I’ve heard a few preachers say that they really only have one basic sermon–one essential message–that ends up having itself proclaimed over and over (albeit in a variety of ways) every time they stand in the pulpit.
I’m not a preacher in the typical sense, but Christianity has a number of habits that tug at our self-defined identities and make each of us exactly that which we want to leave for other people to be–priest, prophet, pastor, and even preacher. And, of course, sinner and stranger, too.
Today I met again for an hour with two passionate, caring, struggling, angry, hopeful, funny guys from poor, crime-ridden south Memphis. And I told them that whereas I only meet with them one hour once a week as they are going through their job training program together–these two guys from the same neighborhood with similar backgrounds–the greatest gift and the most important realization to be had in this situation is that God has given them to each other.
That’s really it–who am I? I’m just a guy from some other part of town and of a totally different background who has sat down with them for an hour a week for the past month. And on days like today, when they really just wanted to cut through all the crap and know what in the hell I’m doing meeting with them, I just tell them–I was just invited to be with you. That’s it. I’m not here to show you that my middle-class background is superior, I’m not here to fix you, counsel you, or to be the answer to your problems. I’m just here to be with you. I care about you, and I am most certainly not paid to be here.
That last part was something they seemed especially curious about.
Thank you, they said.
Here I sit, and in a few days I’ll be off to Seattle to be with people that when I think about it, I realize–I really don’t know how or why I’m going to be with them. What led to this was my first time in the North Carolina Appalachian valley at the Wild Goose Festival this past July. Without going too much into it now, if I could summarize what happened (and is happening) through that time of being with fellow Jesus-followers in the camp chairs and under the tents beside a mountain river, I would do it this way: It was, in its most basic form, God saying, “HERE, have all these people.”
And people–these people–are what I needed. Are what I need. Are going to continue to be what I need.
I just finished Accidental Saints: Finding God In All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Her understanding of what a saint is means that it is at the same time just as comforting, encouraging, and inspiring, as it is unsettling and challenging that we don’t work our way to being people through whom God can work. We are instead surprised, as we are by any accident, to discover in others and-oh-my-Lord-in-ourselves the presence and activity of God.
Ultimately, I wasn’t given a theological lesson or an even more emotionally-charged admonition to work for justice at Wild Goose; I was just given people.
When Jesus comes proclaiming his message to Israel, it’s about Israel being who Israel was created to be–not for Israel’s sake alone but for all of those other nations.
When Paul writes his letters to groups of adherents to the Jesus movement in which he interprets what has happened through this person Jesus, it has to do with Jew and Gentile–us and them–being at the same table and actually sharing with each other–not just beliefs and possessions and meals–but themselves.
This is my one sermon. I’m already picking up on that. [SEE HERE.] In my understanding, being a part–or better–being INCLUDED in the people of God is the definition of salvation. Not heaven, not eternal mansions, not ethereal immortal spirits. Being a part of this thing is. Having each other, being welcomed to each other, experiencing the genuine, divine hospitality is the very definition of our salvation and ultimate destiny.
And God’s grace is so often revealed in God’s timing–the miraculous timing of giving to us the right people at the right time.
Goodness gracious, I hope you know what this is like. It’s the best thing there is, the highest gift of God.
We can’t do this ourselves, yes, but that’s really only truly profound if we understand that it’s because everything is not even about ourselves but about the others who have been given to us.
So, why did I share on Facebook Buzzfeed’s video of a variety of Muslims saying to the camera, “I’m a Muslim but I’m not … [insert stereotype]” but simply didn’t care a lick about posting the video of Christians saying, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not … [insert stereotype]”?
Because it’s not about creating God’s word of grace for me–it’s about telling, announcing, proclaiming God’s word of grace to each other and on behalf of each other.
Oh, and also receiving God’s word of grace for me and about me from … oh-no-wait-for-it–other people.