Catchphrases are awesome. Little memorable quips repeatedly thrown out by a character that tells you all you need to know about the character. For instance in Happy Days the Fonz has his iconic AYYYYY, Rerun in Whats Happening had Dy-no-mite and Arnold Schwarzenegger had I’ll be back long before his catchphrase became an odd mispronunciation of the state he governed.
(Mr. Governor it’s pronounced California not Cullifornaya)
Those catchphrases tell you all yo need to know about the characters, The Fonz was cool, Rerun was a happy goofball and Arnold would, no matter the odds, kick butt and come back to defeat the bad guy. I always thought it was funny to imagine if characters had a different catchphrase. I thought it was funny to think of how that would change the character. For instance replace Arnold’s I’ll be back with a diminutive “I give up” and all of a sudden you have a much different ending to all his movies.
“Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war!”
“Sorry Henry lets try another catchphrase”
I’ve often wondered what the catchphrase of the Church is, or at least what should it be. It seems that all to often people outside of the Church think about today’s reading when they think about the message that Christianity is sending to them.
Romans 1:18-25 (NRSV)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Not the rosiest of pictures is it. God’s existence is so clear that everyone can see it. Anyone who doesn’t believe in God must be actively avoiding him, and now the wrath of God is coming for all those who don’t believe in him. Yikes. The truth is a lot of people, outside the Church, hear this sort of message and feel strong armed and condemned. They feel like they are being told that their lack of belief, or lack of church association mean that they are bad people who idle away their time on trivial, Godless pursuits. Whats more they feel they are being told that God’s wrath is all that awaits them unless they make a change ASAP. In other words the catchphrase they are hearing is “Follow us, or else”. What a sad state of affairs, there are lots of messages that the Church has to spread, we call those messages the Good News or Gospel but to be clear the Gospel is not a threat.
Through out Roman’s Paul, who wrote it as a letter about 2000 years ago, spins a persuasive web luring readers into the inescapable conclusion that we all need God’s grace. He starts by indicting those who follow pagan worship, which would make those who believe in the God of Israel nod their head in Judgmental approval. Paul then turns that argument around in such a way that those who are nodding their heads in judgmental approval would realize they too fall short and should aim that judgment at themselves too. The clincher is that Paul drops Gods grace into the middle of those failings, into the middle of that judgment and shows us that Gods grace is for everyone. The point is that we all fall short and screw up but we are made right by God, who forgives all those failings not by what we have or haven’t done but because of his gracious love. We all need God’s grace and fortunately it’s there for us all. Or else makes a terrible and in accurate statement of the church, there has got to be a grace centered catchphrase to be found somewhere, I’m sure someone more clever than I could find it.
“Still pretty bad Henry”