. This is a poverty sermon. Open your empty hearts, dig in your lint-filled pockets, scan your maxed out credit card, realize all that you don’t have. And then give it away anyways.
When caught on a bad day, one-tooth Bill is an angry homophobe with an anger control problem. Often, right when I need to do something pressing to get the meal ready, he calls me over with his finger, and then drags me in to his rant. 

I stand there politely as he talks about his son who was unfairly put in prison, about how the church is refusing to depend upon the Holy Spirit, about how the Bible is infallible, about how homosexuals are his enemies and if he saw one get hit by a car he might stop to call 911, because it’s his Christian duty, but he certainly wouldn’t touch such a person. (How he’d figure out a person’s sexual orientation as he or she lie unconscious in the middle of Carson Street is beyond me, but I try not to get dragged in by such "trifling" details.) And then Jack and his husband, Larry, serve him a plate of homemade haluski, coleslaw, and a chipped ham sandwich, paid for out of Jack’s modest social security payment. 

At the end of the meal, one-tooth Bill will enjoy a huge slice of cake, frosted an inch thick by Jack with his special secret pineapple frosting. 

Every Tuesday and Thursday night at The Table, Jack donated his bossy nature, his opinions and commanding presence, and Larry donated his nose-to-the-grind work ethic and amazing dishwashing skills. Later, when Bill did “find out” about Jack and Larry, he still came to The Table every night, but refused to talk to them, refused to engage with them, didn’t even look Larry in the eye as he set his plate of hamburger macaroni and sliced peaches gently in front of him.  First in line for seconds, One-Tooth Bill would take the to-go meal from Jack’s hands, refusing eye contact. Walking away without a word. 

And the truth is, Jack didn’t much like him either.

The Corinthian gave the Jerusalemite a sandwich, a slice of cake, a cup of coffee, week after week after week. They didn’t talk. They didn’t touch. They didn’t swap stories or bum cigarettes. The Corinthian had food. The Jerusalemite had hunger. A symbiotic relationship. Jack needed to feed people. And Bill was hungry. Two lacks, two needs, two poverties, met and made whole simply because they both had a need the other could fill. 
This isn’t a stewardship sermon. It’s not a buck up and suffer and serve people who hate you sermon. This is a poverty sermon. 

Because we are not unless they are. We are not whole if we leave the Jerusalemites behind. If we say, “good riddance” and wipe their opposing views and uncomfortable theology and outright anger off our hands. Because we are all hungry for something. We all need. And like it or not, the Corinthians need the folks from Jerusalem. And the folks in Jerusalem sure as hell need the Corinthians. It’s not about who has and who doesn’t. It’s about how none of us has. It’s about showing up with your poverty, with your hunger, your empty pockets, your preconceived notions and even your bigotry and overdeveloped sense of self, just showing up. With the extravagant nothing that we’ve all been given. 

This is a charis sermon. Charis - grace. This word that gets lost and diluted through English translation is mentioned five times in this short passage. Paul is telling the Corinthians that charis comes - not from what we have that we then give away, but from realizing how very much we need. 

And we don’t know what we’re missing until we get it. Until our commitments are finally recognized as marriage in the midst of our beloved community. Until we feed someone who is demanding and judgmental and stands against everything we stand for and realize that the act of feeding feeds us. We’re all hungry for something. 

Where your hunger is, that’s where your true riches are. Just like Jesus became poor so that we may all know what God is like. Just like Jesus died on a cross so that we may know what life is about. Just like he came to this earth as a poor peasant baby of a poor peasant unmarried girl so that we may know what true riches are. 
Just like I show up to the Table again and again with my poverty of faith. With my doubts and skepticism and fear and questions about who God is and where God is and what is the point of all of this anyway. 

And I go to The Table and I look for Jesus exactly because most days, I don’t think he’s there. But I have to show up. Because maybe I’ll be proven wrong. Because I want to be proven wrong. Because of the big maybe. Maybe if Jesus is going to show up anywhere, he’s going to show up there. Maybe if I show up all poor in my belief and my trust, I’ll see Jesus in the guy who despised the man who taught me everything I know about feeding people. Maybe I’ll learn what it means for “his abundance to be for my need.”

Maybe I’ll learn to give up my measuring stick. Give up this false need to be the 4.0 Captain of the Chess Club Homecoming Queen Miss Congeniality Upper Middle Class Food Pantry Volunteer. Maybe I’ll see another’s abundance and my own need. The grace in all that’s missing, empty, broken, helpless. 
There is Charis everywhere there is lack, where there is poverty, where there is hunger. Grace is in the empty boxes and pockets turned inside out. Grace is in the man you feed a meal to even though he claims to hate you. 

Grace is in gathering a bunch of rag-tag mess of folks with their bankruptcy and their broken teeth and their mental illness and infestation of bed bugs, and our doubt and our feelings of superiority and our college degrees — gathering all of us - all these poor, hungry folks together, for a chaotic meal, a half a millisecond of Jesus. All of us who’ve got it wrong. Together. Screwing up. Holding grudges. Passing out bread to each other. Sharing cups of coffee. Forgiving each other.

The last thing I remember Jack saying to me, was “Oh sure, Jenn. That’s no problem. You know you can ask me anytime.” He’d passed on the leadership of The Table to me, saying, “Well, Jenn, I didn’t think you could do it. But you surprised me.” And I needed him to pinch hit for me one night so that I could attend the Presbytery meeting to vote on the new language to the Book of Order concerning marriage for all. So I’d asked if he could take over one more night. “Oh sure, Jenn. That’s no problem. You know you can ask me anytime.” 
The day before the Presbytery meeting, Jack suffered a catastrophic stroke. They kept him on machines until his family could get to the hospital. His family consisted of three rag-tag pastors who preach in torn jeans, a woman he called his daughter with an inoperable aneurism, her anorexic mother, the crack addicted handyman Jack let stay in his home between incarcerations, the addict’s on again off again ex-wife, and his Larry, his husband of 38 years who loved him through the AIDS scares and the alcoholism and the church rejections and beloved dog deaths and homemade lasagnas. 

Jack died surrounded by the people he fed, and by the people who fed him. Surrounded by we who miss him terribly and feel his absence like an empty stomach. We, who need him still. Who needed us. Surrounded. By Charis. Grace. Jesus.


Thanks be to God. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

wide open.

1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, 
     “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, 
          and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” 
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return — I speak as to children — open wide your hearts also.

So, to this day, my husband doesn’t believe me when I tell him that I ran cross country. I really did. It was in high school and I ran for three years. It was intense. We ran every day, sometimes twice a day, before school and after school, before our jobs at pizza parlors and ice cream shops, in the rain, in the heat, on weekends, and on vacations. I remember one Thanksgiving I’d just gorged myself on turkey and oyster stuffing and that cranberry sauce in a can, and then I tied up my running shoes and ran a straight line down the Grant County roads, past nothing more than corn and soybeans and more corn.  

And when it came time for a meet, when it was race day and we’d warmed up and eaten our bagels and drank our water and stretched our calves, we’d line up at the starting line, our fingers on the start buttons of our watches, and wait for the gun. We were a line of anxious, nervous, overly-carbohydrated girls, ready to endure the pain of the next seventeen to twenty-four minutes. And the gun would go off and we’d run. We’d slap through mud and up hills, cut each other off at the turns, stick our elbows out to catch a competitor’s rib or two. And then, after the laps around the baseball fields and through the narrow trails between cheap high school landscaping, we’d see it. The finish line. 

And with our lungs on fire and sweat dripping behind our knees, we were then expected to kick it in to high gear. Give it our all. Accelerate through the pain, even though our tank was on empty, and pass one more girl, shave off one more second, leave it all on the course, as we used to say.

And yet, it was such a fine line between keeping a little bit in reserve, just in case, and then having that to accelerate to the finish line, and finding that extra something that you didn’t know you had to push you to the end. 

Were you doubting your workouts, your strength, your preparation, your very self so much that you felt like you had to be conservative, pace yourself, take it easy in the beginning, just in case you tripped on an exposed root or got a cramp or spent too much in the beginning and had nothing left at the end? Or do you start the race with your whole heart, with the throttle wide open, with only the hope that somehow you can sustain it, somehow you can make it to the finish line before you collapse from exhaustion?

Do you keep some in reserve?
Do you let it all go and hope that somehow you’ll still have enough to make it through?

Do you keep your heart tucked safely behind your ribs, or do you wear it on your sleeve, vulnerable to anyone with a knife or a stick or an active email account or just a really sharp pencil?

In our reading today, Paul has opened his heart wide. He’s risking making a fool of himself, resorting to begging, and even violating societal rules of boundaries and humility. One commentary says, “Whatever may be his fear of appearing foolish, of violating decorum and going “too far” [Paul] does not scruple to open his heart wide.” In the words of my therapist, he is “oversharing.” In this pleading, vulnerable plea to the Corinthians, Paul doesn’t have anything left in his tank. He gives them everything he has. A wide open heart.

I think this text makes us a little squirmy. A little squeamish. Seeing Paul be this emphatic, this emotional, this over-the-top. It’s like you’re eavesdropping on your neighbors’ domestic dispute, or watching the nerd profess his love for the cheerleading captain. It’s like you’re in the next aisle while a bewildered and exhausted mom is doing everything she can to appease her temper-tantrumming two year old so she can grab the groceries and go. It’s like Paul is on the Maury Povich show trying to woo his girlfriend back and convince her that even though it’s not his baby they can still be a family, they can make this work.

Paul is almost boasting about how much he’s given up for this community. Boasting about how humble he is. This isn’t the clearly articulated argument Paul. This is passionate, wild, no holds barred, everything but the kitchen sink Paul. Paul at his wits end. Paul throwing everything he has at the church in Corinth to make them understand, to help the “get it.” 

And I think we’re all a little scared of passion. We’re all a little scared of emotion and vulnerability and revealing our need. We want to keep that in reserve. We want to put it in canning jars and keep it in the basement just in case we need it someday. But really, I think it’s because we’re embarrassed by our passion, by our hearts open wide. We don’t trust that we’ll still be loved if we reveal all that mess inside of ourselves. 

And here Paul is, revealing his mess. Laying it all on the line. Cashing in his chips and prying open those dusty jars of pickled cucumbers. 

I think the Corinthians were very comfortable with their 10% tithe. They wanted to love God with 10% of themselves, 10% of their time, 10% of their resources, maybe 10 and a half percent of their love. Any more, and people might look at them like they’re freaks. People will think they’re being counter cultural, they’ll think they’re in a cult and drinking kool-aid and they’ll have to start letting in the hungry folks from the street and the lonely folks from the retirement homes and the over-sugared kids with ADHD. 

No. 10% is good. 10% is manageable. I can make it to the finish line if I just use 10% at a time. Pace myself. The Corinthians wanted a gospel of reason and moderation. Something they can put in a box and take out and polish on holidays and pass on to the kids when they die. Something that is orderly and makes sense and is simple and understood and doesn’t ask more from us than we think we can reasonably give. 

But Paul says no. Don’t keep it in reserve. Use it. Use it now. Open wide your hearts. Lay it all on the line. Be vulnerable. Be real. Show your mess. Take risks. Let others in. 

"When someone hits you on your right cheek, give him your left also. When someone takes your cloak, give him your coat as well. And when someone forces you to walk one mile, walk with him two." 

Open wide your hearts. 

Start a ministry where you serve free food to anyone, and you worry about funds and sustainability and practicality later.
Open your doors to folks who will probably use your bathrooms to bathe themselves and will fill their coat pockets with sugar packets.
Share a story you’ve never told before with someone who feels ashamed all the time.
Go beyond signing facebook petitions and giving lip service to the atrocities of racism and ask hard questions of the NRA, of our capitalist system, of our white majority. 
Start uncomfortable conversations. 
Refuse to accept that violence is the norm of our day.
Listen to those living on the margins. Try doing something their way.
Let yourself feel the pain of all the really tough things you have suffered in your life. 
And then share that pain with someone else.

Give up your desire to please and to keep this false sense of “peace” and challenge the status quo, explore and learn something new, follow your bliss and do that thing you say you’ll do when the kids are grown, when you retire, when you finally land that job or pay off that debt. Step out of the boat, walk on water. 

Because when you open wide your hearts, then, then you can receive the messy stuff of grace.
And then you can give away all that messy, gooey, sticky grace.

Let your heart be a mess of intake and outtake, a traffic jam of inbound and outbound, a thunderstorm of colliding high and low pressures.
Open wide your hearts. Take the risks. Stand up for justice. Demand change. Stand in the line of fire for the sake of another. Be vulnerable. 

This isn’t efficient. It’s a clusterfuck. It’s collision and reaction and explosion and confusion. It’s everyone speaking in different languages and yet still somehow understanding each other. It’s walking around with flames on your head. It’s God making connections and healing hurts and raising the dead. It’s pandemonium and chaos and mystery and connection. 

It’s what grace looks, and feels, and sounds and tastes like. 

Open your heart. That place where arteries and veins come together. Where the blue and the red meet. Where the abundance of oxygen and the lack of it comes back to this muscle of sinew and energy and electric pulses. 

Open wide your hearts. It’ll hurt. Like open heart surgery. But it’s where the life is, Paul says. It’s where Jesus is.

Because it’s not enough to cry about the Charleston shootings all alone. 
It’s not enough to pray for justice alone. 
It’s not enough to sit alone with our social media and pass along articles and cat videos and instagram food porn. 

It’s not enough to just shake our heads at all the gun violence in our country and then move on, pretending that only the mentally ill, or those in the inner city, or those who are somehow asking for it or those with the absentee parents are the ones who get gunned down.
It’s not enough for us, who live a life of relative privilege, to sit on the sidelines while government agencies fly the confederate flag and pretend that it’s not offensive. That it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
It’s not enough to feel what we feel alone with our tv dinners and our one cup coffee makers. 
It’s not enough to be so desperate for community that you zip up your heart and join a group of white supremacists or mail envelopes full of anthrax or travel to Syria to join ISIS.

Because closed hearts turn in to hardened hearts. And once your heart has calcified, nothing can get through. Not grace, not peace, not joy or Jesus.

Open your hearts —wide. 
And then get ready for the collision. The collision of human hearts all tangled up and bleeding together. The collision of vulnerability and grace and sacrifice and joy and the messiness of humanity. Get ready for the traffic pile-up of forgiveness and change and transformation.

Get ready for the collision of humanity and deity. Of God, who was made into messy, vulnerable, open flesh, open wide, for all of us.
Open wide your hearts. Don’t leave anything in the tank. Run the race with wild, persevering, abandon. When you collapse at the finish line, you’ll land among all those soft mushy open hearts. You’ll be embraced by the widest, wildest, most vulnerable heart of all. The heart of Christ.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"This is a church. So no bullsh*t!"

Galatians 1:1-12

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Every time I put on my suit of armor, warm up my light saber and call in my sidekick via bat signal to tackle another passage from Paul, I find myself annoyed with how much I like the guy. He’s like Don Draper. You want to hate him, but then he goes and cries about his lost best friend in California and you’re ready to pour him another Old Fashioned. 

And to top it off, here’s Paul at his crankiest. He forgoes the traditional greeting, takes out the “thank God for yous” and goes straight to the point. Y’all are missing it. 

I think I love this passage because I hear Jack’s voice in it. Here, Paul cuts to the chase, no pontificating, no beating around the bush; he tells you how it is and doesn’t apologize for it. I think Jack could have written this letter. One of the commentaries I read says, “Far from pastoral, the tone is irritated, cranky.” 
Paul is irritated, cranky, because we’re missing it. And he loves us. And we’re missing it. And if that’s not Jack, I don’t know what is.

I can still picture Jack sitting back in the kitchen on that stool, setting us all straight, telling us who is full of crap and who is ignorant and why we shouldn’t judge anyone, even though he’s judging people who judge. 

I picture Jack, who, when I first started working at The Table, stood on those steps and, instead of a prayer, or a bible verse, or a pastoral word, practically yelled at the folks at The Table, “God loves you. You need to know this. God loves you. And don’t let no other jagoff tell you otherwise.”

And they loved him for it. Because like a mother hen pecking at her chicks to get back in line, Jack loved fiercely. And he didn’t want us to miss it.

Because Jack knew the Gospel. 
He’d holler about God’s love to those folks with a passion reserved otherwise for too many people in the kitchen and drunks fighting at The Table. 
One of our favorite quotes from Jack: “This is a church, so no bullshit.”

He’d yell it out from the other side of that counter, and when he was directing it at you, you knew it, even if you were on the opposite side of the church. Because deep down you knew that if you were getting yelled at by Jack, you were doing something ungospel-y; you knew that you were missing it.

And what was the bullshit that Jack couldn’t stand? People believing that they didn’t belong. People believing that others didn’t belong. People drawing a line between who is in and who is out, people trying to tame this table full of misfits and train kids and drunks and arthritic gossips. People trying to upend this table full of disabled and mentally ill and dependents on government assistance. 
The bullshit? It was any fracturing of The Table. 

And that was the righteous indignation of Jack. And that’s the righteous indignation of Paul in this letter to the Galatians. 

He’s pissed because they’ve compromised the Gospel. He’s left to take this Gospel to the neighboring towns, and others with agendas and boxes and definitions and rules have stepped in and tried to make this just like what they already know. They’ve taken the Gospel and tried to tame it. They’ve tried to stuff it back into the box built on rules and expectations and proper attire and proper behavior and even proper anatomy. 

In this letter, the Galatians are trying to go back to what they knew before, with a little “Jesus-light” sprinkled on top. They’re telling folks that in order to fit in their box, in order to step in to their homes and eat their bread and sit at their table, they have to be circumcised, and they have to know all the right words and all the right hand motions and follow the Jewish law. 

Well. I’m sure you can imagine what Jack would think of that. 

And I hear Jack’s voice in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 
“Hey. This is Jack. And God’s called me to do this thing, and you’re screwing it up. You’re making it into something it’s not. You’re missing it, and I won’t tolerate it. So get out. If you’re going to judge and say who’s in and who’s out, if you’re going to disrupt the truth of the Gospel in any way, then get the hell out. ‘Cause if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a hypocrite.”

And it’s the same for Paul. One thing is uncompromisable. Paul draws one line in the sand. Keep the Gospel. Don’t miss it. 

And the churches in Galatia were missing it. Just like Peter missed it. And the desert monks missed it. And the Church Fathers missed it. And the ancient Catholic Church missed it, and the Reformation missed it, and the revivals of the 19th and 20th century missed it. And here we are, today, still missing it.

Because every day, we buy in to something else. We take as Gospel whatever is easy, or whatever is fashionable, or whatever fits with our political ideology, or whatever promises to make us happy for the next ten minutes. 

It’s like those ads with doctors smoking Lucky Strikes, or public service announcements telling pregnant women to get x-rays, or those commercials telling you that Apple Jacks are part of this complete breakfast - and that they actually taste anything like apples. We buy in to it because we’re desperate to belong, we’re desperate to be loved, we’re desperate for life. And so we latch on to all the things that promise us belonging and love and life but actually deliver lung cancer and radiation poisoning and pancreases full of  preservatives and high fructose corn syrup. 

For the Galatians, and for us, the Gospel and all its radical love and freedom and life is too hard to bear. We want to be in that box of rules and guidelines and recited verses. Because we get to be right in that box. We get to have clear definitions and clearly defined roles and we get to wear badges that say if we’re in or if we’re out. 

And we are missing it. 

Good thing the Gospel is the Gospel. Good thing radical embrace is the Gospel. Radical forgiveness. Radical belonging.  Good thing.

Because we are buying what they’re selling. And it’s Ponzi and pyramid schemes. Anyone who tells you that they have it all figured out and all you need to do is take this potion, or write that check, or align with this or that political party, or stand on this or that side of the picket line, and then we’re in. And we drink it all in like Kool-Aid. Because we’re so thirsty. And we think that red dye 40 and a cup of sugar for every two quarts of water is all that we deserve. We think that will actually quench our thirst. 

Good thing the Gospel is the Gospel. Good thing radical embrace is the Gospel. Radical forgiveness. Radical belonging.  Good thing.

The world is selling us the wrong gospel. And then we’re selling that “gospel.” And we know we’re right about what we’re selling by how many other people we can get to sell the same thing. And then we’re fighting about it.

What does a Christian look like? Are they Republicans? Do they volunteer at the Thomas Merton Center? Do they picket at Planned Parenthood clinics, or go door to door, or make a lot of money, or feed the homeless? Do they have credit card debt, or do they own their cars, or ride their bikes to work?

We are so afraid to step in to the Gospel that we just yell at each other from inside our property lines about which boxes we have to check in order to be a Christian. 
Are you on Facebook posting about Caitlyn Jenner and radical inclusiveness, or Josh Duggar and radical forgiveness? Whose side are you on? Are you a Caitlyn Jenner Christian or a Josh Duggar Christian? 

And there it is. 
We’ve missed it. 
We’ve argued, and stood our ground, and rolled our eyes, and sighed, and thrown our gospels at each other like grenades. And then we’re limping. And we’re bruised. And we’re still so. hungry.

Meanwhile, Jesus is sitting at a table, far off in the distance, breaking bread and laughing with prostitutes and tax collectors and pharisees and Roman guards and pickpockets and drunks. He’s passing a tuna noodle casserole to the single moms and the elderly couples and the recovering alcoholics and the perfectionists with depressive disorders and the atheists and the founders at Azuza Street. He’s asking transvestites and supporters of DOMA to pass the butter, and he’s asking the crack addicts and the dirty kids and the college drop outs if they have enough ranch on their salads. 

Meanwhile, Jesus sees someone scurry past the open front door, with sore feet and dark circles under her eyes, some lipstick on her teeth, trying to get her bus or hail a cab or download an app — and he pulls her in. 
Come in. Eat. This is good stuff. Have you tried the jello salad? It’s this amazing thing they do in Pittsburgh - it’s really dessert but they call it salad.

Meanwhile, while we throw rotten eggs and scripture bombs and lick our wounds, and eat fast-food in our cars, the Gospel is happening. 

And we are missing it. 
Because the Gospel is something we stumble upon. Not something we manipulate, or throw at one another, or use as a yard stick.

Wendy Farley, Bible Commentator says, “Paul puts us in the terrible position of either being heretics to tradition by opening our hearts to the whole, wretched, sinful mass of humanity, or being heretics to the Gospel by clinging to religious norms”

She says, “We have to choose between our loyalty to familiar and stabilizing structures and and the priority of the Gospel.”

Because the Gospel is far from stabilizing. It won’t feel familiar, at least not from the outside. You stumble in to the meal. It’s not a preheated extra value meal.  You stumble in and then you’re given the best seat.  They were saving it for you. Someone washes your feet and asks you how you like your coffee. And then after you’ve had your fill, they throw you a dishrag and tell you to get off your ass and help with the dishes. 

 And now the Gospel is complete, because you have stumbled in here, with us. 

Sara Miles stumbled on it. Her book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, charts her journey from atheist, lesbian, war correspondent to Christian, lesbian, Episcopalian deacon. Basically, one day she wandered into a communion service and found God hiding in the bread and the wine. Soon after, she helped the congregation to see how a food pantry could enact the Lord’s Supper for the whole community. In this photo of their food pantry, the center table is the communion table laid out with free food. 

She found the Gospel and she wasn’t even looking for it. She found that thing that she didn’t even know she was hungry for. She says, "I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn't about angels or going to church or trying to be "good" in a pious, idealized way. It wasn't about arguing a doctrine - the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce - or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the prophet said, hungering for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.”

“C’mon in,” Jesus says. “Leave all those boxes of rulebooks and competitions and trophies at the door. Come in. They use real butter in the halushki, and the rolls just came out of the oven.”

And it’s chaos. It’s insane. And it’s the Gospel.

Come to The Table. 
You are invited to the table.
You are welcome at this table.
Don’t miss it.
Come to the table. 
It won’t make sense. But you’ll be fed. And you’ll be welcomed. And you’ll get to welcome so many. 
Don’t miss it. 
This is a church, so no bullshit.

That’s the Gospel. 
Thanks be to God.