“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
In a week with a tough theme here at 50 Days of Fabulous, the lectionary keeps giving us more clues that any idea that Christianity is about being nice are dead wrong. In today’s daily office lectionary, Jesus is giving advice to those he has commissioned to be sent out. He says, “whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you” (Luke 10:10-11).
Where did we get the idea that to be a Christian is to be nice? Why do we imagine that the Gospel is anything other than provocative or, often, deeply disruptive?
There are no saints of the status quo. Every holy women and holy man the church remembers as a saint is known for bearing witness to the power of God’s transforming love. Many of the witness bore witness by giving their lives in Christ’s name. When the church has been at its best — throughout all time and all places — it has often found itself in trouble with the authorities.
Evidence begins to mount that if people are speaking well of the church as just another organization — alongside voluntary organizations and non-profits — then the church itself might be indicted by Jesus’ woe. “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”
The church is meant to bear witness to the power of God’s transforming love, and that love will often stand in opposition to what is polite, to what is acceptable, to what is popular, to what is convenient, or to what is politic.
In other words, I think if the church is being the church, we’re going to be getting into some trouble. The church which is proclaiming the kingdom of God will be rejecting other empires and kingdoms. The church which insists that every person is precious will find itself at odds with a culture that wants to sort people into categories safe/unsafe, good/bad, worthy/unworthy, or in/out. The church which insists there is always enough will be mocked by those whose cry is for a zero-sum world. The church which gently says, “Be not afraid” will be shouted down by entire industries devoted to peddling fear.
It’s time for us Christians to worry less about our reputation and more about the Gospel.
Scott Gunn is an Episcopal priest and executive director of Forward Movement, a ministry that seeks to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his spouse, Sherilyn Pearce, who is also priest, and their social media canine, George T. Dog. Scott blogs at www.sevenwholedays.org.