Preacher-Comic-Musician-Social Activist Gospel Loop

There is a bit of an interesting cycle in the preacher world that is perhaps not unique but nonetheless real. It goes like this:

The preacher wants to be a comic because there is something the preforming comedy that allows you to speak truth to power with a joke and a nod.

The comic wants to be a musician because they get the crowds and music has a broader reach to get their message out.

The musician wants to be a social activist because social work can transform peoples lives.

The social activist wants to be able to inspire people’s hearts and not just their hands and thus gives speeches to crowds - looking a lot like a preacher.

Photo by  Eduardo Sánchez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Eduardo Sánchez on Unsplash

And the cycle is complete.

As I read the four gospels, I see this cycle at play. Luke is the social activist who desires to raise our awareness of the margins. Matthew is the preacher who builds the whole gospel on five sermons of Jesus. Mark is the comic being able to speak truth to power with a little joke (“Don’t tell anyone I am the messiah” - Jesus). John is among the most poetic and even dare I say, musical gospels we have.

No, Jesus Does Not Pay Our Debt

The story is preached from the street corner to pulpits around the world: Humans are sinners all sin demands repayment (justice), but the "good news" is Jesus paid the debt. It is a fine story. But it is not Gospel. 

Photo by  Ruth Enyedi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ruth Enyedi on Unsplash

When framed this way, Christ does not forgive the debt of sin but only pays it off. Meaning that God is still a God who demands a tit-for-tat. Every sin requires a payment. Every debt is due. At the end of time, all accounts will balance. This sense of balance is often described as justice, which makes us feel good, but it is not Gospel. 

Rather than paying the debt, Jesus forgives the debt. To forgive a debt means that the debt that was owed is erased. To pay the debt means the debt is still there but now it is balanced. God who demands the debt to be paid is not the God of the radical grace and love that Jesus points us to. This pay-the-debt god is a false idol that we place our trust in because it "makes sense" that every debt is to be paid. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one that does not "make sense" in so many ways. The Gospel is one that proclaims that there is no debt to pay off. It is, and you are, forgiven. If you have to have a ledger page to show it, the debt line has been erased - as though it was never owed to begin with. 

It is a nice story, Jesus pays our debt, but this story maintains a social order built upon score keeping, grudge holding, and gracelessness. It is not Good News. 

WeCroak app and the desert wisdom

Hoping for a better year is rooted in our clinging to life. And while life is good, when we cling to life we fear death. When we fear death then we are not living the Christian life. Christian spirituality is, at its core, about embracing death. Not in a macabre or violent way, but in a way the trusts that death is not the last word. Embracing death removes any fear we have of death and when the fear of death is removed then power of death is gone - because the only power we give death is fear. 

There is a little app on my phone that I have been living with for a few weeks now called WeCroak. I came across this app in a wonderful little write up in the Atlantic and I cannot recommend this app or the Atlantic article enough. The only thing the app does is remind you at five random times in the day that you are going to die. In fact the message looks like this:



While the creator of this app was inspired by the practice of reflecting on death in Budhaism called Maransati the centrality of death is present in many traditions. Jesus talked about picking up your cross and the desert wisdom placed death at the center of many teachings. For instance here is this clever little story:

 "They told the story of a hermit who was dying in Scetis. The brothers stood round his bed, clothed him, and began to weep. But he opened his eyes and began to laugh; this happened three times. So the brothers asked him, "Abba, why are you laughing when we are weeping?" He told them, "I laughed the first time because you fear death; I laughed the second time because you are not ready for death; I laughed the third time because I am passing from labor to rest, and yet you weep." As he said this, he closed his eyes and died."

In the coming year, may you let go of clinging to life so that you may embrace death - even just a little bit. I know it is scary, however it is when we let go and trust that death is not the last word we experience resurrection. 

At least that is the Gospel.

A mob + the innocent + festival = Bad News

Over the past several weeks I have been re-studying the Gospel of John. Of the many things that recapture my heart with this my second favorite Gospel, I am reminded why Jesus keeps being so elusive. Specifically the times in the Gospel when Jesus says some variation of 'it is not my time yet." 

So when is Jesus' time?

  • Wedding at Cana (Chapter 2), Nope.
  • How about when Jesus fed 5000 (Chapter 6), nope.
  • The festival of Booths (Chapter 7), nope.

I could go on and on, because the gospel of John if full of these instances, however the point is made. The formula in the gospel of John that ensures that it is Jesus' time is three fold. Only when these three elements are present do you know that it is Jesus' time. Take a moment and see if you can figure it out yourself - what elements are needed in order for Jesus to no longer be elusive?

  1. Jesus' presence
  2. A festival
  3. A unified mob

There are times when Jesus is present and there is a festival but no unified crowd (Ch. 2, wedding, Jesus, no unified crowd).

There are times when Jesus is present and there is a unified mob but no festival (Ch. 8, Jesus, unified crowd against woman caught in adultery, no festival).

There are times where there is a festival and a unified mob but no Jesus (Ch. 9, Sabbath, unified mob, no Jesus).

Why do you think that these three elements are needed in order for it to then be the right "time?" I would submit that it is at the intersection of these three elements that Jesus is trying to teach us something about the nature of his death. The death of Jesus is not a transaction between humans and God (God is mad, Jesus is sacrificed, God's wrath is held back). The death of Jesus points us to the demonic nature of what happens when a unified mob acts in sacred violence we tend to kill the innocent. 

If we believe that our cause is so righteous and correct, if we whip others into a frenzy and demand uniformity masquerading as unity, if we have innocent people we will end up crucifying the Christ once more. 

Be cautious of anytime we find ourselves with a "righteous cause" (religious leaders of Jesus' day had a "righteous cause"). Be cautious of anytime we find ourselves placing a higher degree of holiness and purity over mercy and love (remember Jesus said, I desire mercy not sacrifice). Be cautious anytime we are willing call others unorthodox or identify ourselves with being "the majority" (Jesus was counted unorthodox and it was the perceived majority crowd that killed Jesus). 

If we are taking about an election or a denomination, we may need to take another look at the intersection of the mob, the innocent and celebrations. Jesus sought out that intersection to teach us something, may we have ears to hear that lesson.