Sunday, August 9, 2015

An Open Letter to Yinz...

Philippians 1:1-14New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Paul and Timothy, servants[a] of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops[b] and deacons:[c]
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart,[d] for all of you share in God’s grace[e] with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
12 I want you to know, beloved,[f] that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard[g]and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters,[h] having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word[i] with greater boldness and without fear.

A letter from Jenn, doubter and schemer and starving for Jesus, 
To my best friends of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community
to you who carry broken hearts like newborn infants, 
to you who drag the mess of your lives like toilet paper attached to your shoes, 
to you who thanked God for waking you up sober for another day, 
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m so thankful for you. 
I’m so thankful for this place, for how the scuffs on the floor and the dents in the drywall and the consistently clogging toilets have given me room to breathe, to question, to not be afraid that I might break the fancy china or tarnish the silver candlesticks. 

When I am able to pray, when it feels more than rote and hollow and pointless, when I’m able to pray, I thank God for you, because you share the Gospel. 
You tell the truth. 
You show up. 
You show up, and you keep showing up, with your limps and your broken teeth and your empty college degrees and your tears, and your underemployment. 
And you’re here, bringing the Gospel with you, tucked deep inside your pockets, crumpled from when you left it in the wash, soft and worn and unreadable and present

I don’t know jack shit. I’m lost and confused and in a constant state of existential crisis. I’m in a dingy in the middle of the ocean and I have no idea how to find the north star. I have a pile of perfectly clean laundry still crumpled in its basket, just waiting for my pissed off cat to take her revenge. I still have t-shirts from high school. You can write your name in the dust on my bookshelves. I told my dental hygienist that I floss every night, but she knows as well as I do that I’ve just been cramming for the test for the last three days. 

I don’t know how to solve racism or police brutality or how to make ISIS just. stop. I don’t know what to do with my kid’s baby teeth, and I don’t know how to help my friend with a broken heart. 
I don’t know where God is or what God is doing when John Stewart retires from The Daily Show and Donald Trump gets to run for president. 

But this is one thing I know. 
You have the Gospel. 
You are the Gospel. 
And God is going to keep writing that Gospel story in your hearts until the day that Jesus comes to gather up our lost teeth and pick up our toys and hem our pants and remind us to wash our hands after using the bathroom.  

Sure. This is a little weird. A little awkward for me to think this about you, let alone say it out loud in a sermon, but I have to believe that you hold me in your hearts too, that maybe you see a little Gospel in me, too. 
‘Cause we’re all here in this place with these wobbly chairs and under these half-lit ceilings to eat some bread, to dip it in some juice, to say “Thanks be to God.” Like the tree that falls in the woods and makes a sound because someone is there to hear it crash to the ground, 
even in my doubt, 
Christ is present, because you’re here to hear all that doubt, 
complete with my source criticism and exegesis and self-deprecation and oversharing and postmodern philosophical angst, and to love me anyway. 

Guys. For reals. You’re just the real thing. 
Keep loving each other. That’s all we really have, anyway.

‘Cause I’m in my own prison these days. A prison made of synapses and fatty brain tissue and uneven serotonin levels. It’s 9:32 on a Saturday night and I’m just now writing this out because I’m nothing but a zombie, wandering around with my bullshit detector on overdrive. I’m hollow and empty and stuck and if I could get out of my own head for just ten minutes, I could stagger around in search of brains.

But if God is the God that Jesus says God is, 
then even zombies can preach the gospel. 
Even from their own prisons. 
Even in the dark. 
Because that’s what the Gospel is: telling the Truth in the dark. 

Even Paul, sitting in his own excrement in an underground prison, so depressed he thinks of taking his own life, even Paul who’s lucky to have stale bread and sour wine lowered down from a tiny manhole dug out of the ceiling, carried down by a friend who risked his life and his freedom to see to Paul’s shackled needs, even Paul could preach the Gospel. Even in a putrid stuffy prison with a trough in the middle where the dead and despairing would flow out into the sewer system.
Even Paul could see that the Gospel cannot be stopped by a prison, by depression, by a zombie apocalypse, by a little gingivitis, by a premature and interminable election season. 
Even Paul, while he in his darkest place, writes his most joyful letter, annoyingly optimistic, as he sits with the lice and the rats and the murderers and the seditious. 

The worst has happened. 
Paul is not free to promote the peace and love of Jesus Christ in broad daylight, and he hasn’t been martyred for the sake of the Gospel to stand out as an example of steadfastness and dedication to the Christian mission. 
He’s in limbo. 
He’s in the dark. 
He’s under the ground. 
He’s alone and has an itch his shackles won’t let him scratch. 
He is neither alive nor dead. He’s in a waiting place, at the mercy of some drunken Roman guards.

Paul is so confident that the Gospel is spreading that even police brutality and drunk driving accidents and the mentally ill with semi-automatic weapons cannot stop it. 

Paul is so confident that the Gospel is spreading that even our imprisonment of our brain chaos and our broken relationships and our insecurities and our eating disorders cannot contain it. 
He’s so confident that two-thousand years from now a doubt-filled preacher with a depressive disorder will stand in front of you all and not puke at the sound of Paul’s saccharin optimism.

So, dear friends, (as remember, I’m writing this too late last night) I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning, I’m going to take a shower and get dressed and try not to tell my kids to hurry up, and I’m going to come and read this letter to you all because I’m too messed up right now to write a proper sermon, and that’ll be a little gospel. Some good news. Some truth in the darkness. 
Frederick Buechner says, “It is possible to think of the Gospel and our preaching of it as, above all and at no matter what risk, a speaking of the truth about the way things are.” 
I’m going to preach to you the way things actually are. 
I’m going to spend these thirteen hundred forty-seven words trying to get to the way things are, not the way my mind happens to see them at this moment. 

Because the Gospel is the truth, not the incessant voices in my head.

Speak your Gospel. Speak it out into the darkness. Tell the truth to the brokenness and the deaths and the bleeding gums. That’s the Gospel. It’s telling the truth in the dark. 

Because Paul’s letter shows us that Jesus is in all the things. Especially the things hidden in the dark, in the dusty corners and the cobwebbed ceilings. In the mental torture and the personal crucifixions, and in the facades we put up for our dentists and our pastors and our Facebook profiles. Speak the truth to the darkness. 

Brothers and Sisters, be made confident in the Lord. By our imprisonments, dare to speak the Word with greater boldness and without fear. 
Tell the truth, even in the dark.




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