Craft of Preaching

The Four Gospels: My (Quirky and Beloved) Neighbors

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Mona Caron in front of her "Windows into the Tenderloin" mural
(Creative Commons image by Joel Pomerantz on Flickr)


I was talking with my friend Nadia Bolz-Weber about why we need four gospels.

We talked about how the gospels are embodied, real, and so much so that you fall in love with them in that same way that you fall in love with the people around you. We love the gospels because they’re vulnerable, like us; because beneath the thin veneer of our cultural acceptability is gray hair and crooked teeth or a too-thin calf covered with black hair. The gospels, like life, like us, are beautiful and broken and alive and lovely; they are full of Christ, his cross, and his hope that all has been redeemed.

So I began to articulate the following: “If the Gospels were people in my life, who would they be?”

Matthew: He's that old Jewish widower that never talks to me outright or smiles; he just nods when I drive by. He's always working in his yard with the lilies and the mustard seeds. One day he comes over and he asks me if I'd like some raspberry shoots because he needs to thin them because they're so wild. So, I follow him over to his house and he says as he begins clipping, “You know, the raspberry is in the same family as the rose. My wife, she loved her roses. Be careful, now, with those thorns." And, I realize he is all about the law, but even more so, he is about the least of these.

Mark: He's that thirteen-year-old boy who wears an Insane Clown Posse black t-shirt and loves "The Walking Dead." He starts to tell me stories about an episode, but he gets lost in the details such as a guy stabbing his own head. So, I’m not sure what the point is, but I love hearing him talk, anyway. I’m just like, "Wow." He asks his parents for a guitar for Christmas and learns to play early Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, and one day he tells me that his favorite two seasons in the church year are Advent and Lent. He and his friends spend a lot of time making their own zombie movies in the basement and writing songs in their band with names like, "And everyone was afraid."

Luke: She's that girl who grew up in the suburbs and is really smart, and everyone wants her to be their babysitter for their kids when she's a young teenager. She is on dance team in high school and every musical, but then she goes off to college and is undone by a J-term trip to Haiti. She returns and tells her parents that she wants to do mission work somewhere, that she experienced Christ in community, and that we need to take care of the poor. She tells a story about how she saw one old woman give her only chicken to the whole village. She also took a feminist literature class and believes women are underrated in history. She starts her own non-profit and begins by writing a grant to Theophilus.

John: John is the very old black woman at my gym who knows God is God, and that's that, and Jesus knows what he's doing even if it doesn't make sense. She tells me that her cat got away and that she's been looking all over for it, and she's worried sick. She often will go off on long tangents about prayer or the Holy Spirit -- so long I could walk away, do a set of bench presses, and she would never even know. She'll use images like light and bread, and I’m not quite sure I really get them, but I nod a lot and realize she's the wisest person I've ever heard. I look at her and realize there is a translucency to her skin that is honest and that she smells like apricots. I imagine myself drowning in her and her love of Jesus, then asking her where the gardener went.

These are the people the gospels are for me, and I can’t help but fall in love with them. But all of us fall in love with them -- however they embody themselves -- because somehow Christ is carried upon the words. It’s like a promise is born, and the gospel stuns us because we realize that this God has fallen in love with us first.

The Gospels are both particular and eternal, and through their revelation they clarify what's important and what's not. The gospels cut through the clatter and clutter of life, and what we see when it is peeled back, if only for a moment, is our nine-year-old bald nephew at the Magic stage at Disneyworld in his wheelchair, clapping and rocking back and forth to a calypso band, for a moment, free. He, so humbly, is bearing Christ’s kingdom. We cannot help but fall in love with that moment, caught off guard, our bodies bending a little toward mercy and death, and finally, knowing, even if we forget again, what love is, and how it is given to us.

The Gospels do to us what all love does; it changes how we see and how we imagine. Because the very story of Christ changes us, we become the beloved where we revel in his strange promises, where we are freed by his love.

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