Keep Christianity Weird
This sermon on Luke 7:36-50 was preached August 11, 2019 in a sermon series about the different meals throughout the Gospel of Luke.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
That was once said by writer Flannery O’Connor.
I wonder, though, if the church today is odd enough.
The modern church has placed a lot of effort in being palatable. We are often more concerned about looking decent than acting faithfully. We are often too concerned with being at peace with the powers of the world, instead of proclaiming a greater power—a power of non-violence and compassion—a power of mutuality and respect—a power of unarmed truth and unconditional love—a power sourced from a perfect love that casts out fear.
Let’s be honest: Church ought to be weird. We worship a God who says the dead don’t stay dead. We follow a guy who loved his enemies and told eccentric stories. The church is a people who, at our best, chooses to be vulnerable with one another and build one another up for a hope that we have seen diminished on so many crosses throughout history. Always, though, that hope revives fiercer, more refined, and more diligent than ever.
And instead of wielding the grace and power of this incredible God, we find ourselves trying to fit in. We try not to stick out. We try not to cause a fuss. We pursue respectability instead of faithfulness.
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This why today’s scripture reading strikes a deep chord in me. There is nothing palatable about what happens at Simon the Pharisee’s house. A woman enters into the courtyard while Jesus was eating with Simon and his friends. Tradition has long called the woman a prostitute. We don’t know if that’s true, though I suppose it’s a possibility.
Simon’s friends and Jesus were debating the hot topics of the day. Jesus would have been leaning on a cushion with his left arm sort of holding himself up. He would have been eating would with his right hand from a mat in the center of these cushions. In this leaning repose, Jesus were feet not hard to get to. This woman “known for her sin” enters the courtyard and washes Jesus feet. She pours an anointment over them. The language suggests that this was not a quick tussle of the feet, rather it was drawn out to almost to emphasize the offensiveness. She kisses his feet. Then she lets down her hair—something that a first century woman would never do in public.
Here is what sticks out to me: The Pharisees scratch their heads. They wonder what in the heavens is going on. This doesn’t make sense to them, and they are people who love to make sense of everything. “If this man was a prophet,” one said, “he would have known that she was a sinner.” For Jesus to be touched by a sinner was enough to make the whole dinner unpalatable. Jesus’s has got the whole dinner party scratching their heads.
Does your faith ever make the people around scratch their head and wonder?
The faith Jesus gives us can be a real head-scratcher.
Moments like ours is a great time for Christian faith to make people scratch their heads. Someone needs to shift the paradigm. Someone needs to help us envision a new way forward.
What are we going to do to change the conversation?
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Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock and it is altogether destroyed. It then becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting deep wounds nor of healing them.”
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In 2016, after the shooting in Orlando, Florida, at the Pulse Nightclub, the national conversation was taking a sour turn. And they were some folks who wanted to show up at the funerals of the victims—many of the victims identified as a part of LGBTQ community—and protest their funerals. People wanted to tell the grieving families of these victims, as well as everyone else, that these folks were going to hell.
And, as you know, Jesus teaches us that wherever people are suffering—wherever people are hurting—wherever are being marginalized and excluded—that’s where we find the unconditional love of God. That is the place that we meet Jesus Christ today.
And so then, some people got together, and I think they did something like the woman did today in our scripture reading. They want to where Jesus was and did something that changed the conversation.
A group of folks dressed up as angels. They wore long, flowing white gowns. They attached PVC pipes to their arms, and they circled the church where these victims of fear and violence were having their funerals. They turned their backs towards the protestors, and opened their arms. The gowns from the wings hung down. Their wings were a barrier between the families and those speaking condemnation. The angels did not have to say a word. But they changed the conversation.
Keep Christianity weird.
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This is why I really like the woman in today’s scripture reading. She keeps Christianity kind of weird. This “sinful woman” marches her way into the middle of this probably insufferable conversation. Everyone is rehashing the same old arguments. I am sure, for example, the Pharisees continued a debate about the fine details of Sabbath that had been going on for decades.
What this woman effectively does is change the conversation after her little stunt, no one is talking about the fine print of dietary laws anymore. Rather, they are talking forgiveness, grace, and the love of God.
Well done, Sister! How do we do that? How do we change the debate from the efficacy of thoughts and prayers after mass shootings like the ones in El Paso and Dayton to real, substantive change? How do we, as the church, change the conversation about asylum-seekers to be about the real needs of people?
Perhaps, then, we can do this is to show some unabashed, perhaps unpalatable, love of God. And, I’m sorry, but that type of faith isn’t necessary going to make you look good. You might just look a little crazy. And that’s okay.
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Rev. Joseph Lowery was one the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and helped organize the march from Selma to Montgomery.
He was speaking at an event in Selma a couple of years ago. He shared a story about that helps him think about the “craziness” of the Gospel.
He went to his son-in-law, a physician, for a medical check-up. His son-in-law told him: “Pops, your cholesterol is a little high—cut out the peach cobblers and stuff like that. On the other hand, your good cholesterol is alright.”
Rev. Lowery said, “I am glad he reminded me there is a good cholesterol and there is bad cholesterol….Everybody in the [civil rights] movement was a little crazy, because like cholesterol, there is a good crazy and there is bad crazy.”
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Rev. Lowery is on to something. The Gospel invite us to little good crazy because Christian faith is a little weird. Christian faith invites us to live in this good crazy, or perhaps what St. Paul once called the “foolishness of the cross.”
We don’t need to try make Christian faith more respectable. Rather we need to lean into our faith in all of the places of our world that are hungry for love and forgiveness. Believing in the promise of the resurrection shouldn’t make us fit it in, but it also means that we are something to give to in moments of despair—like we have seen in Dayton, and El Paso, and along the border.
I’m not sure anything will make us look weirder than when we unconditionally love. We are blessed with a peace that surpasses human understanding, and yet we struggle to trust the peace of God because it might make us look like a fool.
Christian faith calls upon us not protect ourselves but to proclaim the love of Christ.
When we act out this faith, we are bound to change the conversation.
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This week I ran across a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He preached the sermon as if he were the Apostle Paul writing a letter to American Christians. The sermon is challenging and prescient, and it is just as urgent and relevant as ever. He warns of scientific advance without moral inquiry and spiritual growth. He warns of the pitfalls of capitalism and argues that communism is no solution.
But one point seemed especially poignant. He warns that they are Christians “are afraid to be different” and that “their great concern is to be accepted socially.” Here is one of my favorite lines: “You have unconsciously come to believe that what is right is determined by Gallup Polls.” (As I said, as relevant as ever.)
“If any earthly institution or custom conflicts with God’s will,” he says, “it is your Christian duty to oppose it. You must never allow the transitory, evanescence demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demand of the Almighty God…You must be willing to challenge unjust mores, to champion unpopular causes, and to buck the status quo.”
However, it is the final exhortation of this letter that merits our attention today. Before the concluding remarks and farewell, King says that “in a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, you are challenged to follow the way of love. You will then discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in all the world.”
Following the way of unarmed love makes us weird.
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Now I am not suggesting to go and do crazy things, and then blame God. That has caused too much hardship for the world over the last 2000 years. But what I am suggesting is that you follow Jesus Christ. And you’ll know when you are following Jesus, because sooner than later you’ll be scratching your head. You’ll wonder, “Does he really mean this?” Blessed are the poor. Does he really mean the first shall be last? Does he really mean gives away everything and follow me? Does he really mean that guns are going to be beaten into shovels? Does he really mean to love your enemy? Does he really to welcome the stranger? Does he really mean turn the other cheek? Does he really mean that the meek inherit the earth?
Of course, he does.
Keep Christianity weird.