“Even if we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be cursed”…or, at least, unplug the guitar.
Jesus knew what He was doing when He chose the twelve. He didn’t intentionally look for guys who were dazed and confused. He didn’t have to. Dazed and confused is the default condition of humanity where God is concerned. Any twelve would have done nicely. It’s sort of like a congregation choosing a church council or a pastor, or a seminary choosing a faculty. The only candidates are sinners!
As a Christian there is no Archimedean point of ecclesiastical perfection beyond the taint of history where you can make everything work, where you are safely ensconced from the mischief and messiness of life – including your own. The old adage I heard somewhere says it well; ‘The church is like Noah’s ark. If it weren’t for the storm outside one wouldn’t be able to stand the stink inside.’ In fact, there are times when the storm outside seems preferable! To wit I have often found more solace and camaraderie jamming among real sinners in a blues bar with my two sons (that’s us under the Budweiser signs) than sipping coffee during the fellowship hour amidst the smug piety of sinners who are convinced of their saintliness (my current congregation excepted, of course).
While we should not be too concerned about an imperfect church, we should be very concerned about an imperfect gospel. Lutherans, perhaps more than any other Christian group, ought to be keenly aware of this. Luther picked up the tune and we have been singing the blues ever since over the state of a church that is perpetually in danger of losing it’s voice for the gospel. And there is no shortage these days of sour notes; from free will enthusiasts with their wimpy, hat-in-His-hand God waiting for us to decide, to the social activists who are perpetually giving us the lash to get up and do something.
Let’s be frank. You don’t need someone to beg your free will to choose God. Where God is concerned you don’t have a free will anyway. In fact, to claim that you do may very well be blasphemy, since only God is free. And haven’t we tried to claim enough of His territory as our own? Any preacher who tries to sell this ‘will worship’ version of a gospel might provide a better service by selling used cars, where asking for your decision would at least make some sense. Anyway, the Gospel is not about your decision for God, it is about God’s decision for you.
And to those who are proclaiming a gospel of doing, doing, doing, calling us to help the perpetually unjust and suffering world, there is no doubt the world can use the help. But is this why Jesus died? To make us social workers? Is this the best we can do with the message of the New Testament?
Jesus did not come to bargain with you or to give you the perfect example you must follow. From the start He simply cast His lot with sinners.The decision had already been made. He came to love you and reconcile you to God. And you were on His mind at the bitter end when, from his own lips, He gave the Church it’s one, true Gospel, the one note to which the Church is called to tune it’s voice; “Father, forgive them…”. The free forgiveness of sins, given by grace alone, for Jesus sake, that’s God’s message, God’s gift to you, handed over in the absolution, handed over in baptism, handed over in the Lord’s Supper. And once your life is tuned to this gift, so full of love and grace, comfort, hope and freedom, you can jam on it forever. The possibilities are endless!
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”