In my sermons, I have talked about several different ways to understand the Gospel, which means Good News. Last fall, I preached about the Gospel in two words. Does anyone remember what they were? Jesus stops. I talked about how Jesus doesn’t walk by people instead … Jesus stops and calls out to them and us … reminding us that we are seen and loved and claimed by God.
Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon on the Gospel according to everyone … celebrating that it’s not just Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who tell the Gospel story but the stars and the skies and us here on the earth … those seated in this church and those outside of it … together we lift our voices to tell the story of how God and God’s love are at work and present in our world. It is a story that began with creation and is still being told today.
Today, I want to introduce another way to talk about and understand the Good News of God. My friend, Mary, a pastor at a church in Eastern Connecticut, had to take a semester long class on theology … at the end of the class that had to write a big, long paper about what they believed about God … and they had to sum up the Good News of God in seven words.
Now, I have to say, this is no easy task …. I think it is ever harder than trying to fit the Gospel into two words. I tried it myself this week and found myself scribbling words like healing, love, freedom, light, persistent and Jesus down on the paper. I wrote configurations like, “Pick up your mat and walk” and “A light shines even in the darkness.” Yet nothing I wrote seemed to fully encompass my faith. How do we fit all of what we believe into a few simple words?
I invite you to try it out … My friend Mary ending up writing down the words, “You are loved, chosen and never alone.”
I found myself thinking about their truth this week.
“You are loved, chosen and never alone.”
In essence, this is what God says in the passage of Jeremiah this week. God declares, “Even though Israel and Judah have broken their covenants countless times, I will be your God and you will be my people. I will make sure that you will know me firsthand and wipe all of your slates clean.”
In other words, God says, I love, I have chosen you and I will not leave you – even when though you have messed up or gone back on your word or found yourselves dirtied by the mud and muck of real life.
This has been the Good News since the beginning. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and then creates humankind in God’s own image. And in the garden, when Eve and Adam take the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, the fruit that God asked them not to take, what does God do? God tenderly knits together clothing for them. This is how God responds to our errors. God doesn’t take away the consequences, but tends to us, cares for us, comforts us and redirects us back on the path of healing.
This care and concern is what we see in the story of Jesus. God hears the cries of the people and slips into skin so that we might return again to the path of wholeness. Through the human body of Jesus, God experiences the depth of our pain and suffering. In today’s passage, as Jesus anticipates his death, he says, “My soul is troubled.” Jesus’ honesty reminds us that in our own times of trouble God knows what we are going through and that God is lead us, step by step, to life and to healing.
This is the truth that the Greeks discover when they come to Philip and Andrew and say, “We wish to see Jesus.” I don’t know what they expected but what they got was Jesus talking about the troubled state of his soul and explaining that after the wheat grain dies that new life does indeed sprout up.
In his speech, Jesus is reminding the Greeks and reminding all of us that he walks with us in our times of trial. When I think about what it means for Jesus to walk with us in our times of trial, I have this image of Jesus holding us … or perhaps it’s an image of Jesus holding our troubles … I am not sure. It’s an image that came to me often when I was a chaplain intern in Rochester. At the hospital, I encountered many difficult times – times with people received debilitating diagnoses, or waited for heart transplants or were just in an accident. I often felt helpless and powerless but I would do what I could – I would love and pray with the patients and somehow Jesus would always manage to find a way to show up in our time together.
I will never forget the time that I met with a woman, who had spent the whole time telling me stories about her teenage daughters, who lived in foster homes. The woman missed them intensely and apparently they loved John Wayne, so she kept telling me stories about John Wayne and her daughters. When it came time to pray, I asked her what she wanted to pray for, the woman respond: my mother, my daughters, me and … the whole wide world. She looked at me, can we pray for the whole wide world? Of course, I replied. And so we prayed for the whole wide world. And when I got done, the woman smiled at me, saying, you know, that reminds me of a song from my childhood.
She begins singing, “God’s got the whole world in God’s hands, God’s got the whole world in God’s hands.” And, even though my voice is not the best singing voice in the world, I couldn’t help but to join in song with her. We added verses, singing God’s got you and me in God’s hands … God’s got all your daughters in God’s hands. And as we sat there singing off-key in the hospital, I was flooded and surrounded with a sense of being held … this sense that God held not only me and the woman next to me but her mother and daughter and indeed all of creation; we were all held in God’s hand.
Jesus not only walks alongside us but also holds us in our times of trouble. Yet, it’s not always easy to let Jesus in, to allow Jesus to walk with you or carry you. I remember one time as a chaplain that a patient told me a story that particularly captured my attention. It was one of those times that the story just stuck with me and I could not stop thinking about it, even though there was nothing I could do about it. Has that ever happened to you, you keep thinking about a situation that you are not able to change? I would go for walks with hopes of it clearing my mind, but it didn’t work. So I went into office of my supervisor Bill to talk with him. As I began to explain the situation to him, I could feel myself becoming upset. I had this my natural inclination was to bow my head, raise my hand, to turn away, to hide … and Bill says gently to me, Joy, Joy look at me, keep your eye contact with me. Part of me didn’t want to, part of me just wanted to be hidden and left alone … … but I summoned up my courage and put my hand down and made eye contact with Bill and he held my gaze. I told him what had been weighing on my heart … It was such a powerful moment … it was like God reached out God’s hand in that moment between us and embraced us both, holding all that I had been carrying. As I continued to look at Bill, the truth of the Gospel blazed in my heart: A light shines even in the darkness; Jesus stops; we are loved, chosen and never alone.
I discovered that sometimes the Good News comes upon us when we least expect it, sometimes it breaks open our hearts and wipes the scales from our eyes. The love of God washes over us like a waterfall and unclogs our ears suddenly we can hear the sun and moon, stars and sky singing the Gospel.
A Gospel that we keep trying to capture in words but can never fully articulate. It’s one that must be experienced firsthand. Today Jesus invites us let the Good News of God wash over us like a river, right in the here now. Let the Good News flood over you that:
You are loved and chosen and never alone.
“We wish to see Jesus.” My friends, look around, I really mean it, look around, Jesus is right here in our midst, caring for us, loving us and walking alongside us, every step of the way. Amen.