Thursday, October 9, 2014

I've Sold Out the Gospel

This week has been spent at my regional church's Turner Lecture series, an annual conference that I have the joy and privilege of helping organize.  This year, both of our invited speakers, Michael Kinnamon (a Disciples pastor, author, and professor) and Carol Howard Merritt (a Presbyterian pastor, blogger, and author) spoke extensively about how the church expresses what it values--Michael in a more historical, confessional, and ecumenical context, and Carol from a more contemporary, sociological perspective.

How our church (both the universal church and our individual congregations) expresses what it values is, in a sentence, I think what defines it as the church.  And what we value is not always what the Gospel values.  It is something I even asked them about, because I'm scared that I, and the church, have forgotten how to lament that reality.

So this is my lament to God and to you: I have sold out the Gospel.

More conservative colleagues and friends of mine might read that sentence and think I am referring to my support for marriage equality or for the ordination of women and GLBTQ persons.  Welp...#sorrynotsorry (obligatory hashtag there), but that is not at all what I am lamenting.

No, I am lamenting to all of you that I am called to serve God as revealed through Jesus Christ and that I have watered down that Gospel, that message of Good News, that Jesus preaches in order to make my ministry easier and more comfortable for me.

I am lamenting that I serve a Christ who has called me to proclaim a message of radical, not-seven-but-seventy-times-seven forgiveness, and yet I am still stingy with my own forgiveness when it is mine to dole out to wrongs done against me personally.

I am lamenting that I preach, proclaim, and believe in a Gospel that demands unbelievably sacrificial generosity, and yet I am not equally sacrificial and generous with my own resources.  I have not, nor likely ever will, sell all I own and give the proceeds to the poor.

And I am lamenting the reality that I'm not sure how much of it I will be able to change, or can change, and continue to have the influence that I have to preach, teach, and bring about change.  I am lamenting that I am, in a word, a hypocrite.

I am firmly entrenched as the pastor of a congregation that does amazing mission work in its community, that teaches and supports and builds up its own members to be Christ's disciples, and that provides opportunities for worship and engagement with God constantly.  I continue to be amazed and proud of the things my congregants are doing to teach the Gospel to one another and to their neighbors.

But make no mistake: that does not mean we are living as the first-century church was.  We do not give everything we own as individuals to the church in order for it to be given to others on the basis of need (Acts 4:32-35).  We do not perform healing miracles in public (Acts 3:1-10).  And we are not so singularly trusting of God's will that we cast lots to determine who joins our ranks (Acts 1:24-26).

Our belief in God is great, our faith in God is sincere.  But that has not kept us from not upholding parts of the New Testament that are perhaps the most challenging for us to do.

It is something that I have been wrestling with immensely with this new sermon series on Luke's Sermon on the Plain: what Jesus teaches there should convict every single believer.  Every. Single. One.  We may call Jesus our teacher, but I probably obeyed a higher percentage of my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Biggs's, commands than I do Jesus's.  I'm not positive--I was too young in kindergarten to really keep track--but I'm pretty sure.

I suppose you could say that I am lamenting the truth that Paul so accurately writes of in Romans 3, that we have all sinned and fallen short of God's great glory.

But it's more than that.  Even after being redeemed, even after being called, even after being ordained, I *know* that I am still selling God short.

In other words: it isn't just that I have fallen short of God, it's that I am actively selling short of God too.

And so my lament continues.  As does my need to beg for forgiveness.  May God have mercy on me, if it is right that God should do so.

Yours in Christ,


  1. "There but for the grace of God ..." "We have this treasure in earthen vessels - cracked pots!" The crack is how the light gets through, shines out. Thanks for the honesty, Eric. Lamenting is appropriate, needed, necessary. May it lead us to a deeper humility in serving, because we know we will always fall short and God is the one who causes the light to shine! Amen.

  2. Thanks, Marvin. I've been searching for the light shining in my own spiritual life lately. I've been hoping that writing like this will be a part of it.