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.

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