Gospel Improv

The gospel writers would have us think it was all planned out. Jesus, you know, knowing everything, all that was going to happen and how. Yet, I’ve been around too long, know too much about how things really happen, to believe this was so. Stuff happens, even to Jesus. Sure, we can look back and think we can see how it all holds together, how it all seems inevitable, yet, I believe most of Jesus’ ministry was an improvisation; and Jesus was great at improvisation, great at being present to the moment he was in with the people he was with dealing with the stuff they were dealing with and adding to that moment God’s mercy.   

I’ve seen improvisational theater, a chaotic and thrilling journey for which there is no script and no settled destination. And what I’ve noticed the most is the way the actors talk to each other when they are in the midst of playing a scene created out of nothing more than their mutual imaginations. They use the language of acceptance and addition: “Yes, and . . .” Each actor accepts what another actor has done and then adds to it. “Yes, and . . .” becomes the engine that keeps the improvisation going.

Crack open the gospels and you’ll see Jesus improvising this way, too, using the language of acceptance and addition: with James and John on the shore of the Sea of Galilee when they were busy putting their fishing nets away, with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well during the hottest part of a day, at a Pharisee’s dinner table when a woman bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, under a sycamore tree which a short, middle-aged man named Zacchaeus had climbed up just so he could see Jesus walk by. To each of these, Jesus said, “Yes, and . . .” and in the “and” opened the door to an experience of the reign of God’s mercy and compassion in their lives. And then Jesus waited, waited to see if they would say “Yes, and . . .” to him. And if they did—some did, some didn’t—the journey into the reign of God’s love went on, a mutual journey of acceptance and addition.

Sometimes, brothers and sisters, we get all worried up about the future of the church, our church. We have plans, you know. We have it all mapped out, what’s going to happen and how. Yet, the gospel isn’t a plan. The gospel isn’t even a strategy. The gospel is an improvisation. When we come under the influence of the gospel, enter its world, we awaken to the present moment we are in with God and with those whose lives intersect our own, a moment in which God says to us and to them, “Yes, and . . .”, accepting all of us and adding mercy; and then God waits for our response, seeing if we will accept and add to what God has offered in that moment; and, if so, creating in the process of successive acts of mutual acceptance and addition the reign of God’s love right where we are. We would do well to improvise more, to focus our energies on the language and behaviors of acceptance and addition, on living the good news of God’s abundant mercy right where are with whomever we are with and seeing where it will take us.

Pastor Robin