Queer Eye and the Gospel

Luke 17:5-10 - It’s a good practice in general to be on the look out for the Gospel. It can happen anywhere, and it does our souls good to notice it. Sometimes we are the recipient of such things, like grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love, and sometimes we get to be a witness. The habit of noticing the Gospel all around us is a good one, a skill we should all work on. And we when do, the Gospel can start popping up in some surprising places. 

Take the Netflix show “Queer Eye,” for example. You’ll have to trust my religious authority on this one, since I have no credentials in popular culture or television, and truth be told, I tend to be way behind on what’s current. These days I find myself catching up on episodes of “Queer Eye” that I imagine many of you have long since watched. And if you haven’t, you should, based on my religious opinion. The show is about the Fabulous 5, a team of five gay men who swoop into someone’s life for a week and do a total makeover. A lucky person nominated by their loved ones receives a makeover which includes fashion, cooking, hairstyle, home interior design, and therapy. It is the funniest, most stylish, and most loving thing I have seen in a long time. To be clear, the show is not Christian or religious, but it’s abundantly clear that the Fab 5 dish out grace that is unconditional for those who are stuck in some aspect of their lives. Their particular approach of nonjudgment and deep care works miracles in people’s lives. Maybe it’s a surprising comparison for a preacher to make, but I am convinced that we could all learn how to be more Christ-like from this team.  You might question this, and tell me that TV shows are edited in particular ways to make us have certain emotional responses, which I obviously have had. I do think the Fab 5 are doing Gospel work, but I also recognize that I leave an episode with a heart full of the exact emotions the editors want me to have. So if you got into this sermon with a worry that a show about makeovers is a strange place to find the Gospel, I also want to suggest that the Gospel itself is sometimes strange. It’s not always about a warm fuzzy feeling or a heart that’s been moved. To my surprise, the show delivers on this, too. As evidence, I present to you a recent episode of “Queer Eye” about a firefighter. 

He was nominated because of his, shall we say, uninspiring fashion sense for a man his age. There was particular disdain expressed for his cargo shorts and crocs. No offense to the croc wearers here today. But he is the director of a local training program for underfunded firefighters. His team thought that if he looked the part of a nonprofit professional, perhaps his fundraising would be more successful. Enter the Fab 5, who worked their usual magic. They dressed the guy, remodeled the fire station, gave the whole company a spa day, and made sure that the successful fundraising event at the end of the week was, in their words, “lit.” This was all sentimental and feel-good stuff. Who doesn’t love firefighters and want to help those who do so much for the safety and health of the community? We could call that the Gospel and move on. But there is always more to the Gospel than what we see at first glance.

The guy who does therapy makeovers praised the firefighter for doing extraordinary work and for being a hero. The man refused to be called a hero, and at first the viewers think it’s because he’s modest or self-effacing. But he said he isn’t a hero, he is someone doing his duty. He doesn’t want praise or recognition or accolades, he just wants to help people. Who knew that that moment in the interview would capture today’s Gospel perfectly? He’s on to something that Jesus is trying to teach in today’s passage. The Gospel is not always about heart warming stuff. Sometimes it’s about duty and putting in the work. 

Luke has just thrown us a strange little parable about this. “Who among you,” Jesus begins, ”would say to your servant who has just come in from the field, ‘Come here and take your place at the table’?” Wouldn’t you rather tell him to fix your dinner first? And then, if you were the master, you wouldn’t have to thank him for doing what was commanded. Let’s pause here for just a moment and acknowledge that the master/servant or slave language sounds foreign to us, which makes it hard to hear what Jesus is saying. It boils down to this: when you have done all that you were commanded to do as my followers, don’t look for thanks or praise or accolades. You have just done what you ought to have done. You have done your religious duty. 

It’s not a very warm or cheerful teaching, is it? It’s hard to get excited about following Jesus as a duty, and I doubt that message would bring in hordes of new church members. Obligation is not a great motivator. Plus, we reserve lofty thoughts about duty for people like military personnel and first responders. We are moved by their example, but we sure hesitate to think about the spiritual life as a thankless duty. We want the warm fuzzy feelings, the extraordinary and moving examples of grace and love. We’re less interested in the day to day, ordinary work of being Christian. But that’s exactly where Jesus goes with the disciples.

For context, Jesus has just told them that they will sin from time to time, and what’s worse, they will cause others to sin. They will have to forgive one another constantly, even up to an exaggerated seven times a day for the same annoying sin. Think of telling someone they really shouldn’t wear crocs to the fancy fundraisers and they keep doing it anyway. Sin isn’t usually so trivial, of course, so the disciples worry that they won’t be up to the task. We might worry about that, too. They ask for more faith, so that they will be able to live out this high-level forgiveness in the Christian life. Jesus replies with a mustard seed. You only need the tiniest amount of faith to accomplish this Christian life, even the hard stuff like forgiveness. You have what you need. Now do the work. Also, he adds, don’t expect a reward. The life of faith is its own reward.  

It’s not a flashy message. Maybe Jesus wants people to know that following him is about more than whatever miracles he can pull off. Because a majority of the Christian life happens not in spectacular moments but in the day to day, in the daily habits and repetitions of our lives. Christian duty touches everything we do. It gives us work to do, habits to cultivate, and skills to master. Our prayer book describes Christian duty this way: to follow Christ, to come together week by week for corporate worship, and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. If you listen closely, you can hear a stewardship sermon in this, reminding us that part of our duty is to give to the church. More on that later this month. For today, we are encouraged to grow into our duties in the Christian life, things like forgiveness and love, and to do them not for credit but because they are the right thing to do. 

Today we honor a famous saint who certainly wasn’t looking for fame, Francis of Assisi. He is known for his dramatic acts of poverty and charity, for preaching to birds, and for ultimately renewing the church. His devotion to Jesus looks pretty spectacular, even extreme to us. But I imagine that most of his Christian formation happened in daily annoyance and small joys from time spent in the community of his brothers. We have a tendency to praise him as a hero of the faith. But he would be the first to point us back to doing our own duty for Christ. He once said this about seeking accolades: “In these days there are many among us who want to win honor and praise by merely proclaiming and reciting the deeds of Saints.” He would be the first to remind us that true joy won’t be found in recognition for our holiness or righteousness. True joy will be found in the daily work of following Jesus, who was crucified and raised from the dead. It’s the work we share in this community, as we grow in faith, forgiveness, and love. And we only need a tiny speck of faith to be able to do it. The Gospel may not always be flashy or sentimental like a TV makeover show, but the quieter work of grace is always at hand. The life of faith truly is its own reward. 

Kate Alexander