Today’s theme is “We can go forth with the gospel”….so what does that mean? What is “the gospel”, anyway? We use the word a lot here at church in case you haven’t noticed…like today, we read from the “gospel” of Matthew…because the books of the Bible that tell the story of Jesus life — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…are called the four “Gospels”. But we don’t always mean the books of the Bible when we talk about the “gospel”…because what “Gospel” means, literally, is “good news”. So at church, ‘gospel’ encompasses all the “good news” Jesus brings to a world full of “bad news”. That’s what we’re meant to go out into the world with….the light we shine. We bring some good news. And boy, do we need some of that….can I get an Amen?
So what is the good news that Jesus brings? What does Jesus have to offer that makes a difference for all the people who are drowning in bad news…for instance, for those who mourn…who are grieving…who have lost spouses, children, jobs, homes? And what is the good news Jesus has for those who are meek…who feel unimportant…who don’t feel like they matter in this world…or who often feel like they get run over by others? And what is the good news for those who are poor in spirit…for those who struggle to get up in the morning…who have chronic mental illness…chronic pain…who are fighting addictions or other demons? And how about those who desperately hunger for righteousness and justice because they have experienced ongoing and persistent injustice… because too often justice only serves those with power and privilege? Or how about those who are merciful in a world that has no mercy…and get taken advantage of again and again? Or those who try to do the right thing…the godly thing… but are exhausted and discouraged by all that is wrong in the world?
In case you missed it….these are exactly the folks who Jesus speaks his blessing on in the passage Larry read today from his Sermon on the Mount. These are exactly the ones Jesus came to be “good news” for. They were the ones who followed him…who found hope in him. Why? Because he saw them. Not only did he see them…but he saw them as holy. In the very people who feel most forgotten by God..who mostly just wonder where God is in the world…Jesus sees God’s reflection. And Jesus honors them. God is not found in the people who go around self righteously condemning others. God is not found in those who look at those who are “less fortunate” with pity and wonder why they don’t “make better choices”. No…Jesus looks at those who are hurting…who are angry…who are struggling to get through the day…and says “I see you. I understand. God sees you …and God understands. And you truly are the blessed ones…the holy ones….the beloved ones.”
You…grieving your spouse…grieving your child…you are God’s blessed one. You who feel unimportant…You who have suffered so much injustice…you are holy. You who are tired of living…tired of fighting …you are beloved. You who are worn out and discouraged…are a reflection of God in this world.
And this is the good news. The gospel. Jesus looked at the people around him who were running out of hope, and let them know God was with them. Let them know that the breath of the universe, the spirit of all creation…was within them. They were not forgotten. They were not overlooked. Their lives, that felt so small…figured into the eternal scope of God’s kingdom. Death wasn’t the end…they were immersed in the waters of God that encompass all creation…all the cosmos…all of life. They were, indeed, blessed.
I don’t know about you…but I’m thinking that’s exactly the kind of good news this world needs. The kind of good news I need.
When the bad news is overwhelming…when the circumstances of our lives are hard. When the ugliness of political divides and hate and injustice seem insurmountable. When we wonder – ‘what is the point, anyway? Why do we bother to live at all? Jesus invites us to breathe in the holiness of God who is with us. Jesus invites us to bask in the light and warmth of being loved, created with meticulous precision…with wonder and awe, surrounded by a God-breathed earth and sky…teeming with diversity and life. Jesus invites us to remember that the authorities of this world that seem so powerful — nations and dogmas, all the “isms” — are nothing, really. Even death is nothing, really, to God. But love is everything. Mercy and kindness are everything. You, simply you, are everything.
You are seen, known, and loved.
And that is the gospel we take out into the world. When a friend is discouraged and we surround them with love…we bring the gospel. When people are hungry and we provide food….we bring the gospel. When people are exhausted from being surrounded by anger and hate…and we speak words of forgiveness, kindness and love….we bring the gospel. When we provide rides to chemo, or notes of encouragement….when we sit with people who are alone…when we listen to people’s stories…we bring the gospel. When we accept people as they are and see beauty in them…we bring the gospel. When we meet people in the midst of their struggles and help them take the next step…we bring some light into people’s darkness…and that’s what we’re meant to do.
At Patti’s memorial service, her sister used a quote that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi — “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” She saw that in Patti’s life. Patti loved people…her heart was open and she was interested in people and did what she could to make the world a little warmer…a little kinder. She shared good news.
Now, the good news of Jesus …the good news that God loves this world, loves you, that you are immersed in the eternal waters of God…needs to be said, sure. But it also really needs to be lived. People trusted Jesus…not just because of what he said….but because of how he lived. Because he loved them, because he saw them, walked with them, cared for them. We trust the good news of the gospel…because we experienced it. Because someone saw us, believed in us, walked with us and helped us believe that God could actually care. That we could be forgiven. That we mattered. That we were not alone. Because someone shined their light for us.
Today…we come to hear the gospel….because all of us are hungry for good news. We need to hear it…to be reminded…to experience it…to swim in it….to taste it…Jesus for us. And then…we go out to live that good news…to share that good news, in word and deed, with a world that’s desperate for it. A world that is desperate for grace….for kindness…for love. We go forth with the gospel…because so many people need it. So, dear friends…let your light shine. Amen