Love and grace aren't easy to preach, or at least, to preach well. It's easy to preach them as buzz words, as prosperity gospel, as a colorful candy coating over this troublesome life that we live. But that's not really love and grace. Love and grace don't sugarcoat this life; they permeate it, down to its very core.
And that's disturbing.
It's disturbing because it forces us to wrestle with questions such as: what is love? What is grace? It forces us to look at the world around us and figure out, again and again, what love is. It forces us to look into the eyes of our betrayers and discover grace in the depth of our hearts. Not because love and grace are better than anything else we bring to the table but because they are more real than anything else life has to offer.
Love and grace, spoken well, shake us out of our shallow faith and draw us in the depths of life abundant.
There's a passage in Mark's gospel that articulates well what our preaching should be, what happens when we get the message right. It comes from Herod himself, as he's pressured into executing John the Baptist. Here's what we know of the relationship between Herod and the prophet:
Herod knew that John was a fair and holy man, so he protected him. When he listened to John, he would become very disturbed, and yet he liked to listen to him. (6:20)
John, we know, was not one to mince words. We have numerous recollections of how frequently John spoke truth against Herod, condemning him for an illegal (detestable) relationship. John's truth bothered Herod, Herod's wife, Herod's children, Herod's household...and Herod threw John in jail for it. But then he admits that even though he's disturbed by what John says (although, it must be noted, not disturbed enough to actually change his ways), he still liked to listen to John speak. Why?
Because John was getting love and grace right.
We don't have any record of this. We don't know what else John had to say to Herod. We don't know what they talked about on a regular basis, whenever Herod would have John brought from the prison to chat with him. It's hard to imagine that the prophet preparing the way for Jesus would only speak about fidelity and infidelity and honorable relationships; the time is coming when Herod will be called upon, in some fashion, to sit in judgment of the man, Jesus. Don't you think that all his conversations with John in some ways began orchestrating that encounter? They had to.
Herod is shaken. He's disturbed. He cannot fathom this love, this grace. He cannot wrap his mind around this man, Jesus, not even when his favorite pet prophet, John, tells him of it. He knows that John condemns him and yet, if this were merely a man condemning him, the man would himself be condemned, for no one speaks against the king. Herod understands, without even knowing, that the condemnation from John's lips comes from somewhere deeper, from God Himself - perhaps from Herod himself - and this man who speaks against the king speaks also for the King. (It's why John is only imprisoned and is executed reluctantly later.)
That's what truth - love and grace included - do to a man when preached right. They disturb him. They shake him to his core. They give him a way to understand, even if he doesn't know, that this truth, this love, this grace is deeper than what seems to be right before your very eyes. There's something transcendent about it. Something ethereal. Something...holy?
And men, even wicked men, cannot get enough of it. Herod never says that John disturbed him so much that he refused to hear the man speak any longer. No. Rather, Herod liked to listen to John, even though the prophet disturbed him. This is what we must do with our message. This is how we - the priests, the prophets, the pastors - must preach.
We must speak God in such a way that men are shaken. We must share truth, love in such a way that it disturbs people, that it rattles them out of their shallow lives and into the depth of God's incredible grace. It's the only way to do it. And even though it doesn't seem popular, even though it doesn't seem easy, even though it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that will keep men and women coming back to our churches, it actually is. Because it's quite possible, and indeed, we see it here even among the wicked, that men can both be disturbed and enticed. In fact, disturbing a man may be the very thing that keeps him coming back.
The truth? The truth is that no one likes the prosperity gospel as much as they think they do. No one likes a sugarcoated life. No one adores, or even needs, a God who is nothing more than the colorful candy coating over a troublesome life.
But men are drawn by love and grace. So preach it.