by Rev. Doug Martindale
Luke 24: 36b-48
“You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem!”
One of the advantages of the common legionary is that we get to grapple with difficult passages. This teaching of Jesus, in the English translation says: “...and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations.” That is not a statement that everyone can relate to or be inspired by in these times. To some it is very off-putting, because of our regrettable history of missions, colonization, and oppression. In hindsight we sacrificed the medium for the message.
What I am going to focus on is Good News, and what is helpful now.
Another way of describing Good News is that it is about a change of mind that involves the reorientation of one's whole identity or, a total life change, as children of a loving God. Preaching to all nations means sharing the Good News to people who have not heard it before.
What is being preached used to be called the gospel and the modern rendering is Good News. What is the Good News and how to we share it?
I think in the United Church we have had a tendency to not want to preach or spread the Good News at all, partly because of our history of missions, plus the way fundamentalists preachers have presented the Good News and partly because we believe that actions speak louder than words. And this is reinforced for us by the letter to James. The author says: “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” Consequently, we would much rather live out our faith by our actions, by being involved in many kinds of charity or justice works. We shy away from actually talking about what we believe. In the words of Meatloaf in the rock opera Bat out of Hell: “I'd do anything for love, but I won't do that!”
One of my favourite authors, whom you know, Jim Taylor, has very helpfully phrased personal Good News this way:
“God does not want us to wear frowns or long faces;
God wants us to find childlike joy in shining drops of dew,
in whispering pine needles,
in warm mud between the toes.
Our delight becomes one with God's:
Our personalities meld.
So I will not keep silent;
I will proclaim my good news privately and publicly,
I cannot keep it to myself.”
If proclaiming Good News is like finding joy in dewdrops, the whispering of pine needles and warm mud between the toes and melding our personality with God, then yes, we can all proclaim this Good News. Every Sunday when we share God moments or aha moments, we share Good News.
There are different versions of what Good News is, in the New Testament. (The emphasis on repentance, or better, a change of mind that involves a total life change, was the theme of John the Baptizer and also of Jesus. “Repent and believe” was the key-note of his Galilean ministry. (“The right time has come and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!" Mark 1:15))
How did Jesus define the Good News? When he read scripture in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
(that is, freedom from poverty)
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
(that is, freedom from physical and spiritual slavery)
and recovery of sight to the blind,
(that is, freedom from limitations)
to set free the oppressed
(that is, freedom from the destructive tyranny of others)
and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people.”
(that is, freedom to follow the leadership of God.)
Good News is freedom from and freedom to.
Sometimes we want to share our experience of discovering that a distressing need is met by the grace of God. In Jesus, God keeps meeting us at the place or places of our deepest human need. We may not know how or why. It may just be that we are in a crisis and for some unexplained reason we get through it and then we say...by the grace of God! The experience was undeniably real and freeing. That's Good News!
Once I was tormented with the need to make a decision and I went for a walk. It occurred to my, in my agony, that the only thing preventing me from making the difficult decision was not having courage. Once I realized this, I decided I could find the courage, and I did. It was only by the grace of God that this happened. This, for me, was Good News-that in my hour of deepest need, God was there.
Good News is the declaration that God is alive and that at the heart of the universe and of life is creative goodness, movement towards justice, reconciliation, and love. This is reflected in our creed which begins: “We are not alone, we live in God's world” and concludes: “God is with us, we are not alone. Thanks be to God.”
There is no more precious gift than the realization that we are loved by someone. This is not only a human quality. It is the very nature of the divine order. To be loved and to chose love, kindness, respect, tenderness is Good News. Good News is knowing that I can love myself despite my judgments, flaws, and shortcomings. I can choose love just as Jesus chose love. That human beings are capable of this is surly Good News! And we cannot do this on our own. It is only when we are connected to Great Love that we can practice loving ourselves and loving others.
How are we to communicate Good News? It is like “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” In other words, when you find something that is life sustaining, or the bread of life, you want to share it-it just feels right to do so-no compulsion, no coercion, no duty, no obligation-just freely sharing what is meaningful to you. This happens for me during God moments or aha moments. When I hear joy, I listen and share your moments of joy and laughter. This happened last week when John shared his joy in seeing the yellow flowers, often called Okanagan sunflowers, on the hillsides as he drove to Vernon.
Some people may have difficulty with the words preach or proclamation. However, if I said: “I have the joy, joy, joy, down in my heart” and I want to share it, would that be different? I think so. You see, if it is joyful or full of joy, we want to share. Sharing is much better way of saying proclamation because it implies that the giver and receiver are equals. There is no power or control in truly sharing.
I experience, whether it is through prayer, Holy Conversations, worship, or coffee time, that we in this community care for each other and love each other. This too is Good News.
Let us pray: Help us Jesus, to feel your presence, to chose love just as you chose love. We invite you into our darkest fears and judgments, to be guided in our next steps as individuals and as the caring community we know as Winfield United Church, so that we can be Good News to each other and in our community.
MacKenzie, Norman A., editor, What Is Evangelism: Some: Group Discussion Starters.
Richardson, Allan editor, A Theological Word Book of the Bible
Taylor, James Everyday Psalms, Psalm 40 p58
Three guys walk into a bar in Jerusalem. They all have the same name: James. One of them is the son of a fisherman named Zebedee, the other the son of someone we know nothing about named Alphaeus, and the third is known to everyone in town as “the brother of the Lord.” The Lord, Jesus. They are arguing about who should get credit for writing a five-page letter making its way from house church to house church that believers are calling “The Letter of James.” After a while, the bartender is tired of listening to them and says, with the voice of authority, “You guys are nuts. I wrote that letter.” “You? Who are you?” they yell in unison. “Anonymous,” he replies.