Posts Tagged ‘good news’

God. With. Us.

September 3, 2017

Peter has recently declared Jesus “Messiah; son of the living God”.  His is a claim that puts Jesus at the head of a religious movement with ancient roots in the past and grand plans for the future.  Those who claim this promise that God would produce a chose one – a leader of leaders to establish divine rule – imagine that leader (and subsequent kingdom) in a particular way.  It was seen as a triumph of their perseverance; the justification of all their suffering; the proof that “God was with them” – them, and no one else.

Peter unknowingly claims these arguments with his profession of ‘faith’ in Matthew 16: 16.  So when Jesus explains to him what it means for God’s purpose to be expressed in his life, suffering, death and resurrection, Peter is appalled.  “God forbid it, Lord.  This must never happen to you.” (Matthew 16: 22)  Peter, like many in the church triumphant, has missed the point…badly.

“Only when you deny yourself & take up you cross & follow me…”, says Jesus.  This call to self-denial is not a call to passive acceptance, it is a call to confront oppression, even when it comes disguised as religion.  Those who would tell us what God can and cannot tolerate are the oppressors now.

Those who would dictate their particular perspective (and call it God’s will) are tempting us away from God’s demonstrated preference for the underdog – for those who suffer for being ‘different’ – for the outcast –  for the poor.

A preferential option for the poor.  A phrase most familiar to students of theology – a phrase that comes from the liberation theologians of Central and South America.  A phrase that places God squarely on the side of those whose personhood is trampled by the rich and powerful.  An instructive phrase in this current season of political division, where profit and opinion polls matter more than people.  God shows a preferential option for the poor.

If you are a student of Scripture, it isn’t difficult to see where this line of thinking comes from.  From God’s call to Abram, and God’s honouring Jacob’s trickery, and God’s re-purposing of Joseph’s miserable captivity, the work of God is demonstrated in some rather unlikely ways.  David – the youngest, least-likely candidate, is anointed as ‘king-in-waiting’; God calls prophets who are reluctant (at best) or completely unsuited (at worst) to convey a sense of hope in times of complete and utter hopelessness.  And then, there is Jesus.

Jesus reminds us, over and over, that the longed-for reign of God will completely unsettle human definitions of power and privilege.  The poor shall be rich; the weak, strong; the last will be first…and so it goes. Yet for all the instruction from a wide variety of religious traditions, we have learned a different lesson.  “The early bird gets the worm.”  “Only the strong survive.”  “May the best team win.”  And perhaps the worst of all the ‘pseudo-proverbs’; “God helps those who help themselves.”

The church – the original ‘counter-culture’ – has developed the worst kind of counter-culture; we have created the impression that righteousness, blessedness and even godliness are goals achieved through competition.  White, western culture is especially prone to this ‘us vs. them’ mentality – with disastrous result – and here in this tumultuous time, we are reaping the fruit of our stupidity.  We are taught fear of the unknown; we grow to hate what we can’t be bothered to understand; we resign ourselves to being ruled by those who can pitch their voices to our prejudices…and God weeps.

But all is not lost.  Though we have had generations of practice ignoring or misunderstanding God’s intention toward us, God has not abandoned hope for us.  Throughout the Scriptural history – and into our own time – we are given reminders of the pattern God prefers.

Moses, called from obscurity to confront the most powerful nation of his time.  Moses, called to be the saviour of a nation in captivity.  Moses is given unique insight into the mind of God.  God reveals that even in this remote place, a holy presence can be found.  Even when it seems unlikely, God knows the extent of human suffering, and God desires something better for those who suffer (and, strangely enough, for those who cause that suffering…).  God reveals a name – ‘THE NAME’ – and this name tells a mighty tale.  “I AM” – (from the most basic of verbs, the Hebrew verb for existencehayah: ‘to be, come to pass, to happen” – the epitome of presence).  This naming of God suggests God’s presence – in every type of situation, but specifically, for the captive Israelites, in this distressing situation.  Through Moses, God intends to reach past the powerful rulers of Egypt and set the captives free.  This will not be accomplished without human effort (and, subsequently, further human suffering) but it is clear that God desires freedom, justice, and more for a humiliated, captive nation.  And not for the last time.

And that is good news – not that the Israelites, once liberated, will  struggle in the wilderness for a generation – nor that Jesus will suffer and die…No, the good news is that God is not afraid of those struggles.  Jesus life, death and resurrection affirms that God’s presence will endure all things.  Not just the triumph, but (more importantly) the tragedy.  God knows the suffering of God’s people, and God will meet us in those dangerous, difficult moments.  In this we can be certain that God is truly with us all.

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Easter 2016

March 26, 2016

What did they expect to find, I wonder?  A body, certainly – Jesus body, in fact – bloodied and broken.  That is the situation for which they have prepared. Their task was one of affection; to anoint their friend for burial.  But the continuing cruelty of Jesus death is that it occurred on the eve of Shabbat – and in the midst of Passover. No work, of any kind, was permitted to the observant at such a sacred time; not even the necessities of grief.

Adding to their confusion are these dazzling strangers, absolutely out of place.  “remember how he told you…” they begin – but Galilee was so long ago, and so much had happened since.  But yes, they remember, and slowly hope spreads; first through the gathered women, and then, more slowly, among the remaining disciples…The women are ready to believe.  The others, less so.  Peter must see for himself, but no confirmation waits for him except the scraps of cloth that had been used to hurriedly wrap Jesus body.  Peter’s amazement is incomplete.  All he knows for sure is that Jesus is not in the tomb.

What do any of us expect to find on Easter morning, I wonder?

Saviour of the world rides into town on a giant rabbit to offer chocolate and forgiveness…of course not, but what DO you expect?

Gifts arrayed and food prepared; family gathered and good times shared; Churches (mostly) full and malls (mostly) empty.

Two thousand years of preparation have given us some clarity, I think, and Christians generally agree on the facts of the matter:

Jesus, who was dead, has been raised.  Hallelujah!  It’s when we try to make sense of this glorious event – when we look for meaning in things like crucifixion and resurrection – that things get…complicated.

To some, it is GOSPEL – Good News, and that can mean only one thing; sinners saved and promises kept, and particular freedom meant for those who “accept Jesus into their hearts”; death undone by righteous blood, that’s the majority opinion.  Others find it an idle tale and cannot credit it; that God somehow required this murderous miracle to “make things right” seems a dangerous representation of Divine love and justice.  Still others within the Christian family find it comforting that God knows the pain of loss and even death, having experienced both at the hands of those ‘…created in God’s own image…’

And there are those who would dispute that God could live or die according to mere human terms…

Luke’s gospel doesn’t care about such things – not yet.  There is no attempt to turn this new state of affairs into a theological treatise.  The author’s job is to drive home the mysterious reality that met the women and then Peter: “He is not here!”

The women are challenged by a simple question; “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  Had they not been left speechless, they might have answered ‘we didn’t know he would be raised’ – except Jesus had told them (more than once, according to Luke’s account); the Son of Man betrayed, dead, then in three days, risen!  The truth is, they didn’t believe – they couldn’t believe – that Jesus might be raised from the dead.  They had seen it all – the brutality, the finality, the terrible truth of the tomb cut from stone.

True, some of them had been present for Lazarus’ miracle; but Jesus had come to Lazarus’ rescue, and so far as they knew, there was no one who could return the favour fro Jesus.  There was nothing in their lives that prepared them for new life.

What did you expect to find this morning?  Good news, to be sure – especially in light of the story that has unfolded in our worship over the last three days.  Good news, considering the horror and terror that has been the only word from Belgium and Iraq and countless other places.  Good news for lives touched by sadness and fear and no shortage of doubt.  Good news is not a whitewash of certainty – all negatives somehow transformed instantly and magically into positives – rather it is the promise that God is intimately acquainted with the worst this world has to offer, and still, God prevails.

You want certainty?  What I know for certain is that Jesus is not in the tomb.  As the morning grows into afternoon, Jesus friends will find him; along the road, behind closed doors, at the head of the table, breaking bread. This is the true mystery of resurrection; that Jesus will find us; that we will meet him where he is least expected; and the truth of his empty tomb stands as a permanent and constant reminder of the power of God’s love to overcome our deepest fears and our darkest days.  Thanks be to God, Jesus is not where we expect him to be – not among the dead, but among the living.  He is risen; he is risen indeed.

Alleluia!  Amen.

…and on the Sunday morning after…

December 16, 2012

I have written and preached in the past

about the difficulty of having John the Baptist intrude on our Christmas preparations;

it is familiar ground for me.

I am sensitive to what seems like a distraction in the lectionary every year,

for I am driven (along with the rest of you) toward the more comforting,

more familiar territory of seasonal Scriptures.

The main event is looming –the nativity is set up-

this week I purchased the tree –

and yet, once more we are enduring John’s warm-up speech.

Given the events of the last three days, however –

dozens of children damaged or dead

at the hands of damaged individuals in China and Connecticut –

perhaps John’s intrusion is worth our time.

 

“Your heritage cannot save you” he says to the indignant children of Abraham;

“Your good intentions are no good to God…” –

for these had come to John in the wilderness seeking the safety of his baptism.

They were, instead, singed by the fire of his indignation.

John offers a troubling metaphor: “The garden of God faces a pruning…”

And suggests that it is time to consider what their so-called faith has produced.

 

I wasn’t instantly sure that being hollered at by John the Baptist

was a remedy for the pain and grief that has been inflicted on humanity in the last 72 hours.

A wild-eyed man from the desert may remind us too much of those unfortunate souls

who have fallen through the cracks in our mental health system,

and become (at best) annoying diversions in our normal routines,

and (at worst) the source of horrific headlines .

But John’s voice is the voice of truth and reason, in spite of his appearance.

John’s conviction that God is ready

to overwhelm us with the power of divine mercy, justice and liberation is too sincere to be ignored.  John confronts brutal truth with brutal truth – the dismal with the divine –

and offers a hope that cannot be denied.

 

John is just laying the ground work, but you cannot help but admire his style.

Blunt.  Unapologetic.  Careless of his own safety or reputation –

the more I reflect, the more I am convinced that John offers an instructive model

for ministry (and many other things) in the 21st century.

In his dangerously direct fashion,

John points directly to the revelation of God that comes in Jesus (the one who is to come).

Not worried about offending lesser sensibilities,

not slowing down for extended explanations,

or caring one iota about how the message makes his audience feel,

John is concerned with getting the message out.

 

A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is what John offers (according to Luke).

He appears in the wilderness, and offers this cleansing ritual against the coming kingdom.

He draws crowds on the strength of his unusual approach, his heavy-handed preaching

(and, no doubt, because of his unique appearance).

Luke jumps right to an encounter with some who have gathered in curiosity –

and we are treated to an instant lesson in the theology of John…

beginning with an insult, and followed by accusation and threat.

(who wouldn’t want that on a Sunday morning…)

 

 

 

 

But what does that mean, Baptism of repentance?

It means that you who call yourselves the people of God have lost sight of God in every possible way.

It means you care more about reputation and appearance

than the divine principles of mercy, justice, love and grace.

It means that your traditions cannot atone for your sins –

your buildings cannot grant you sanctuary –

your religion cannot place you in the presence of the living God.

 

This is hard news to us, but we are used to hearing hard news;

news that defines itself by body counts and broken promises.

The reporting of these events give rise to arguments about social policy and cultural expectations,

but no where do the pundits offer hope.

Hope does not feature in the news of the day,

because hope is a political trick, designed to earn votes, not trust –

so John’s news, delivered with threat and accusation,

should sound different to us;

it should sound wonderfully promising to us.

 

Open your eyes, says John.

Share from your abundance – do not play games with the wealth that is God’s gift to you.

Do not “work the system” to enhance your importance.

Do not imagine that God does not know you well enough

to be grieved by your petty offences against one another…

 

Jesus leads us in this direction too,

but when Jesus says it in the gospel versions of his speech,

it is tempered with love and understanding and the very mercy of God.

John simply tells it plain.

And it becomes GOOD NEWS!

 

There is hope, John promises, because God can see beyond our brokenness.

There is joy in God’s promise deliverance from our wretched despair.

There is mercy for those who suffer and those who cause suffering…

Once we recognize the truth that John has prepared us for.

It is both the truth of our failure, and the truth of God’s success –

And we meet these truths in Jesus;

born into poverty – nurtured in uncertainty –

persecuted in jealousy – killed in anger – raised in glory.

 

That’s not a Christmas message – it is the Christian message;

independent of season, sorrow, or sadness.

It is our Good News – even on this day.  Amen

Turn and attend this good news…

February 25, 2012

So, there’s this thing that Jesus does…

 

Following in his cousin’s footsteps,

Jesus steps into the prophetic void

created by John’s arrest,

and calls attention to God’s victory.

 

This is not how you are used to hearing it – but here it is;

repent, and believe in the evan-ge-lion

we typically read “good news”, aka gospel –

but I have been asked to consider in the course of this week’s preparation

another way to translate (and therefore, understand) this Greek term.

 

Proclamation, says this translator[1], as in “Victory announcement;

of the sort that follows triumph over an oppressor, or the overthrow of a despot.

 

Now, let’s remember that this is (according to Mark), the BEGINNING of the good news – the proclamation – of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.   So says CH 1 v 1.

And that proclamation this declaration of good news,

gives us little indication of what that news is…or why it might be considered good;

so what is this evan-ge-lion ?

 

When we call attention to the “good news” (the gospel), what are we talking about?

Crucifixion – resurrection – salvation – grace – stuff like that, yes?

We make the gospel about Jesus, and only Jesus –

and that is a seriously short-sighted approach.

The good news is (believe it or not) so much more, according to Jesus.

 

 

The gospel – the proclamation that Jesus offers –

both at the beginning of his prophetic vocation,

and throughout his teaching/preaching career –

is about nothing less than the redemption of creation.

 

Jesus proclaims, from the beginning, the far-reaching, overwhelming,

absolutely grace-full work of God’s reclamation of all that God set in motion.

Our other lessons this morning suggest that this has been God’s work from the beginning of God’s interaction with humanity.

 

Good news suddenly seems like an understatement.

 

We are quite good at this –

understating / underestimating the extent of the evangelion of Jesus –

which IS good news for every inch of God’s creation.

 

We are content to reduce it to specific doctrines (important though they may seem).

It has become good news for us; an inside joke; a secret password to prosperity –

Gospel has become a commodity for the chosen; the faithful; the orthodox;

those willing to sign the pledge and take a seat –

but this has become our downfall.

 

Such thinking spawned an institutional church

that is now widely thought to be self-serving,

and ignorant of the need in its own neighbourhood.

 

This packaged, institutional interpretation of what ‘gospel’ could be

resigns us to ignorance of the bigger picture –

We are apt to loose sight of the vision of God that Jesus came to relate and the spirit helps us capture –

and that makes light of the good news;

that ignorance robs the gospel of its real power…

 

If you doubt this, consider that at this crucial season in the church calendar,

God’s people have, in many cases,

been reduced to a series of tension-filled meetings

which consider the future through accountant’s lenses.

 

We worry about numbers.  We count people, we assess assets, and we look to the past as a way to assure the future – but if we would be honest, our past is marked by problems of its own; our calculations are often flawed – our accounting leaves something to be desired.

 

Should I mention that we are urged by Jesus to live for today (for tomorrow has worries enough) even as we look to the future that is opened to us by our covenantal God.

 

So back to that thing that Jesus does…

Powerfully prophetic; full of hope (and brazenly challenging the status quo)

Jesus jumps into the public debate and announces God’s triumph – God’s concern that stretches beyond regular time (chronos) and evokes specific time (kairos).

 

Promises are ours – so goes Jesus’ proclamation (evangelion) – the kingdom is come.

A kingdom that acknowledges one power – one hope – and one passion.

It is a passion for peace; for fellowship; for justice; for truth

and none of these things can be measured, counted, possessed or purveyed.

 

 

 

 

Good news?

Only if we are more inclined to trust in God’s promises than our resourcefulness…

 

Good news?

Only because the promise has carried God’s people through positions of vulnerability and uncertainty for generations – against all odds – against common wisdom and our natural inclinations.

 

Let us Repent of our short-sightedness and believe this good news as Easter approaches. Look for the comfort and compassion of God’s promised kingdom – revealed to us through Jesus (the) Christ.

May we celebrate God’s victory in those battles not yet fought;

and to God be glory, honour and praise, for all we might discover in faith. Amen.

 


[1] The Anchor Bible, vol. 27:  “Mark: a new translation with introduction and commentary by C. S. Mann,  Doubleday (New York) 1986.