Sunday, April 23, 2006

Is Our Good News Good?

Here's the scenario: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He appears to some of his closest friends, who tell his other close friends. But his other friends don't get it; they remain in hiding, frightened and grieving, behind locked doors.

Then suddenly, he shows up, right in their midst.

What do you think he says?

"Incorrigible sinners! Blockheads! Couldn't you understand one thing I tried to tell you? No; you're too faithless and stupid. Well, guess what -- I am through with this nonsense. To hell with you. I'm outta here."

That's not what he says. Here's what he says:

"Peace be with you."

Thomas isn't with the rest of the group. When he hears about the others' encounter with Jesus, he just can't believe it: "I need to see it myself, or I'm not buying it."

A week goes by. Jesus' disciples are together again, this time with Thomas there, too. Jesus shows up again. What do you think Jesus says to Thomas?

"You want to see me, eh? Who do you think you are? And are you so lacking in faith that you won't even listen to the others here who did see me? Thomas -- it's all over. You're not worthy to be my disciple. You're a screw-up. Get out of here. Get away from me."

That's not what he says. Here's what he says:

"Peace be with you."

I once had a pastor tell me that he thought "creeping Gnosticism" was the most serious problem afflicting contemporary American Christianity. While I'm no fan of Gnosticism (creeping or otherwise), I would posit that the most serious problem is actually what we Lutherans call confusion of Law and Gospel. No; more than that; the actual jettisoning of the Gospel message of God's love and grace, in favor of an unremitting drumbeat of wrath and scapegoating and condemnation mislabeled as "good news." "God loves you so much that he's going to send you to hell if you don't shape up" isn't good news. It's not "news" at all, because news suggests underlying truth, and there's no truth in the idea that a relationship with God is predicated on being "good" enough or theologically astute enough to earn it.

How much Gospel do you hear from the mouths of TV preachers, or the religious talking heads tapped (inexplicably) to be the Voice of American Christianity on news programs? How much Gospel do you see described on the religion pages of your local newspaper?

Now, at this point some of you are nodding your heads and saying, "Yeah...you tell 'em!"...you probably have a mental photograph of Frequent Public Offenders in your head. I know I did when the kernel of the idea for this post first formed in my mind.

But here's the thing: Those of us who consider ourselves open-minded, progressive, theologically sophisticated, can be just as rigid, just as judgmental toward people with whom we disagree, just as distant from the grounding of the Gospel message as the most histrionic, Pharisaical fundamentalist.

The bottom line, in the words of Luther, is that we're all beggars. We are all, no matter where we fall along the theological or sociopolitical spectrum, no matter how advanced we are or think we are along the Godward path, sinners. We mess up. We don't get it right. We do things we shouldn't; we don't do things we should; even when we do the right thing, it's often for the wrong reasons. That's as true of the Mother Teresas and Desmond Tutus of the world as it is of the most reprehensible people we can think of. In the final analysis...we got nuthin'. Our broken condition is the great human equalizer.

That's the bad news. The good news is that God refuses to let that prevent God from claiming us, from saving us, from seeking to befriend us. If death itself wasn't going to stop Christ, then the cluelessness of his friends certainly wasn't going to either.

And the first words out of Christ's mouth, as he comes to greet and reassure his confused friends, is Peace. The biblical concept of peace is not simply about a cessation of strife. It's about God's proactive shalom; restoration of relationships; broken places in the world mended.

As we hear Christ's benediction echo through the centuries all the way to us, and as we live into today's Gospel lesson in the days to come: How can we, in our own spheres of concern and influence, make the peace of Christ real for others? How do we keep our good news good?

Maybe the best way is to simply tell our own stories as persons of faith, persons who've had a transformative encounter with Jesus Christ. We know that Thomas wound up in India, founding a church that remains to this day; so we know that's what he did.

"Thomas," Wayne Forte Posted by Picasa

17 comments:

RuthRE said...

Where do you find all of this awesome art????

Christie said...

Thanks for another thought provoking post. Yup, I was nodding and agreeing as I thought about the Falwells, Frists, etc.....when the next paragraph poked a hole in my holier-than-thou. Thanks for your ministry.

LutheranChik said...

RuthRe: It's one of our fellow RevGalBlogPals...check out the art index at Textweek.com.

Christie: That was my thought process as well...feeling all smug until I remembered some online antagonist toward whom I was projecting the same "Go to hell" sentiment that he projected toward me. Ouch.

MikeF said...

Oh LC, you are so right! What an awesomely accurate, downright holy, post!

"The bottom line, in the words of Luther, is that we're all beggars. We are all, no matter where we fall along the theological or sociopolitical spectrum, no matter how advanced we are or think we are along the Godward path, sinners. We mess up."

My totally favourite prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner..." What else can you say?

Pax et Bonum

Mike

net said...

Preach it, Chik!

Rainbow Pastor said...

Wow...

Your posts are awesome--you're seeing deep theological truths and slapping me upside the head almost every day!

You rock, LC!

Evelyn said...

Thank you, once again, LutheranChik! The older I get, the more I know something's NOT RIGHT if I start to feel anything close to "smug". Your writing is right on the mark!

Nicodemia said...

Who needs to listen to the sermon on Sundays when we have LC?? Who is far better than our Vicar!!

At a slight tangent, (only slight) a really good book is "TheCost of Certainty" by Jeremy Young. He evaluates what he calls the Gospel of conditional love, which he reckons most churches preach, and the Gospel of unconditional love, which Christ preached.

deb said...

Heya,

I'm curious what you think of the Unitarian Universalist Church? My partner is Lutheran, but lately the teachings don't feel right to us. Do you have any thoughts on the Unitarians?

d

sam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sam said...

Because no one has responded to the question about Unitarian Universalists I guess I will.

This may seem harsh... but they aren't Christian. In no way, shape, or form, can they make this claim. Just search for "Unitarian Universalists" and look up some of their "religious statements" and you will find nothing that points to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Also, they no regard for the clear Biblical teaching of both Law and Gospel. Just my two cents....

Also, in regards to the question, "Is our Good News Good?" I would say Maybe....

I say "maybe" because without God's law there is no Gospel. Sadly so many so called Christian and Lutheran denominations are completely abandoning God's clearly stated laws on any number of issues. They are willing to be captive to the political correct types rather than being captive to the Word of God.

LutheranChik said...

If Deb is still here -- my apologies for not responding. (For obvious reasons I've been in a fog for the past month, so some things have slipped past my radar.)

My take on the UU: Personally it's not for me because it's not affirming of orthodox Christianity. There are UU congregations with a strong Christian orientation, hearkening back to the old New England Unitarian tradition, but each congregation is autonomous, so some churches are "generically spiritual" (think "Sound and Spirit" on public radio) and some are even oriented toward neopaganism -- there's a neopagan subgroup within the UU called CUUPS. I need to have some "there" there in a faith community.

The UCC is a good church home for people who want to self-identify as Christians but who have trouble with some of the exclusionary attitudes of more rigid churches. I used to go to a UCC church whose membership was about 90 percent people who had become alienated from other churches in the community; it was sort of a last stop on the Christianity line for a lot of people. Some of those people found a permanent home in that congregation; others used it as a kind of way station until they got their theological issues sorted out.

LutheranChik said...

Well, Sam, I suppose I rate as one of those "so-called" Lutheran Christian apostate types not up to your high standards.

sam said...

My high standard is God's Word... that is... the eternal message of Law and Gospel.

What's yours?

LutheranChik said...

I'm not playing your "gotcha" game, sweetie. You can read my blog and come to your own conclusions.

sam said...

I have come to my own conclusions and they aren't good. I just felt the need to say something about it.

LutheranChik said...

Well, ora pro me, young man -- I need all the help I can get.