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When Good News is Really Good News, and When It’s Not So Much (January 27, 2019)

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Last week, in John, Jesus’ first public act was turning water into wine. In Luke’s gospel today, his first public act is this sermon in his home congregation. He preaches from Isaiah 61 on Isaiah’s vision of God’s reign and God’s justice for all people. This means it is especially good news for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

  1. Good news of Jesus is universal. When poor are released from poverty, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us. When those shoved to the edges are fully included, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us. When the homeless are housed, the hungry fed, the sick are healed, the refugees are welcomed, that is good news for the whole world—and that makes it good news for us.

Because we are all connected within creation. What affects one affects all. We are one giant community of creation, connected, intersecting, interdependent—all part of God’s same created order. So good news for one is good news for all.

The problem is that this release may not affect us in the ways we individually hope for. E.g., Year of Jubilee (the year of the Lord’s favor) all land returned to its origins. For those of us with European ancestry, that wouldn’t be individual good news when the land we pay mortgages on is returned to their Native origins.

So we tend to view “good news” through the lens of how good it is for me, not how good it is for the world. Yet justice for all of God’s creation is what good news looks like. We can’t recognize God’s good news unless it releases the poor from captivity to poverty.

  1. At the same time, God’s life of release from captivity does include us individually. Again, not in the ways we may hope for. What if our release from captivity meant release from relentless pull of our cell phones, calendars, the never ending chaos and frenzy of our lives today. Release! Today! This good news of God’s release in Christ means we can stop living that way. We can have a life that includes art, music, friendships, reading, hobbies. A life with more joy and more love.

For me personally, release from captivity might look like this:

  1. Don’t check email after 8pm and minimize email on days off.
  2. Don’t go it alone, i.e., seek appropriate support from GM clergy, Metro South Conference, (and, if possible) LCM Council.
  3. Stay more focused on positives and gratitude; less attention to criticism and negativity.
  4. Recognize I cannot (and do not need to) “fix” anything about LCM, but am only responsible for my own health and life in the midst of this community.

This is not just abstract, pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It’s not just a vague hope or an “if only” kind of thing. That’s why this matters that Jesus is the one who proclaimed the reality of this good news. It is real, it is present, it is possible, it is now part of the world. There has been a trajectory of God’s justice through history from Isaiah’s vision. In Jesus, that trajectory has caused it to break through into the present-day world. The reality of this good news, this release from captivity, affects real people in real situations in real life in real time.

Jesus is the one in whom this good news has broken in and revealed as God’s intention for creation. That’s why it is good news today. That’s why it is being fulfilled in our hearing. For us individually, but more importantly, for all creation. And we get to be part of it. We get to experience that release today. And we get to be part of that release in the world today.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“Who Would Follow Jesus? Anyone Who Longs for the World to Change” (January 21, 2018)

Mark 1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth as recorded in Mark are in this text, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” His first words are also his first “sermon” and is pretty short. If I was Jesus, maybe I could be that short, too. But since I’m not . . .

I’m kind of caught by two things in this text that I’ve not really paid attention to before. One is a phrase from Jesus, “the kingdom of God has come near.” Come near. When the Kingdom of God comes, it means that God’s life and peace and justice are established in the world. It means an end of poverty and injustice. It means no fear of enemies and enough food for everyone. And Jesus says it’s nearby. Not actually here, just kind of in the neighborhood. What does that mean? If you go two blocks west you’ll find God’s peace? Or it’s just a little bit late, but if you wait fifteen or twenty minutes, our enemies will put down their weapons? What does it mean that the Kingdom of God has come near?

He says it’s close, but there’s no evidence of it. Too many people are still poor, Israel is still occupied by a foreign oppressive government, Herod, although a Jewish king in Judea, was doing whatever Rome told him. Life is still extremely hard and unjust. Nothing is different. Apparently, the Kingdom of God coming “near” doesn’t really change anything.

That’s one thing. The nearness of the kingdom of God.

The other thing that is grabbing my attention is that all four of these fishermen that Jesus calls to follow him left real and significant lives behind in order to do so. They had jobs, families, friends, and homes. They were settled in a lifestyle and a routine that had been part of their lives their whole lives. They knew who they were and what they were about. Yet they left everything they knew behind to follow Jesus. Why?

It’s even more fascinating when you put both of these things together. These fishermen dropped their familiar, comfortable lives to follow Jesus when there’s no evidence at all of this Kingdom of God he talks about.

It seems like a huge risk. For them to give up everything for this so-called Kingdom of God when there’s no evidence of it. Why take that kind of a chance?

Not to mention that Jesus give no instructions to these fishermen at all. They are called away from the familiarity of their lives into an uncertain future with no guarantees whatsoever. Who would do that?

Yes, who would do that?

I’ll tell you who. These four fishermen would. And when you really think about it, so would anyone who hopes for a better world. Anyone who believes that greed and selfishness are not the way to real life. Anyone who has seen that humanity hasn’t been able to bring about peace and justice on our own. Anyone who is willing to work with God to make this world a place where all are valued, all are respected, all have a place. Anyone willing to give love a chance. Anyone who has longed for the world to change. Anyone who feels this just may be bigger than humanity can do on our own. Anyone who has the imagination to consider that perhaps in this Christ, this Kingdom of God’s peace and compassion really has come near.

Just think what it would be like if fear and death and violence were finally put to an end. Think about a world where anyone can go anywhere without worrying about safety. Think what life would be like if anything that opposed God’s peace and life and sharing were put away forever. Think what it would be like if there was a God who was committed to doing this among us.

Wouldn’t you follow one in whom this was possible? Wouldn’t you leave behind those things that work against God’s work? Wouldn’t you lay down the parts of your own life that aren’t helping God’s vision? Even if those pieces of your life are familiar or even comfortable? Wouldn’t you be willing to walk away from prejudices, political views, family dysfunctions, or fears? Wouldn’t you put all that away to follow one who brings that hope so close we can taste it?

That, I believe, is what Simon and Andrew, James and John did. It’s not that there was no evidence of this Kingdom of God; it’s that in this Christ there was a real and present hope for it.

You see, God has not given up. In the midst of the violence and the threats and the racism and the misogyny and clamoring for power in our culture, God still comes. And the good news Jesus brings is a real hope that God is still here, that God’s peace will still come in fullness, that the kingdom of God comes along side of us especially when it doesn’t look that way.

Jesus brings hope. When all evidence points away from peace and away from compassion and away from justice for the vulnerable among us, Jesus brings those very things right in front of us.

We are called to be part of this hope. We are called to leave all else behind. We are called to follow. Because in Christ, the good news of God’s kingdom is here.

“The time is fulfilled, “Jesus tells us. “The kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. Come, follow me.”

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Good News! (for other people) — January 24, 2016

Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This is Jesus’ first public act of ministry recorded in Luke. So this is the action that sets the bar, names the priorities, establishes the direction in this gospel.

In his home synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He looked through it deliberately until he found this particular passage. This is the text he chose to read. And this is the teaching Jesus starts with.

So we ought to pay careful attention to what Jesus does here. He is anointed by God to bring–and to fulfill–God’s good news, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor . . . Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

But notice that this good news isn’t general–it’s rather specific. He is anointed for the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. What about everyone else? Is Jesus bringing good news to those who don’t fall under these categories? We have a tendency want to make this about us, claiming to be oppressed, captive, blind, poor. But we’re not the primary audience here.

I was talking with someone a few years ago who was very proud of the new clothing bank their church had started. “It’s the only one in this area,” he said. Imagine how unhappy he was when I pointed out there was a reason it was the only one–it was because there was no one in their wealthy area who needed used clothing. “Oh,” he said, “maybe that’s why no one is using it.” That church closed not long after that. Not for lack of effort, but because their good news of clothing wasn’t good news to any of the people in their neighborhood.

The good news Jesus brings–while he’s filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, remember–is aimed at a particular audience. The poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Those who, in that day, were pushed to the edges of their culture or ignored. Those who no one wanted around. Those who were helpless or targets for those with wealth and status. Those who were scapegoated and blamed.

So what about the rest of us? Although many of us experience those things sometimes, it’s not everyday for us. So what about those of us who most of our lives fall outside of Jesus’ categories? Those in this country who are white, who have pensions and savings accounts, who are (at least in name) Christian, who have no significant disabilities? Isn’t there any good news for us? Doesn’t Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, have anything good to say to us?

Sure. Of course. The reign of God, the kingdom of God, the dream of God is for all people–that all will be loved, saved, redeemed, cared for.

It’s just that most of us who are here this morning already have some experience of that good news now. We have opportunities, income, access to healthcare. We have a voice in our culture.

Others don’t. Jesus reads the text from Isaiah that says God also has good news for them.

David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, compares it to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and he writes: “A colleague of mine [who is an African American pastor] put it this way: ‘When you see a house on fire and direct the firefighters to that house, you’re not saying that all the other houses in the neighborhood don’t matter; you’re saying this one especially matters because it’s on fire.'” Jesus is saying that there are some people whose house is on fire. And God’s priority for compassion and grace needs to go to them.

Here’s why we need to hear this text even if we may not always be the primary audience, if it isn’t always directly aimed at us: This is where Jesus goes when filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Right to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the powerless. That’s apparently what it looks like when people are empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s priority is to first lift up those who are low. Sometimes we are the recipients of God’s priority compassion. But most of the time, most of us here today are therefore called to be part of fulfilling God’s compassion.

If we’re not poor, captive, blind, or oppressed today, then praise be to God! We’re already experiencing good news. But as the church, the community whose very existence is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we make those who are on the outside, who are powerless, who are victims, who are helpless our priority too.

That’s what being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit looks like. That’s the good news–whether we are receiving it or helping to fulfill it. This is God’s good news for the world: we too are anointed to proclaim release, to give sight, and let the oppressed go free. This is the year of the Lord’s favor, and we get to be part of it! That is good news.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Cinderella and Faith: The Condensed Versions

Acts 10:34-43; Acts 17:22-31

If I were to ask you to tell the story of Cinderella in two sentences, could you do it? Anyone willing to give that a try? . . . (volunteer?)

How did s/he do?

Now, there’s a lot of detail that had to be left out, but the main points of the story can be covered, right?

Most of it, probably. If we were all to do share the story of Cinderella in two sentences, each of us would do it a bit differently. None of us would have identical sentences.

Why would that be? Some of us have influenced by the Disney animated version from 1950. Or the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version. Or any of the at least 36 movie versions of this story. Then there’s the Grimm’s Faerie tale version. Or even the original version from France published in 1634.

Add to that, we each use language a little differently.

What if your life resembled Cinderella’s?

And because of my own personal perspective, what may be a critical point for you might be a little different than a critical point for me. Are the glass slippers an essential part of the story? How important is the goodness of Cinderella even in her circumstances? Is the moral of the story an important aspect? And if so, would we all agree exactly on what that moral is?

Trying to boil down a story with a lot of detail and a lot of history into a couple of sentences might be more difficult than we thought.

Then there’s the audience you’re telling the story of Cinderella to. What if your audience was preschool children living in poverty? Or a wealthy person who abuses hired help? Or a group of college professors, all of whom have PhDs in literature? It might change a bit.

That is Paul’s difficulty in Acts 17. And Peter’s in Acts 10. Both are trying to condense a history-changing story down into a few sentences. To people they don’t know well, but who’ve asked to hear it.

How would you do that?

Peter and Paul each tell the story of Jesus differently, in part because of vastly different audiences. Peter starts out by saying, “You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel”. But Paul starts by saying, “I found among [the objects of your worship] an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’”

Peter’s version of the story of God’s forgiveness and love is based on his personal friendship with Jesus; as an apostle and disciple who witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrected Christ.

Paul was not one of the original disciples. He knew very little about Jesus until the resurrected Christ came to him on the road to Damascus.

So of course their accounts will be different. They are telling this story of God’s grace and new life based on what is important to each of them. They have different experiences of God’s grace in Christ, God’s forgiveness in Christ, and God’s new life in Christ. So the story is going to come out differently for each of them. They even argue about a few of the important points, but they know their story, their experience, the difference in their lives. They tell it from their perspective.

Just like each of us. We have a story to tell because we have experienced God’s forgiveness, love, grace, and compassion. Each differently. And so the way each of us tells about that is unique.

The story is ours to tell according to our experience with it. And we might even argue about what are the  most important parts.

So, what are the very foundational, most important parts of God’s story in the world for you? If you had to reduce your faith down to two sentences, what would those be?

Whatever those two sentences are, they are yours. They are unique based on your experiences with Christ. They are yours. And those two sentences need to be spoken.

Next week we’ll talk about whether people hear our stories or not. That actually isn’t our problem. Knowing what our stories are, and having the ability to articulate our own story in our own unique way is essential.

So take some time now, and like [name] did with Cinderella, write out two sentences that encompass the main points of your faith, your experience with God.

Once you have that, if you’re willing, I’d like you to go back to the prayer table, write them again, and place them in the prayer basket.  As part of the prayers of the people later on, it would be really cool to hear a whole bunch of two-sentence faith statements, our collective stories of God in Christ, forgiveness, and grace.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Sermon

 

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