What if we stopped trying to manage the Gospel and, rather, extend love to friend, family and enemy alike and wait to see what ridiculous sort of transformation and reconciliation Jesus brings into being in our midst. Sometimes it seems like the cost analysis of becoming the Body of Christ often gets in the way of actually being Jesus to others in the particularity of where we live and move. We have a great tendency, in other words, to read the Gospel in the abstracting light of where we stand today, rather than reading our lives from the particular strangeness of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In other words, we have a tendency to relate to the Gospel of Jesus as something unrelatable. Yet there is a beautiful multiplicity to the way who is the Incarnate One that transcends our momentary sensibilities or inclinations. And every time we think we have a handle on the Gospel and who it calls us to be Jesus goes off and flips over a table and says, 'Pray.'
When the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells the story of the good samaritan (Luke 10). And as Jesus begins describing the situation, we see that the we, along with the young ruler, have a habit of asking the wrong questions. We wonder who our neighbor is when the good news of the kingdom invites us to question our neighborliness. How might this new form of questioning our questions change our sense of what reconciliation is and who it's for?
We often assume that being reconciled with God looks the same in each situation. While the call to be reconciled with God in Christ is universal, does this mean that our lives will all look the same? In other words, might reconciliation with Christ look different than who or what I think ought to be reconciled with God? This is a round about way of asking a very important question that often seems to underlie many of our evangelical motives when it comes to being Christian in the world today: what is the relationship between my sense of call and obligation to the faith of Christ in the world and another's call and response to the Gospel?
Christians are those who confess that God became human in Jesus of Nazareth, and that God in Christ lived as one of us, died as one of us, and was resurrected as one of us. But what if a person wrestles with the virgin birth or resurrection? Does this make them less of a Christian? Is their doubt so different than my struggle to believe that God will heal my friend who has cancer? How about matters less creedal: is there salvation for Muslims, atheists, or those who do not confess my version of Christianity? Are those whose sexuality reaches beyond the male-female union a viable witness to the marriage between Christ and the church?
What might happen if Christian churches began emphasizing the unmerited grace and unlimited love and forgiveness of the God made-manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, and, setting aside all prejudices, let love have its way in our midst? Would our churches begin to look more diverse? Would our churches begin to be hubs for spiritual growth? Would people begin to recognized and experience what the adulterous woman brought before Jesus experienced when Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are your accusers" (John 8)? It seems that we have yet to take seriously the divine reality that Jesus came into the world not to bring judgement but to effect reconciliation (John 3).
The early church knew that when Jesus descended into the River Jordan to receive the Baptism of John, that the whole earth was baptized. The earliest Christians seemed to understand all too well that when Christ descended into hell, that the gates of hell were really shattered, and that the Spirit of God was loosed upon the world. Yet at every turn we still look for ways to keep God under wraps - to keep God within the cozy confines of minimally-invasive, consumerist religion. Yet not one stone, says Jesus, will be left upon another. The whole of our religious trappings are toppled by the cross, which is not to suggest that the church or its ancient forms of worship are undone; rather, as with the law they are brought to completion. Yet when they do not direct us to the all encompassing, reconciling love of God in Christ, then they need to be transformed, perhaps overturned, but at the very least investigated to make explicit who our practices and teachings are making us to become. Are they making followers of Jesus out of us, or are they constraining the Gospel in such ways that keep us asking faithful questions?
Churches are in decline; however, there are local churches who are experiencing real and sustainable growth. And the churches that are growing are the ones that are not trying to grow in any other way except spiritually together in Christ. Churches that are letting go of how "we've done it before," that are attending less to the risks of following Jesus and more to the possibilities, these are the places where the Spirit who is ever calling the church into being is heard, for the hospitality that fills these places have opened the ears of the people to hear. As Rachel Held Evans has said, "The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things; the church is a group of people caught up in the same story, with Jesus at the center" (Inspired, p. 157). The Gospel, says Evans, is open to anyone who wants in on it.