A Backwards Gospel
Brave ones out in the wilderness who sometimes feel alone in the church, maybe this is for you. I’m gonna be really honest: some of the things folks do in the name of Jesus are head-scratchers to me. Sometimes I wonder if we’re all reading the same Bible.
In the middle of their speeches about how refugees and immigrants are a drain on our society and our resources, don’t they remember the verses where God tells His people to treat the foreigner like family?
In their disdain and indignation that the poor or homeless or single parent or struggling should pull themselves up by their bootstraps with no handouts and no hand-ups, don’t they see the Scriptures where God tells His people to leave some of their crops for those in need, and care for the orphan and widow?
In their adoration of weaponry and war, don’t they remember that Jesus cautioned Peter to wield his own weapon responsibly, telling him that he who lives by the sword will die by it, so lay it down?
In their rants about acceptable and unacceptable kinds of sexuality, don’t they see the verses where Jesus stands over a woman about to be executed for her adultery and tells her He does not condemn her?
We all have learning and growing to do. I do, too. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
But if I err, let it be on the side of too much love, if there is such a thing. Let it be because my grace is too radical, my mercy too wide, my kindness too deep. Let it never be that I withheld love and connection from someone desperately searching for hope because I was afraid other Christians would not approve of my embracing them. Dear ones, I am convinced that truth and love are not at odds. It’s when we dive headlong into the second that we find the first, and discover depths we couldn’t have fathomed from the shore and the shallows.
I’ll end with this, from one of my very favorite passages in this translation of the Bible into the language of the normal unfancy people…this is a good one:
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” – Amos 5:21-24, MSG
That’s the LORD’s voice you’re hearing, and His conviction you’re feeling tug on your heart. In light of this, how will we live? I hope – upside down and backwards. What we’ve got going on now is a body gone rogue from its head, resulting in deep penetrating sickness that’s going to be hard to shake. Sure – a neutered Christian faith is safer and easier. We could sit in our church buildings and judge those outside them (and even within them), maybe out of fear, wanting to beat others to the punch before they judge us first. We could reduce our faith to a list of dos and don’ts and look sideways at those who mess up at the items in our own personal “don’t” column. We could heap bigger burdens on each other and count sins like coins, as if collecting enough of other people’s will allow us to trade them in to Jesus for a bigger heaven-mansion, because at least we’re not as bad as all of those other sinful people. We could make ourselves baby Pharisees, slaves again to a simplistic code of law rather than doing the harder work of learning to live like free sons and daughters in the truth and by the Spirit. Yep, that’s the easy way out. And lots of people take it. That road is wide. But you and I seek a narrower one.
The real Gospel is not comfortable and it’s not easy. Providing for people’s needs using our own money, time, and resources? Hard. Meeting ridicule and hatefulness with kindness and decency? So hard. Inviting people in who look like the very worst sinners and serving them with respect and compassion, and acknowledging their God-bestowed worth, even when religious people don’t approve of our embracing them? Hard. Subverting false dichotomies and fear-based evangelism, speaking truth in the face of bullshit, and questioning damaging interpretations of the Bible that some hold dear as the Lord leads? HARD. Swimming upstream from the fancy religious people who run the show usually results in a lot of hard, uncomfortable situations, actually. Look what they did to Jesus. But truth and justice are worth it. Living as more authentic versions of ourselves is worth it. All the folks who need the hope that we have are worth it. Jesus is worth it.
So love wildly. Love like you’re made of it, like you have endless stores of it, because you do in your Father God. Give away radical grace like you have quotas to meet. Love people that make the religious people hesitate. Love the ones that make the religious people nervous. Love people that make the religious people rethink. And yes, love the religious people, too – even the ones that hurt, the ones that nitpick, the ones that heap burdens. Jesus forgave them just like He forgave us. Leak kindness and compassion everywhere you go. (It’s hard to argue with kindness and compassion, even if they don’t agree with who you’re spending it on.) Love like Jesus, because that is what will point people to Him. Not our best arguments or our fanciest hermeneutics. Our love.
This is the backwards Gospel. It doesn’t make sense to the people who think they have it all figured out already, but for those who know they don’t, it is freedom and healing. Keep standing for what is right, and using your voice to speak up when something is wrong, even when it’s hard. Keep fighting the good fight. Know even when you feel alone, there are many of us out here in the wilderness too, fighting alongside you. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. And may we be people who settle for nothing less wild or less true.