Sunday, February 08, 2009
"He's a Righteous Dude"
1 Corinthians 9: 16-23
One of the most famous movies of the 80's is a movie called "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The plot is that a very clever high school student skips school, figures out ways to get his best friend and his girlfriend to come along, and they visit museums, go to baseball games, participate in a parade, and generally gallivant around Chicago, while avoiding contact with the schools' principal.
Easily described, but the magic of this movie is in how the story is told.
Ferris, in the movie, is a well-liked kid. The school secretary, Grace, remarks on this in a line that is one of the lines anyone quotes when they talk about the movie. (I didn't show the clip in the worship service, because I didn't want some of the language to dstract from the message. Click here to hear the line.
Now, movies in the 80's, especially the John Hughes ones, were fond of classifying high school kids into rigid stereotypes, and grouping all like kids into groups. The Breakfast Club, a movie I've used in a sermon before, took a number of these stereotypical kids and mashed them together in a common experience that blew their assumptions about each other. Ferris Bueller, however, takes those stereotypes and creates a character who bridges all of them. Every school seems to have kids that are well known and liked by everyone. The character Ferris is one of those. In twenty years of thinking about this movie, I think I know why, and it is pretty close to what Paul claims in today's scripture. Ferris, the character, is very easygoing, and accepts people as they are. So, even though he may not be a "sporto" himself, he listens when people who are athletes talk, and really understands what they mean. He would be the same with drama kids, band kids, FFA kids, college-prep kids and kids who are "this close" to dropping out. He's smart enough not to judge kids with piercings as wierdos, to not judge kids by their look. And really, that's all anyone asks--to be understood. And he can do all this without losing a sense of who he is, himself.
Being Righteous so often becomes a negative--"boy, that person is so self-righteous". You'll see a range of meanings in the dictionary: from Morally upright; without guilt or sin, to absolutely genuine or wonderful: what the turtle Crush means by righteous in Finding Nemo.
Truly righteous living is to be both-- morally upright, but genuine and wonderful.
Paul says that he "becomes all things to all people"; I have to believe that Paul does not paint his body to become an Ethiopian; rather, he listens, and understands, and accepts people as children of God. All people, because he knows the Gospel of Christ is for all people. And he does so completely aware and comfortable being a man who was raised to be a rabbi.
To be like Paul, to fulfill our call as Christians, we are not necessarily called to be like the people around us. Rather, what makes the gospel authentic and trustworthy is how we live it in our lives, and we give evidence that the truth we live prepares us to live with those who aren't us.
When people make mistakes as evangelists, it's usually that they insult or somehow discount who the people are they are working with. Someone once said that it is better to catch flies with honey than it is with vinegar. If you want to carry the love of Christ to a community, to a group, to an individual who is not like you, the job becomes impossibly hard when you do not accept and love who the people are.
Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, says it this way, in Paul's voice; "I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people. . . I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ--but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view."
Getting out and being a part of the world is a necessary part of the Gospel. Seeing how people live by being with them is so very important, it is almost crucial to a proper living of the gospel. The seminary where my stepmother went required a 5 week trip outside of the US, preferably to another continent, so that comfortable, insulated Americans would experience life from another perspective. It was required for graduation. My life has changed through my experiences in Mexico and Guatemala. Ask Chrissy Bell about India sometime. You go to places where life is different, where the people are different, and you shut up and listen. And where you have commonalities with them, that is where the Gospel can grow. You don't always have to leave the country, but you do have to hush and listen wherever you are.
What does it mean to be a Righteous Dude? It means to live your life according to the Gospel, and to be interested in the lives of others; not just so you can change them, but because you genuinely are interested in them as they are. It means to accept their culture and their lifestyle, to present the simple love of God and the salvation of Christ, and to attach as little of your own culture to it as possible. It means to learn about people in humility, in gentleness. Today is scout Sunday and it really is like living according to the Scout Law: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. (see, it isn't just Paul who says to live this way!)
The gospel is best preached by the way it is lived. If the people who preach it live in judgment of others, it is a stumbling block. If the people who preach it do not care about the real lives of the people they live among, then their words are hollow, and the Gospel of love for all is a lie.
Truly, our call as Christians in the world is to live as "righteous dudes" If the people who preach the gospel live their lives by the love of God, the true gospel can't help but leak out.