Just What Is the Good News Anyway?

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.


Today is the first Sunday of Lent, and Lent is a time of preparation. OK, but preparation for what? For Holy Week and Easter, but what are they all about? They are all about the coming of the good news. The good news that Jesus brings. The good news that Jesus is. You know, I’ve been ordained to the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ for more than twenty years. I’ve served a couple of different Christian churches as pastor. I’ve written a fair amount of theology. I’ve even preach here a few times. And I have to tell you. Passages like the one we just heard still bug me. In that passage, Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” It appears that there is something called “the good news” that we’re supposed to believe in. Which is nice I suppose, but it unavoidably raises the question of just what this “good news” is. You’d expect this text to tell us what it is. You’d expect Jesus to explain what it is. But in this text, and time and again in the gospels, Jesus mentions the “good news,” then says nothing about what that good news is. Our passage this morning suggests that it has something to do with something called the kingdom of God coming near, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Apparently it has something to do with us repenting, whatever that’s supposed to mean. This past week I figured that if I was going to talk with you this morning on this good news, I’d better get a better idea of what it is than I often have.

So I did a bit of research. What I found in my sources is that the good news is that, with the coming of Jesus, salvation is at hand. The kingdom of God is, supposedly, the age of salvation. Well, isn’t that nice! Salvation! Surely a good thing. But one of the maddening, and wonderful, things about theology, and we’re talking theology here, is that every answer you find just raises more questions. So the age of salvation has come near. But what in heaven’s name is salvation? I figure we know what our Christian tradition has mostly said salvation is. It’s rescue from the supposed consequences of our sin. It’s having our sin forgiven so our souls go to heaven rather than hell after we die.

Now, I don’t doubt that, assuming that heaven and hell exist and that some part of us that is recognizably us lives on after death, that we go to heaven not hell. In fact, I don’t believe that hell exists. God, after all, is love; and what sort of love is it to send someone to an eternity of fiery torment because of something they did or didn’t do during their life on earth? Doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. God is love. Jesus came to demonstrate God’s love to us. God’s love is universal. It applies to everyone. God loves, God doesn’t damn. So yes, I believe in salvation in that sense.

But here’s the thing. Most people today don’t worry that much about sin and its supposed consequences for our souls. We may think about it. We try to be good people, but sin just isn’t the major existential concern of most people today. When I was a seminary intern here twenty-five years ago, your pastor Trish told me that this congregation would not let her put a prayer of confession in the worship service because the people didn’t think they had anything to confess. I’ve gotten some laughs when I’ve told that story to other congregations by the way. In any event, could the good news of Jesus Christ, that is, could salvation, mean something other than, or in addition to, forgiveness of sin and escape from damnation?

Well, I don’t think I’d be here this morning talking with you about it like this if I didn’t think that it could. So to get at what I think it means that can be more significant for us today than talk about sin and forgiveness, I’ll start with this assertion. Whenever anyone says that something or someone needs to be saved, they have to say what it is that that thing or person needs to be saved from. Some of our best theologians say that what people need to be saved from today is a sense of meaninglessness, the belief that their life doesn’t mean anything at all. I think that’s true for an awful lot of people today. That sense leads to despair, and what but despair could account for our high rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide? Certainly faith in Jesus Christ can give life meaning. I found that meaning for my life as a seminary intern here at Prospect twenty-five years ago when the Holy Spirit finally got it through my thick skull that pastoral ministry was what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

But our better theologians also talk about something else that people need to be saved from today. That something is alienation, that is, separation from something or someone from which or whom one should not be separated. It is to live apart from that which one should be close to, should even be united with. Theologians talk of three different kinds of alienation, and they are all prevalent among us. They are alienation from God, from others, and from the true self. Each of these kinds of alienation impairs wellbeing. Each of them taints life. Each of them is something from which nearly all of us need to be saved.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that we can be saved from each of these kinds of alienation. In Jesus Christ, we know that God offers us salvation from each of them. And here’s what I think is an important truth. Our salvation from each of them starts with overcoming our alienation from God. Our Christian tradition knows well that that’s where salvation starts. We see that that’s where we must begin living into our salvation from alienation in the Great Commandment, that most basic of all Christian admonitions. It appears in three of the four gospels. The oldest of them is the version in Mark. It reads: “ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 30-31. Living into our salvation in Jesus begins with our loving God.

OK, but wouldn’t it be nice if that were easier to do than most of us often find it to be much of the time? I mean, it’s God’s world, and God’s world is an awfully messed up place. There’s war, other kinds of violence, oppression, exploitation, discrimination, poverty, and any number of other ills everywhere. It sure is easy to ask God how we can possibly love God given all the evil in God’s world. Here’s the only answer I can give to how we can possibly love God. It is to come truly to know in the depth of our being that God loved us first. That really is the good news. God loves us. God loves each and every one of you. God loves every single person who lives, who ever lived, and who ever will live. God even somehow manages to love me.

That really is salvation isn’t it? I mean, even the old Christian understanding of salvation as salvation from sin and its supposed consequences has and has had powerful meaning for countless generations of Christians. But even that kind of salvation is grounded in God’s love for people. I mean, why would God bother to save us from sin if God didn’t love us? So please. Understand. Really get it. God loves you. Though the world may hate you, God loves you. Though you may sometimes doubt or even hate yourself, God loves you. Period. No matter what. Thanks be to God!

And that’s how we can love God. After all, how can we not love a power behind everything that exists in the entire universe that nonetheless deigns to love even tiny little us? And love so amazing, so divine, demands and calls forth our love of God in return. We’ll never love God as unconditionally as God loves us. We are, indeed, mere fallible humans not the infallible Creator of all that is. But I know that I can love God more than most of the time I do. Perhaps you can too. If you take anything from this sermon, please take this. You can love God because God loved you first. God still does. Realize that no matter how much you feel you are separate from God, alienated from God, as far as God is concerned you aren’t. Never have been. Never will be.

OK, so that’s how we overcome our sense that we’re alienated from God. But what about those other two types of alienation, alienation from others and even from ourselves? Well, when we know that God loves us conditionally—and God does—then we must also know that God loves everyone unconditionally. There are no “ifs” about God’s love for anyone. We humans may put conditions on love. We can fall out of love as easily as we can fall in love. But that’s precisely how we know that God’s love is not conditional the way ours is. God is so much greater than we are. God’s ways are so much greater than our ways. God transcends our pitiful human ways absolutely. Our love is almost always conditional. God’s love therefore is and must be unconditional—for everyone.

And how can we not love what God loves? No, it’s not easy to love everyone else. I sure know I can’t do it all the time, or even very much of the time. I sure do feel an alienation from an awful lot of people an awful lot of the time. Perhaps you do too. Just look at our politics today, and you’ll see what I mean. But when I really stop to remember that no matter how angry I may get with a person, God still loves that person as unconditionally as God loves me, I remember that God calls me to overcome my sense of alienation from that person. To overcome my alienation from every person. Why? Because God is not alienated. Not from me. Not from you. Not from anyone.

Now, that third kind of alienation, alienation from our true selves, may be the hardest of all to overcome. I sure know that I am the person I find the hardest to forgive, and perhaps you feel that way about yourself too. I also know that most of my life I lived alienated from who God made me to be. Maybe you have that sense about yourself too. In the culture in which most of us Americans live, far too few people ever discover who God really created them to be. Far too few people ever manage to live into being that person even a little bit. It took me decades to do it, and it was actually here at Prospect so many years ago that I did finally began to do it for the first time.

Our culture forces most of us to deny who we really are, forces us to try to become who our culture wants us to be not who God created us to be. There’s a hymn that’s not in the New Century Hymnal but that I sure wish was. It’s called “The Summons.” One of its verses begins, “Will you love the you you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?” Love the you you hide. Become who you really are. That’s overcoming that third kind of alienation, overcoming perhaps the hardest alienation of all to overcome.

So, what is the good news anyway? It is that in Jesus Christ we know that God is love. It is that God loves you more deeply, more powerfully, more unconditionally than you can ever imagine. It is that because God loves you so much, you can love others the way the Great Commandment calls you to do. It is that because God loves you so much, you can even love yourself the way the Great Commandment calls you to do. Jesus began his public ministry by calling us to believe in the good news. Do we? Can we? No, it’s not always easy. But if we will open our hearts, minds, and spirits to God’s unconditional love for us, perhaps we can begin to do it. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. More importantly, trust God. Trust God’s unconditional, unfathomable love for you and for everyone. Then, perhaps we can actually believe in the good news that Jesus taught and Jesus is. May it be so. Amen.

Related Information

Prospect Blog