Grace Is For Losers

It started out innocently enough – the Tamed Cynic posted a meme with a quote from someone named Robert Farrar Capon: “God’s grace in Jesus Christ isn’t cheap. It’s not even expensive. It’s free.” I thought it was good and witty, but forgot about it with my continued scrolling through the strange wonders of the interwebs.

IMG-p14RobertFarrarCapon_cropped-44-247-150-2-5

But then I came across his name again, this time being quoted by my friend Joshua Retterer for an episode of Strangely Warmed. I was content to leave Capon among the great list of “Theologians I Know But Don’t Read” but Josh had the nerve to send me not just one of Capon’s book in the mail, but three.

And when I reluctantly opened to the introduction to “The Romance of the Word” I couldn’t put it down.

Fast-forward through the last six months and I’ve read nearly everything Capon published and it has completely ruined my ministry. His absolute insistence on the unwavering commitment to God’s unending and irrevocable grace has sunk deep into the marrow of my belief and I can’t kick it. Try as I might to end my sermons now with a “how to put this belief into practice moment” I can’t get out of my mind Capon’s fundamental claim that “good preachers ought to be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal all their bottles of religion and morality pills, and flush them down the toilet.” Why? Because God’s grace is bigger than all of our preachments, and is never contingent on our ability to do much of anything. In fact, it is precisely our inability to do much of anything that makes grace necessary in the first place.

And so my preaching has changed, and it has ruined my ministry. It is ruined because all of the cheap moves I made to get people more involved (or worse: feeling guilty about lack of involvement), can no longer stand up to the unwavering claim of the cross.

I’ve been navigating these new waters for the last few months, and I thought I owed it to Jason and Josh to both thank them and castigate them for introducing me to Robert Farrar Capon. And I decided to record the conversation for an episode of the Crackers and Grape Juice podcast. If you would like to listen to the episode you can do so here: Grace Is For Losers

And, if you don’t want to listen to the three of us talk about Capon, you can just listen to the first part of the episode and hear the man himself preaching at Duke Chapel in 1988.

Devotional – Romans 6.22

Devotional:

Romans 6.22

But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 

Weekly Devotional Image

Over the past few years our church has made a concerted effort to welcome first time visitors to worship with radical hospitality. I stand outside and introduce myself to anyone here for the first time, we have greeters waiting by the entrance to the sanctuary, we send around a pew pad to gather addresses/phone numbers to follow up with people later, and we give away a travel coffee mug with our name, address, and phone number. All of these things are done in a hospitable way in order to demonstrate our love for others, and our desire to continually share the message of the Lord with them.

welcome-first-time-visitor

Some churches go far above and beyond what we do to entice first time visitors to return; I have heard of churches that give away bags of candy, others welcome visitors with coupons to local restaurants, still others give away books, DVDs, and further promotional material. Some churches have committees dedicated to training members on how to speak to first time visitors and invite them to return for another aspect of church life. In the last few years “radical hospitality” has been a major focus of the mainline and non-denominational churches to retain worship numbers.

radical-hospitality-2-web

Yet, sometimes, when I read scripture I am reminded of how unappealing Christianity can be. When Christ went ou among the multitudes he did not say: “here is some promotional material about what our movement is doing, we hope to see you next week!” Instead he brought people into his fold with some of the worst PR I have ever read: “let the dead bury the dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God… whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all…”

I fear that today we attempt to make the gospel so appealing that, according to the ways of the world, we water it down. It is a joyous and wonderful thing to have been freed from the power of sin, but we must not forget that we are now enslaved to God. The advantage of discipleship is our own sanctification and eternal life but it comes at a cost. Christianity is not some other wonderful way of thinking about life, it is a demanding and difficult call to live radically transformed lives where the ways of God are more important than the ways of the world.

So, this week I challenge us to reflect on our faith and the ways that we try to share it with others. Are we inviting people to church because it makes us feel good, because a full sanctuary looks better than an empty one? Or are we willing to admit the paradox that being enslaved to God is is the most wonderful and powerful thing we can do with our lives?