This week’s sacred story comes from Paul’s introduction of his letter to the church in Rome. They’re starting to build a relationship, but they also have to build some shared language and understanding. Read the full text, Romans 1:1-17, here.
What Good News have you heard lately? I don’t intend for this to be a rhetorical question. Take a second to reflect. What was the last piece of really Good News you heard or received?
Now, I wonder…WHY is that news GOOD? Why was it good TO YOU particularly? What about it, at its heart, is GOOD? What does it contrast?
The Apostle Paul is writing to this relatively young church in Rome, to a people living life in the heart of a big metropolitan city, to a people working to create a different kind of community, to a people who are for the first time ever…trying to figure out how Jesus and the resurrection equals Good News and what that means for them and for the world. It seems people have forever been trying to figure out what God’s love means and thousands of years later we’re still trying to understand.
As Paul nurtures this relationship with these people, he begins with trying to establish some kind of foundation about what they’re even talking about. And he talks about the Gospel, the Good News, in this way. He writes that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." That’s some pretty thick stuff. I feel like I need to stop after every other word to define those too. What does he mean by power, salvation, faith, righteousness? Power is something we’ve seen used for harm and yet here it is cast as a force for good. Salvation has to be one of the most loaded words in history and here it is the hinge of God’s purpose. Faith seems critical to this understanding, but there’s nothing in this text that says faith is a thing that comes from us. Rather, it seems to be something that comes TO us, that is a catalyst FOR us.
The Gospel is the power …of God… for salvation… through faith. It’s beautiful and all, but what does that even mean? How is that Good News for me when my house is flooding again or when someone steals my stuff or I’m waiting on news from the doctor? I need the meat and potatoes version, down on the ground version.
One Lutheran Pastor reflects on the Gospel this way, they write: “God’s story is always related to human need. For example, if a woman is dying of cancer, the gospel of God’s strong word of resurrection. If a person is permeated with guilt, the gospel is God’s assurance of forgiveness. If people experience extreme suffering, the gospel is the prayer: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” For the starving, the gospel may be bread. For a homeless refugee, the gospel may be freedom in a new homeland. For others, the gospel may be freedom from political tyranny. The gospel is always related to human need. It is never truth in a vacuum, a theologically true statement which may or may not relate to one’s life. The gospel is God’s truth, God’s message, God’s action, God’s word to a particular person, to a particular need, to a particular historical situation. You don’t throw a drowning person a sandwich. However good the sandwich may be, it just doesn’t meet that person’s need. You throw a drowning person a life jacket or a lifeline, or you dive in for the rescue. So it is with the gospel. The gospel is God’s truth, God’s actions, aimed at a particular human need.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that “I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned with the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, 'Now is that political or social?' He said,'I feed you.' Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”
What would be Good News to you? Not just happy news, but ultimate, in-your-gut and the depths of your soul Good News?
Perhaps Good News for you is…
A cold cup of water when you’ve been walking the blazing summer streets for hours.
Perhaps it is a day when you don’t have to live in fear of what might happen to your kid at school today, or at the local park, or when sirens show up.
Perhaps it is the hand that holds yours when the HIV test comes back.
Perhaps it’s being able to go to the doctor without bankrupting themselves.
Perhaps it is being able to look in the mirror and know that when God made you, she said it is very Good – thick thighs, balding pattern, melanin, speech stutter and all.
Paul renounces shame and so perhaps, for you too, the good news is freedom from shame – from stigma, the crap that too often surrounds our conversations about mental health and treatment. Beloved faithful children of God sometimes get the flu and take antibiotics, and sometimes beloved faithful children of God live with depression or anxiety or OCD or struggling marriages and then GO TO THERAPY, or take medication, or both. Perhaps the Good News for you is the reminder that this doesn’t make you a lesser person or any less loved and you’re not the only one.
Perhaps it is the resounding truth that your identity and your value does not reside in whether or not you marry up or reproduce.
Perhaps it is in the autonomy to make the best and most faithful decision you can with your doctor about whether or not to give birth.
Perhaps it is the assurance that God loves us just as much no matter what. NO. MATTER. WHAT.
For me, the Gospel is a surprising word of hope that’s too big for me to express from my own tongue, often one that arrives without my even realizing that it’s exactly what I desperately needed to hear and experience in the depths of my being.
The gospel is deeply personal, but that doesn’t mean it’s private or proprietary. As Paul speaks of the Gospel, he does so in conversation with community. When was say the Good News is for us, “us” is plural. It is for all of us. And as he writes, he acknowledges just how important it is to come together in the flesh, to actually occupy the same space. We can keep up relationships at a distance and those relationships can be good, but it’s never quite the same as being physically together, being able to see and sense if someone is really “fine” or just trying to not be inconvenient.
So as you sit there, I want you to take a moment, take a breath, and listen for just a couple minutes, for the Good News God wants you to hear tonight. What would be Good, ultimate, life-giving, liberating, news to your ears and your heart, your body and your soul tonight?
What did you hear? I want to invite you, if you’re comfortable, to take another minute to write it down. It doesn’t mean we’re trying to re-write the bible, but if the Gospel is revealing God’s goodness, how is that being revealed here and now? Perhaps the Good News God is revealing here is the particular Good News someone else needs to hear too.
To all God's beloved in Montrose, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, giving thanks that by God's will I am blessed to be among you. Amen.
After collecting what the people of KINDRED wrote down as Good News, here is the Gospel according to KINDRED:
It is hope in face of despair. God is making God’s home in surprising and delightful relationships with people we can’t even imagine until God puts us together. The dysfunction that plagues the nations, God will turn into function. God is at work now in the world and in individuals who are in our families and neighborhoods. Everyone will be made whole. The Good News is finding a stable job and meaningful work. It is freedom from guilt and the generosity to share. Take a breath; there are blessings all around you. It is the freedom to stop searching for purpose and to start trusting that living whatever path we have is purpose enough. There is enough time for you to do that which is required of you. Don’t shy away from your call, it’s time. The Good News is the assurance that God loves me even when I battle depression and God is with me. I am not disqualified and it is not too late for me.
Play us out, Ben.