|St Andrew’s Anglican Church | IndooroopillyThe |
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
A sermon offered by The Reverend Ann Edwards
7 February 2021
|Isaiah 40.21-311 |
If someone approached you on a street corner, and asked you to share the Gospel, what would you feel? And what would say?
It’s really difficult out of context and when you’re on the spot. Literally, Gospel means the Good News, or Good Message. But what is that message? And who is it good for?
Imagine what someone on the street might say if you asked them what the Gospel is?
Some people would have no idea.
Some might have a hazy recollection and some memory verses from a brief encounter with church.
How about those that only know the Gospel from the media and billboards?
Jesus loves you. Jesus is alive. Jesus died for you. Jesus saves. What does that mean?
How about the signs and letters that condemn in the name of Jesus? What message is being sent?
How about here, in the church? Are we confident a that we could tell the story of the Gospel, in a way that someone could see it is very good news, in their lives right now, as they are? That would be a message that is worth listening to.
I’m going to suggest today that the Gospel makes best sense when shared in relationship and community, and the texts we read today illustrate the point. Let’s start with our reading from Mark.
We hear Jesus leaves the synagogue where he has been teaching and retreats to the home of one of his friend. On hearing that the friend’s mother in law was ill, Jesus performs a miraculous healing, and the woman stands to serve. But this is not the message.
Then the whole town surrounds the house, bringing every sick and disturbed person. And Jesus, in compassion, continues this healing work. But this is not the message.
Jesus then retreats to pray and his friends hunt for him, to tell him that everyone is looking for him.
But instead of returning, Jesus says instead:
Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.
While people look to Jesus for healing, which Jesus graciously provides, and wish to keep Jesus with them, Jesus comes to people not for the miraculous solutions for suffering, but with a message that must be shared – that is what he came out to do.
This must be some message.
In our reading today from his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells the reader he didn’t seek to be an apostle. We hear that Paul sets aside his own ambitions and agenda because of Jesus’s message. He is compelled to preach the Gospel, employing his talents, skills and time for that one goal. To share the message that is relevant in every culture regardless of gender, race, class, education, or societal structure. And like Jesus, Paul moves from place to place, building a community around him and leaving communities behind him.
He teaches the message of Jesus, and when he was in those communities, he told them why it mattered and they were convinced. He was present and there for them. There was a personal relationship. We get just a glimpse of those encounters in his letters sent to clarify and encourage, after a personal relationship with a community had been established.
Paul shifted seamlessly between Jewish and non-Jewish churches, and lawful and lawless communities. And he tells us his message never changed. Paul wasn’t looking for people to conform. Quite the opposite. Paul graciously conformed to the communities he entered. He was as a Jew to the Jews, complied with the religious law to reach the lawful, and fitted into the customs of those around him. He shed his own practices and preferences, and he worked and paid his own way. And that message he told, the story of Jesus, was good news in every one of these situations.
Like Jesus –
Paul is always overtly communal. Paul is always overtly outward reaching.
The Gospel message is something that is intended for communities and something that is intended to be shared.
Can our understanding of the Gospels, of God, of church and of community life live up to those standards?
The Gospel introduces Jesus, and explains why his life, death, and resurrection matter. We have to get this right, because in public, the message has been distorted and fractured. The message heard is one that condemns, that tells people that they are personally deficient in some way. There’s a hidden “should” being conveyed. You should be different. You need to hear Jesus loves you, because why would he? Jesus will save you from what you are.
Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection reconcile us with the triune God and to one another. Notice that the Gospel text today says it was Simon and his companions that found Jesus at prayer and accompanied him on to the next town. Simon is not yet Peter – Jesus will eventually rename him as the Rock on which he will build the church, but not just yet. These were companions that had not yet given the title of disciple – that would come later, only after they spent time with Jesus, engaged with his teaching, and importantly, learned to work together as a community, loving and supporting one another. Jesus calls us into community, but it doesn’t just happen, it’s a skill we need to learn and refine.
We have to get out of the way, to shelve our own expectations, to ditch the platitudes and meaningless and instead look with Jesus’s gaze, and offer what Jesus would give to the person in front of us. If we have a clear idea about who Jesus is, and why God’s community is good news, then we can meet those we encounter on the way, exactly as they are, with what they need. That requires putting the person first and listening carefully, without judgement. It’s less about what we should be, and more what we could be. Only then can we shed our agenda, to work alongside and for each other.
And that is the message. The message is the good news the people we encounter need to hear, that opens the door into community and relationship, in Christ.
Are they complacent or lost in a lack of meaning? Then we share what Jesus tells us about purpose – the meaning found beyond ourselves in God and each other.
Are they rejected and unloved? The Gospel they need to hear is that they are both welcome and loved in our community, in Christ.
Are they in need of care and healing? Then we offer caring relationships, as Jesus would, with no expectation.
Are they trapped in guilt and shame? Then we offer the Gospel truth of acceptance and forgiveness, and a place with us.
Are they oppressed or imprisoned? Then we stand alongside them, as Jesus, flipping tables if we need to, because God is just and expects equality and equity.
Are they suffering? We hold and affirm them in our church family, because Christ suffered, knows their suffering, and meets them there.
Are they the oppressor? Then we offer the Gospel’s correction, and bring them back into community.
Are we exhausted in the effort? Then we retreat and pray, restoring for the next day.
It’s as simple and as complicated as that. The Gospel speaks to every person in every situation because God reaches every person in every situation. Which is why we have a story that extends back to the ancients, one which wrestles with this message across all of humanity’s history. The gospel points not to a doctrine but a person. Jesus, God incarnate, who showed us in a concrete way the Triune God’s love and invitation. We have to know the person and the story, to live the story, in order to share the story.
A Gospel that stops at the door is neither a message nor good news. A cheap and shallow attempt at the Gospel limits people and leaves them yearning for something more. And at the church’s worst, a damaging take on the Gospel can harm and exclude people completely. But the message that transforms individuals and communities, that reconciles us to God, and to one another, and extends the invitation of Christ…
That is very good news indeed.