Thursday, June 1, 2017


I call it dime-store theology.  You know, the kind of theology that sells the Gospel short…that takes the radically reorienting truth of the Gospel and makes this whole Christian enterprise into something more like religious self-help.  Dime-store theology…the kind of theology that not only sells God short, but sells us short too. That doesn’t truly open us up to transformation…that tells that who we are at the present moment is the best we will ever be.  It’s dime-store theology because it really does belong on the shelves of discount closeout stores, next to the off-brand cereals and the knockoff purses…an imitation of the highest caliber. Certain theologians across the ages have taught us that we are a people totally depraved, perpetually broken, festering from the wounds of original sin.  Wealthy televangelists have taught us that what God really wants for us is a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a robust bank account, and 2.5 children.  Oh, and a Lexus.  We just can’t forget about the Lexus.  And lest you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not.  Theological heavy weights like John Calvin made such claims about our total depravity, and talking heads like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Pat Robertson have replaced the Gospel with the American Dream of material and financial success. And because we are a people always searching for meaning, it’s easy to take those things as gospel truth.  But they are not.

On the other hand, here is a bit of the stone-cold truth: “Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him…Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” As his own death was approaching, Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples knew the truth…the truth about God, and the truth about themselves.  It’s one of his ‘Farewell Discourses.’ And what a farewell it is!  “My friends, remember when I raised Lazarus from the dead? And how about the time I healed that blind man with just a bit of spit and mud? Oh, and what about when I said a blessing and we fed five thousand people with the most pathetic of picnic baskets? Do you remember?  Good, because not only are you going to do things like that, but you’re going to one up me, and do something greater!”

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t think I’ve ever done a greater work than Jesus.  I’ll also confess to not knowing exactly what he meant when he said that we would do ‘greater works than these.’  When it comes to Jesus, we are all novices in understanding his teachings.  But what I do know is that his belief and trust in the disciples, despite their best efforts to fail at following him, leaves very little room for a belief in the total depravity of human beings.  In fact, it seems to be totally opposed to such a belief.  While we may be accustomed to and conditioned by a world that seems lost to the darkness, Jesus seems more convinced of the light and the promise dwelling with us. What’s curious to me is that we spend so much time talking about our believing in Jesus that we don’t really stop to ponder the great mystery that, apparently, he believes in us.  Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we become the means by which the redemptive work of Jesus Christ continues in the present.  His work is not bound by history, geography, or cultural location.  His light lives on in us, and we are called to burn brightly in the world.

Because of this belief, this trust…the entrusting of the Gospel work to us, we know that we are not totally depraved, nor are we meant only for mere happiness, success, and financial health.  We are not called to simply be a well-adjusted citizen of the world, doing tiny acts of common courtesy when presented with the opportunity.  As it says in 1 Peter, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Just simply paying attention to the particular words Peter uses should open us up to the wild and adventurous call God has for us.  We are chosen, as in God wants you. You, with all of your fragility, your scars, your shortcomings…God wants you.  We are a royal priesthood, a people who are called not only to be holy, but to work and labor for the holiness of the whole world.  And though it is rendered here, “God’s own people,” a better translation would be “God’s possession.” We are possessed by God to be set apart, made holy, to be the agents of sanctification in the world.  We, the ones who have found the way out of darkness, are called then to proclaim to the world precisely where they can find the light.

This is serious business my friends.  But, after all, this is the Gospel…a proclamation of Good News based on the stunning truth that death was overturned in the resurrection of Jesus Christ…that we, the people who were once lost, once subsisting only the milk of infants…we have found the light.  We have found the food that doesn’t just sustain us, but also causes us to grow up, to become who God is calling us to be.  And we then take this message to the hurting and broken world around us.  It is our primary purpose.  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the hearing of the Gospel, let us endeavor to carry this message to anyone we encounter still trapped in a prison of darkness and despair. May our faith then not be found on the shelves of discount closeout stores, next to the off-brand cereals and the knockoff purses.  May it be the faith once delivered to the saints…the faith that burned in the heart of St. Stephen even as the stones flew towards his face…the faith that caused Peter to write such uplifting yet convicting words…the faith that filled Jesus with hope when he looked at his disciples. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these,

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