If you were forced to describe Christianity, the Gospel, to an alien from another planet and if you had only seven words in which to do it, what seven words would you choose?1
If you found yourself in an elevator with a Buddhist who was curious about Christianity ... genuinely curious about your life of faith, and if you only had time to utter seven words to explain to this Buddhist what this faith is to you, means to you, does for you, what do you say?
What seven words best capture, evoke or give witness to your faith?
If you were to boil Christianity down to its bone, to the essence of its essence, what is revealed? What is left? What does it look like? Sound like? Feel like? Smell like? Taste like?
If you were speaking to a simpleton, and if it was out of bounds to wax eloquent about how terribly complicated is Christianity, how intricate and nuanced, what would you say? After all, we are talking about two centuries of a world-wide religious phenomenon with manifestations from Asia to Africa, from Alaska to Alabama, from Constantine to Calvin, from Bach to Bono, from Billy Graham to Bill Clinton; a religion whose intellectuals are wont to wade into the thick goo of theodicy and eschatology, of incarnation and salvation, of revelation and resurrection. But, if it were out of bounds to note that Christianity is far too nuanced, too complicated and intricate to explain briefly: What would you say?
Might you employ verbs or nouns? Might you frame your own Gospel in Seven Words as invitation or exhortation, inspiration or celebration, teaching or warning? Would you take your words from the biblical texts or from elsewhere?
Here are my seven words. Seven words in three sentences ... three biblical sentences:
God is love.
“Jesus wept” is the shortest sentence in the Bible. It is, certainly, among the most poignant. Jesus wept when he learned of the death of his dear friend, Lazarus.
Jesus wept. For me those two words, conjure the image of God sewing garments for Adam and Eve after they had sinned and were being expelled from the garden. As they were preparing to step out into the cold of a harsh world, God sewed clothing for them. I imagine God’s tears sewn into every stitch of the clothing which would hide their nakedness and protect them from the elements.
Jesus wept. Those words conjure the day God’s pathos was aroused by the groaning and misery of those enslaved in Egypt.
Jesus wept. The sentence conjures companionship and lament, love and loss. It conjures life and death.
“God is love.” From the 1st letter of John. It is declarative and strong, simple and straight.
It is true that the traditional, theological attributes of God are more complicated and sophisticated. Theologians describe God as Omniscient, Omnipotent and Omnipresent.
But really, doesn’t “God is love” cover it all?
The phrase conjures the earliest story in Genesis ... the Divine Being reaching out to create, to shape, to nurture, to be in relationship with creation and creatures.
God is love. In those three words are contained the entire birth, life, teaching, healing, feeding, death and resurrection of Jesus.
God is love. That single sentence is enough to silence the rat-a-tat of machine guns. It is the key that unlocks the prison door. God is love. It is a table out in the brush, in sub-Saharan Africa, a table laden with foods—succulent and spicy, lavish with savory sauces and excellent sources of protein; a table laden with foods that neither spoil nor run out ... a table spread for the poorest and hungriest people on this planet.
God is love. It conjures God’s conversations with Moses, the Ten Commandments and the Exodus,
the Great Commandment, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm and Jesus.
Finally, “Rejoice always.” This is the Christian’s can’t-be-helped response to Jesus wept and God is love. Rejoice always because your pain, your mortality, your sin, your sorriness are not the last word.
Rejoice always, because no matter how bad it gets—no matter how bad you get—God’s got your back. Rejoice always because in Christ death is dead. In Christ, love wins out over hate. By Christ peace trumps violence and mercy overwhelms cruelty.
God is love.
And you, what seven words would you choose. When you boil the Gospel down to its very essence, what is that essence?
I asked several people to compose their seven words. Let’s now hear from them.
[Here seven worshippers stood in place and, speaking into a microphone, recited in turn their seven words for all to hear. Here are a few:]
Love. Faith. Mercy. Forgiveness. Redeemed. Alleluia. Amen.
Providing hope and guidance through life's journeys.
– Kate Grant
Heal the sick. Eat with everyone. Forgive.
And, you? What seven words would you choose? When you boil the Gospel down to its essence, what is that essence?
Do yourself a favor. Do the alien from another planet a favor. Do the Buddhist and the simpleton a favor. Do God a favor: wrestle with this challenge. Boil down the gospel to its essence. What is Your-Gospel-in-Seven-Words?
When you have it, send it to me. We will gather them together.
In so doing, I cannot promise that you and I will learn more about God, although I suspect we will. I can, however, promise that we will learn from each other, and that we will know more about each other, then we know today.
1 The idea from this sermon and exercise was taken from an article in The Christian Century, “The Gospel in Seven Words”, by Carol Zaleski, M. Craig Barnes and others. (September 5, 2012, Vol. 129. No. 18)