I preach the raceless gospel now, but initially, I didn’t even want to preach.
While in seminary, I told God that I wasn’t interested in being a clergyperson and I certainly would not pastor. Conflict-averse, I wasn’t up for the fight.
I told God where I would serve and in what capacity. God had called me to preach at the age of 17, but I somehow thought that I could call the shots. Go figure.
But preaching is not a volunteer position. God is not looking for raised hands but sinking sinners “far from the peaceful shore.” There is no sign-up sheet marked with days and times best suited for us.
As the prophet Jeremiah said it was like fire, those who proclaim the gospel are always consumed, the charred remains of who we were. In the end, not much of us is left. “We decrease; Christ increases” (John 3.30).
Preaching is simply a matter of repeating after God—even when we would rather tie our own tongues than say, “Thus, says the Lord.” And I am not alone, as this apathy affects not only preachers but today’s disciples and would-be believers.
“Television evangelists are indicted for fraud and parish priests for child molestation; churches pour their resources into institutional survival while their numbers dwindle; religious wars are waged around the world while children’s bellies bloat and whole species disappear off the face of the earth,” Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in The Preaching Life. “These are grim times, in which the God of our fondest dreams is nowhere to be found.”
Unfortunately, a new generation of believers sees preachers who run to hold the train of Caesar rather than reach for the robe of that Rabbi Jesus, who think their political gain will work out for their good. They think that they’ve got the “kin-dom” of God all figured out, that the salvation of the world is a backroom deal that they must get all worked out.
But the calling does not go according to our plans. Preacher, teacher, servant-leader or otherwise, if you follow Jesus, there is no telling where you will end up—before a multitude and in the presence of the miraculous or before an angry crowd and down at the cross, pinned down with the least likely to succeed in life.
To this day, when I stand in a pulpit, I am eating my words even as I repeat old, holy ones. I have found that those often unassuming words will eat at you, gnaw on you, and, in the end, eat you alive. Scripture is a cannibal.
Still, I am compelled to say, “Eat this book” (Ezekiel 3:3). But there are times when I cannot stomach it and would rather turn over my plate.
Because often I have no taste for ministry and no desire to serve. There are times when I would rather put my head under a rock—because I have hit rock bottom—than proclaim that “there is a rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).
It is here that I remember that God and I have made a deal, and there is no backing out—even when my back is up against the wall.
In this position, the gospel can be hard to swallow. I have difficulty getting it down.
Some days, I shake my head to refuse or must hold my nose and take it. On other days, I need to mix it with orange juice.
“The medicine of the gospel—those healing stories of God did more to put people back together than all the potions of the world,” Barbara Brown Taylor wrote in Gospel Medicine. She’s preaching—even if I don’t want to hear it.
So, I treat Jesus’ message then as a kind of love potion. No scene of a sleeping beauty, he raises his head and we all rise to our best selves.
I have found that for all our concoctions, we are none the wiser or the better. We mix and mingle with “who’s who,” and we are no closer to who God called us to be.
We rub shoulders with the powerful but none of us has the faith to move a mountain. But I’ve given my mountain a name—race.
Over time, the Sabbath has become my world and not simply a day of the week. I have made peace with this gospel that will turn your world upside down, shake the contents onto the floor and expect you to work with it.
I’ve also found a few words that I don’t mind repeating day after day. Yes, Lord, I am preaching the raceless gospel.