Preaching the Gospel can be quite unpopular. There are lots of people who preach very popular gospels – sometimes even from pulpits. Most of the time though preaching doesn’t happen in the pulpit. It happens throughout our ordinary days.
If you are lucky, you get to hear Jesus’ Gospel for 10-20 minutes on a Sunday – maybe even longer. But then you are inundated with other gospel messages seven days a week for every waking hour from a variety of sources.
What are these other gospel messages? It’s a list I thought of when I thought of all the other gospels I was exposed to over the course of just one day. These gospels were preached to me when I work out, when I’m driving, when I’m on social media, when I’m talking with people, when I read my mail, when I watch something on Youtube or TV, when I eat, when I walk in our bathroom, when I look all around me.
These are the gospel messages I heard, saw and experienced:
The gospel of revenge, competition, nationalism, patriotism, materialism, consumerism. I heard the gospels of Democrat and Republican parties. I heard the gospel of militarism and might makes right. I heard the prosperity gospel and the death and destruction gospel of the Rapture. I heard the gospels of fashion, medication, fame, fortune, and sex. I heard a gospel of judgement. A gospel of us versus them.
I heard these gospels. Very few times did hear a gospel of good news. I heard gospels that are exhausting and tiring and essentially gospels of bondage. I heard gospels that preach that salvation is up to you if you try really hard and are able to point the finger of blame at everyone else who is guilty of something.
The Gospel of Jesus is different, as I continue to discover. Each of us will make sense of it in a way that speaks to us. Here’s my way. The Gospel is like running a marathon. When you hit the “wall” that psychological wall, you don’t feel like you can do anything else – you hurt all over, you are mentally done. It is at this point when you know at a deeper level whether you believe or not. Marathons are lonely. Marathons can be painful. But in the end, you know it was worth every bit.
One thing I heard from yesterday’s sermon was that it’s much easier to hate than to love. Peter gets frustrated by Jesus asking him three times if he loves him. It irritates Peter. Love isn’t easy – in fact often it doesn’t make rational sense.
“They” attack us – what should we do? The common answer is to strike back and teach “them” a lesson so they know who not to mess with. I’m exhausted already. This answer has been the standard answer for all of human history and I think it’s safe to say at this point that it doesn’t work. Peace is never the result of this decision. Just more death and destruction and violence and hatred. It’s the easy way out. If you kill your enemy you don’t have to invest time and energy in another person or nation.
Love is much harder – not just in response to war, but in response to all of the false gospels that are preached at us endlessly every day. Grace is much harder than what all the other gospels demand of us. Peace is much harder and more unpopular than all the gospels that demand violence and being right.
And demand is the right word. All of these false gospels are demanding. They demand our adherence, lest we be labeled as some kind of freak or irrational or unrealistic. They demand our energy and attention, lest we be labeled as uninformed or stupid. They demand orthodoxy, lest we be labeled a traitor or a sympathizer or a heretic. They demand our lives, lest we be labeled a radical.
There is a different Gospel. Yet we don’t get to hear it very often. Our culture isn’t interested in it. Nor should we expect our culture to preach it. But it’s a Gospel that tells us that we don’t have the energy to do it on our own. We have been given everything we need – whether we think that’s enough is another story. Because of this, we can respond out of freedom and love and grace and peace. We can live these things, as difficult as they are, not in order to gain anything, but because of what has been done for us. It’s very freeing.