Each year, at the beginning of June, I head to the wilds of the Ozarks for a week to help staff Camp Wemo–a week-long camp for middle–high school youth in the diocese. I am a cabin counselor, I help run games, and activities, I plan and lead liturgies, I explain why we can’t panic at the sight of ALL bugs, only the really hairy ones, and generally attempt to keep the lives of 6-8 middle school girls on track for a week. It’s a trip.
This year, our theme was Proclaiming the Good News to All Creation. Because the Presiding Bishop had come to the diocese earlier in May, we decided to springboard off that theme, and continue the idea of evangelism all year. So on the day that I had to give a 5 minute clergy talk, I decided to talk about what good news was, and what our experience of the gospel was.
Here’s what I said. (More or less. I didn’t have this in front of me, and I was standing outside talking off the top of my head.)
What is Good News?
We promise at our baptism to share by word and example, the Good News of God in Christ.
We also promise to persevere in resisting evil. (Hold these two ideas in your mind.)
What is this Good News, and are there times when the gospel is heard in ways that aren’t good?
Now think about it–can I say some things that aren’t good news to you right now? What if I come over here to Amanda (walks over to Amanda, counselor) and tell her that I have some great news for her! News that will change her life, news that will make every day of her life worth living! Isn’t that great, Amanda?!
Amanda says yes.
Amanda, I need to tell you, that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ really hates your shoes, and you need to give them to me immediately. THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS I HAVE BEEN SENT TO PREACH.
Now, Amanda, does this seem like good news to you?
Amanda, correctly, says that no, this does not seem like good news at all. She likes her shoes.
See, that’s the thing. Sometimes, I think we can preach the gospel in ways that people don’t hear as good news.
I grew up in Virginia, I think most of you know that. My family has lived there for generations. We had a mill in Spotsylvania, outside of DC. And we owned slaves. We did. Because it was the south, and that was how you made money. And I know, from hearing my grandparents’ stories, that they and other owners made their slaves go to church and be baptized and they preached to those slaves. And they read to them those parts of the Bible where it talks about submitting to authority. And how God placed leaders in power, so you should see them as God appointed. And turn the other cheek meant suffering without complaint, and being meek, silent and obedient.
And I know, if I were a slave, and if my life, my family’s life, was not mine that none of that would sound like good news. How is it good news if God wants you to suffer like that?!
But I also know that the slaves didn’t listen for long. They read the Bible, oh they did. But they read the parts where Paul said “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” They learned about Jesus, but they figured out that Jesus didn’t come to make them more submissive, but they read that part in Luke where Jesus preached in his hometown synagogue and told the people that he had come to set the captives free and preach Good News to the poor. And they knew that Jesus did not want them to suffer as they were. They heard the Good News.
IN SPITE of what my ancestors were telling them.
They would sing songs to God at night about a sweet chariot coming to take them home, and my ancestors would say “oh how lovely, they have such faith in a heaven!” But little did they know it was a code. they were singing their way to freedom in Canada. Because Jesus brought Good News.
I tell this story, because there is still today a danger that we mistake bad news for good. That when we preach about God, we get turned around and confused, and say things that are hardly good for anyone to hear. Because there are people out there trying to sell a lot of bad news. There are people and there always have been, trying to promote a lot of meanness, hatred, division. Telling us that if we just learn to fear those who are different from us, everything will be better, and in fact/-that’s what Jesus wants. More fear. More anger. More violence. That those who are poor or sick or hurting deserve it and are on their own. That there are people out there that God doesn’t love. Can you imagine?!
But that is not Good News. We know that. And to quote Michael Curry–if it’s not good news, it’s not of God.
Jesus came and brought us Good News. Jesus came and asked us to care for one another. He asked us to heal the sick, shelter the weak, knock down walls, and feed the hungry. He demanded that we love one another, and he told us that perfect love casts out fear. And that with him we wouldn’t even need to be afraid any more if we just learned to love each other.
That is the good news. That is the story we have to tell. That is what the world needs to hear. The amazing news that God loves us so much he asks us to love each other and LOOK WE ARE DOING IT.
So, I know it’s hard. I know we mess it up. But never be afraid to tell the good news. Because that is what the world needs to hear. And that is what we need to hear.