There are some people, I have been told, who do not like tacos.
“Tacos,” they say, “—especially American Tex-Mex tacos with seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes—are not authentic. They aren’t real Mexican food. Guisados is Mexican. Chiles en Nogada is Mexican. But tacos… look… maybe a taco al pastor served on a soft tortilla with queso fresco… but those American things? No.”
But there are three important facts here.
First, there is no such thing as authentic Mexican food. Mexican food is, like American food, what you get when people from all over the world start getting together and saying, “Here, try this.” Mexican cuisine is rooted in indigenous food and Spanish conquest, and then influenced by French, German, Jewish, Lebanese, and Arabian immigrants.
Second, for most of human history, you couldn’t get every ingredient in every place and every time. You made do with what you had where you were and when you were there. So people in southern Mexico stuffed fish and vegetables into tortillas; and people in the more cow-oriented north used beef. Picadillo—ground beef and stuff—shows up in every country that Spain ever touched.
But in the 1890s, you couldn’t get the chiles for the seasoning in Texas year ‘round, so a German immigrant bought a bunch of dried anchos and made them into a powder. And cheddar cheese was, in the late-nineteenth century, the second most popular cheese in the United States.
Third, people had been stuffing junk into tortillas forever. They’d even been stuffing junk to tortillas and frying it to create taquitos and flautas forever. And then the Taco Bell guy figured out how to pre-shape the tortilla and fry it before you stuffed it with junk… and that was it.
The humble taco—whether it’s a cheap and lousy Taco Bell taco… or an upscale shrimp taco with garlic, lime, cilantro, and queso cotija wrapped in a soft corn tortilla—is as authentic as anything else. Which is to say: it’s what happens when someone moves to a new place and tried to make their grandmothers’ recipes with the materials that are available… and the generation after them does the same thing… and the generation after them tries the same thing… and on, and on, and on…
Earlier this lectionary year, we rushed our way through the Old Testament, grabbing bits and pieces from the torah and the prophets and the writings. Just before Christmas, we slowed down, and worked our way through the gospel according to Luke. And for the last couple of weeks, we’ve been rushing again… this time through Acts.
So I need to catch you up a bit. Because things have been happening.
A couple of weeks ago, I reminded you that when the God who calls the worlds into being laid glory aside and came into the world as one of us, he came into the world as a Jewish man.
And when he chose apostles and gathered disciples, he chose Jewish apostles and gathered, mostly, Jewish disciples. So the community that surrounded Jesus before he was crucified, and the community that followed Christ after he rose, were mostly Jewish.
But then other people heard the good news of Christ’s resurrection and their own redemption. And other people joined the community and followed the way. Other people including… Saul.
Now Saul was Jewish. And not just Jewish, but a Pharisee. And not just a Pharisee, but a zealot for his people and their traditions. And he did not like this new community and its way. He dragged Christ’s followers from their homes and sent them to prison. He breathed threats and murder against them.
And then, one day, he was on his way to Damascus to search the synagogues and find anyone who followed this new way and haul them to Jerusalem in chains. And he had a vision. Christ himself appeared to Saul and sent him to a disciple named Ananias. And Saul heard the good news of Christ’s resurrection and his own redemption… and believed… and went into the world preaching the gospel… to Gentiles… to people like you and me.
And people started calling him Paul. And more people joined this community that used to be mostly Jewish and was increasingly becoming mostly not Jewish.
And now, there are some people saying, “This is a Jewish movement, and we need to keep Jewish traditions. People must become Jewish first, and then they can follow Christ; circumcision, and then baptism. That is how we stay true. That is how we stay authentic.”
And Paul disagrees. So there’s a debate. And what they decide—the apostles and the elders—is something like this:
We are Jewish, and we’ve had trouble keeping this whole covenant. We can’t very well lay that burden on these Gentiles who haven’t had any practice, and who have heard the good news and come to believe and turned to God. So we won’t trouble them with anything more than this: don’t eat anything that has been polluted by idols or strangled, and don’t eat blood, and don’t fornicate.
They didn’t say that anything was wrong with how the Jewish followers of Christ were doing things. They just said that they Gentiles who were following Christ could do things differently. But they would all be following Christ. And the gospel would still be there; the gospel would still be the same.
Christians do the same thing, of course.
Sometimes, we do that in big ways: we look at each other—we look at other congregations and other congregations look at us—and we say, “You’re not real true Christians. You’re not authentic enough.”
Sometimes, we do that in small ways: we complain that it’s just not church without a pastor in an alb and a stole; or without a choir and an organ; or when it’s outside; or when it’s online. It’s not authentic enough.
We look around at the ways that Christianity is changing and say, “Ugh. Tacos.”
But here’s the thing…
I need to walk a careful line here. I need to thread a needle.
The gospel is present wherever there is generosity and hospitality and compassion. The gospel is present wherever there is love. Because whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in those who abide in love. And that is good news.
It is good news because we know that when we love, we are with God. And it is good news because we know that when we love, we invite others to experience God.
And it is true that there are times when we need to call each other in and there are times when we need to call each other out. There are times when we need to tell someone, “What you are doing is not loving. What you are offering is not good news. What you are sharing is not the gospel.”
But at least as often—and probably far more often—we need to make room for each other to live out the gospel with the ingredients that we have available. At least as often—and probably far more often—we need to make room for ourselves to live out the gospel with the ingredients that we have available.
Because sometimes the gospel comes wrapped in cathedrals and choirs; sometimes it comes wrapped in robes and stoles and chasubles and dalmatics; sometimes it smells like incense and sounds like bells.
Sometimes, the gospel comes wrapped in campfires and silly songs; sometimes it comes wrapped in t-shirts and blue jeans and shoes-with-no-socks; sometimes it smells like smoke and sounds like a ukulele.
Sometimes, it comes wrapped in a tortilla.
But no matter where it is or how it is presented, it is still the gospel. That is something that I think we’ve learned this year, as we’ve kept reinventing church and as we’ve continued to love each other and our wider community. And that is something that I think we’ll keep learning, as we keep reinventing the church and as we keep loving each other and our wider community and the whole wide world.
There is a tradition in Sweden called Fredagsmys… cozy Friday. It is a beloved tradition, and it is about thirty years old. People get together with friends and family… and surrounded themselves with pillows and blankets… and eat Traditional. Swedish. Tacos… maybe topped with yogurt or cucumber or peanuts or pineapple.
And there is something beautiful in the fact that this humble food can bring people together in Sweden, a country that is almost 6,000 miles away from Mexico.
And if tacos can do that, imagine what the gospel can do. Imagine what good news can do. Imagine what love can do. Imagine what this… way… that has been passed down from generation to generation… that has been passed from culture to culture… that has been made and remade… that has been imagined and reimagined… can do.
It can change the world.
And that is true no matter how it’s dressed, or how it’s wrapped, or which ingredients we use. That is true whether we are here in this sanctuary or out in the parking lot or online. That is true whether we are circumcised or not.
As long as we are being good news, we are being authentic. As long as we are bearing grace, we are being faithful. As long as we are sharing love, we are following Christ.