RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle

Dear Friends,.....Greetings in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. .....Regardless of where you are in time or place, body or spirit, mind or heart, ..........may the Peace and Grace and Loving Presence of God be with you always.

In previous writings, .....we have examined church, God, miracles and .....what is not the Good News.

So, what is the Good News?

The most concise answer and the best illustration is the entire chapter of Luke 15.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ..........This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

So he told them this parable:

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, .....does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and .....go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, .....he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, .....he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ..........Rejoice with me, ...............for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, .....there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents .....than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin Or what woman having ten silver coins, .....if she loses one of them, .....does not light a lamp, .....sweep the house, and .....search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, .....she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ..........Rejoice with me, ....................for I have found the coin that I had lost. Just so, I tell you, .....there is joy in the presence of the angels of God .....over one sinner who repents.

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother Then Jesus said,

There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ..........Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me. So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had .....and travelled to a distant country, .....and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

When he had spent everything, .....a severe famine took place throughout that country, .....and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out .....to one of the citizens of that country, .....who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself .....with the pods that the pigs were eating; .....and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ..........How many of my father’s hired hands ...............have bread enough and to spare, ...............but here I am dying of hunger! ..........I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ....................Father, .........................I have sinned against heaven and before you; .........................I am no longer worthy to be called your son; ..............................treat me like one of your hired hands. So he set off and went to his father.

But while he was still far off, .....his father saw him and was filled with compassion; .....he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ....................Father, .........................I have sinned against heaven and before you; .........................I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his slaves, ..........Quickly, ...............bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; ...............put a ring on his finger ...............and sandals on his feet. ..........And get the fatted calf and kill it, ...............and let us eat and celebrate; ...............for this son of mine ...............was dead and is alive again; ...............he was lost and is found! And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; .....and when he came and approached the house, .....he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves .....and asked what was going on. He replied, ..........Your brother has come, ...............and your father has killed the fatted calf, ...............because he has got him back safe and sound.

Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ..........Listen! ..........For all these years ...............I have been working like a slave for you, ...............and I have never disobeyed your command; ...............yet you have never given me even a young goat ...............so that I might celebrate with my friends. ..........But when this son of yours came back, ...............who has devoured your property ...............with prostitutes, ...............you killed the fatted calf for him!

Then the father said to him, ..........Son, ...............you are always with me, ...............and all that is mine is yours. ..........But we had to celebrate and rejoice, ...............because this brother of yours was dead ...............and has come to life; ...............he was lost and has been found. ............................................................................................(NRSV Luke 15)

The lamb was lost. It was the shepherd who searched, found, retrieved, and celebrated the recovery of the lost lamb.

The coin was lost. It was the woman who searched, found, retrieved, and celebrated the recovery of the lost coin.

Before considering the third parable, remember the requirements of The Law.

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son .....who will not obey his father and mother, .....who does not heed them when they discipline him, .....then his father and his mother shall take hold of him .....and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ..........This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. ..........He will not obey us. ..........He is a glutton and a drunkard. Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; ..........and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. ............................................................................................(NRSV Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

The younger child, the disobedient child, is lost - even before leaving home. The lost child rejects the Parent as though the Parent were dead. Even in rejection, the Parent is exceedingly accommodating and generous. Then, this wandering aimless child lives a selfish and self-directed life and, as the child desires, a life without the Parent. Finally, the life of the child reaches a place on the path where there are no options and there is no direction forward or out. There is no chance of rescue, no charity, no hope, no family, no meaningful life and no life with meaning. There is complete separation from love and kindness and family and friendship and companionship, it is an abomination of an existence – this is death and this is hell. At such a time under such circumstances, what happens next is natural and unavoidable – the child goes home. It is not a choice. It is an inevitable continuation of the path and journey that is traveled by every lost child. The Parent has been waiting and watching because the Parent knows that some day that lost child will reach the inevitable conclusion of the unavoidable journey, the last mile of which always brings the child home. When the Parent, who has been waiting and watching, catches that first distant glimpse of the returning child; the Parent rushes out to retrieve the child, once lost and now found, to shower the returning child, again, with generous hospitality and generous accommodation and a generous re-inclusion in the family and to begin a totally maxed-out celebration. In this parable, the child never even gets to finish a well-rehearsed speech of contrition and humility. All that matters is that the wayward child is home – for the child was never lost to the Parent, the son was only lost to himself, the daughter was only lost to herself.

The older sibling, the obedient child, is not happy. (Tangential Question: Is the obedient child like the nine coins safely gathered in a known location or like the ninety-nine sheep left in the wilderness?) The obedient child wants to know: why is there a celebration for the lost when there has never been a celebration for that which was never lost? Why is there no harsh judgment? Why are there no punitive consequences for destructive decisions and a selfish unproductive wasteful life? Why is there a Parent’s happiness for a bad child – a disobedient child who never lived in accordance with the lessons and wisdom and will of the Parent? How could there possibly be room in the family for a stubborn and rebellious child who lived wastefully in rejection of the Parent’s abundance and generosity and hospitality and love? Why is there no final conclusive inescapable justice?

The Parent warmly affirms the unbroken love that the Parent has and will always have for the obedient child and gratefully acknowledges the value and sacredness of the accomplishments and stewardship of this steadfast sibling. The faithful life of the obedient child has immeasurable worth and divine appreciation. The life of the obedient child has not been in vain.

The Parent also rejects rejection. There has been enough separation. There will be no more separation – separation is finished. There will be a judgment. There will be justice that is final and conclusive and inescapable. Instead of an eternal punishment of bitter harshness, the judgment will be the repair and repatriation of the lost child. Instead of punitive isolation and abandonment, there will be acceptance and inclusion and accommodation - and a great party to which all are invited.

What should have been the behavior and response of the obedient child? How does one live the Good News?

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ..........Teacher, he said, ...............what must I do to inherit eternal life?

He said to him, ..........What is written in the law? What do you read there?

He answered, ..........You shall love the Lord your God ...............with all your heart, and ...............with all your soul, and ...............with all your strength, and ...............with all your mind; and ...............your neighbor as yourself.

And he said to him, ..........You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ..........And who is my neighbor?

Jesus replied, ..........A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, ...............and fell into the hands of robbers, who ...............stripped him, ...............beat him, and ...............went away, ...............leaving him half dead.

..........Now by chance a priest was going down that road; ...............and when he saw him, ...............he passed by on the other side.

..........So likewise a Levite, ...............when he came to the place and saw him, ...............passed by on the other side.

..........But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; ...............and when he saw him, ...............he was moved with pity. ..........He went to him and bandaged his wounds, ...............having poured oil and wine on them. ..........Then he put him on his own animal, ...............brought him to an inn, and took care of him. ..........The next day ...............he took out two denarii, ...............gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ....................Take care of him; and when I come back, .........................I will repay you whatever more you spend.

..........Which of these three, ...............do you think, ...............was a neighbor ...............to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?

He said, ..........The one who showed him mercy.

Jesus said to him, ..........Go and do likewise. ............................................................................................(NRSV Luke 10:25-37)

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; .....do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; .....do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, .....but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; .....for it is written, ...............Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, .....if your enemies are hungry, feed them; .....if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; .....for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ............................................................................................(NRSV Romans 12:13-21)

Being a disciple of the Good News is practicing generosity and hospitality; living non-violently without vengeance; living here and now as one family where all are invited, welcomed, and included without exception or qualification; living in constant relationship with God; and living here and now – not later and not someplace else – living here and now a life transformed by resurrection. The Good News – without application here and now, without making a positive and practical difference in the life of the disciple and especially in the involvement of the disciple in the lives of others – is useless and meaningless and is not the message lived and delivered by Jesus and is not of God.

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. ............................................................................................(NRSV Matthew 25:35-36)

Then Peter came and said to him, ..........Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, ...............how often should I forgive? ..........As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ..........Not seven times, ...............but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. ............................................................................................(NRSV Matthew 18:21-22)

From its beginning, the Good News has been apolitical and non-national. When pushed to choose between faith and empire, the way of the Good News has been to respond with non-violent defiance and refusal. Our faith life is not measured by how materially abundant or wealthy is our life and not by how much political or cultural influence we have. Our faith life in no way embodies, is connected to, or dependent upon or subservient to patriotic fervor or national loyalty or good citizenship. Our faith life is measured by how we attend to and improve the lives of others – by feeding them, quenching their thirst, clothing them, visiting them in prison, healing them, and welcoming them. Keep in mind that this is a deliberately incomplete list. It works in much the same way as when Jesus tells Peter to forgive, not 7 times, but 77 times – the point being that by the time you forgive someone 77 times, it has become, not an act that has been repeated 77 times, it has become a habit, a path, a journey, a way of life. The point is that by the time you develop the habit of feeding, quenching, clothing, healing, welcoming, and visiting prisons, you have created a new life complete with new values and new goals and new vision. Once you get to this point, you have discovered and claimed (not earned) and embodied your grace-given membership in the family of God, a membership exemplified by faith, love, and service.

Something did happen on Easter morning – and just to put a label on it, we will call it the resurrection of Jesus. However, the resurrection of Jesus is of lesser importance. What is of critical and major importance is the resurrection of the disciples. If a burial box is found that undeniably contains the bones of Jesus, what is the ramification for the Good News? Nothing – it changes nothing. The message stays the same. The Good News remains vibrant and relevant and complete. The validity of our faith is built on the rock of the personal relationship that God has with each of us, not just on the relationship God had with Jesus or only on that relationship God had with the first disciples. The relationship God had with Jesus and the first disciples is instructional, not controlling.

Whatever happened on Easter morning is inferior and insufficient compared to the miracle of the resurrected lives of the disciples. As faithful followers of Jesus, they too had become, because of the crucifixion, as though dead and buried. Crucifixion was more than an execution; it was the obliteration of an entire life. In the culture of the Roman Empire, it was as if the crucified person had not just disappeared, it was as if the crucified person had never existed – that life would never again be discussed, that name would never again be mentioned. The disciples were more than grief-stricken, more than pathologically depressed, more than dangerously fatalistic; they felt obliterated – within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus was meaningless because it no longer existed. Within the context of the Roman Empire, their life with Jesus did not even rise to the level of wastefulness because it never did exist. Because of the crucifixion, throughout the entire Roman Empire, their entire experience with Jesus – the love and fellowship, the teaching and learning, the discussions and arguments and bickering, the travels and the resting and the meals together, the prayers and the worship – all their incredible experiences with Jesus had never happened. In the context of the culture of the Roman Empire, Jesus is not just dead, Jesus is non-existent - there is no Jesus, there never was a Jesus. Starting the moment when Jesus breathed his last, this was the awful and oppressive and devastating reality that blanketed and suffocated and consumed the disciples.

On Easter morning, something happened. On Easter morning, something happened that resurrected for the disciples the life and teaching of Jesus and reinvigorated their experience with Jesus. In a very real sense, Jesus was resurrected - from hell, from oblivion, from death. Within 40 days, not only were the disciples resurrected, they were transformed. The Good News that resurrected and transformed their lives (and the thousands of other first-century lives transformed by that same Good News) had nothing to do with sacrificial death, empty tombs, ascensions, virgin births, or miracles. The Good News is neither concerned with nor does it require a direct and overt act of divine intervention. In any biblical story that involves such a divine action; to focus on the miraculous event is to miss completely the purpose and message of the story. To depend on or expect or require miracles is to worship at the altar of the false god of spiritual certainty.

The Good News did not and does not succeed because of miracles. The initial success of the Good News was in how it demonstrated that anyone - even someone oppressed into complete oblivion by an empire - could live a resurrected and transformed life even in a world where death, cruelty, corruption, crime, war, systemic injustice, slavery, and extreme poverty were so rampant as to be the norm. Their success in living a resurrected and transformed life even in such a world is completely relevant to our time and for all time. The Good News is that a life of resurrection and transformation does not have to be preceded by death. The Good News is that the kingdom of God is not a future event or a distant place or a strictly post-mortal existence. An "anticipated" kingdom of God is meaningless and useless. The Good News is that the kingdom of God has arrived, it is here and it is now and it is available to anyone – without exception and without qualification and without sacrifice.

To have a loving intimate relationship with God; to serve others by practicing generosity and hospitality; to seek justice, mercy, healing, reconciliation, rehabilitation, inclusion, and participation; and then to live non-violently without vengeance and with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers – that is the radical and the defiant message and the transformational spirit of the universal and timeless Good News.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – –...can never separate us from the love and grace and –...the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

In Christian Love, Doug

( With great love and gratitude and appreciation, this article is dedicated to Rev. Verity Jones, Rev. Dianne Mansfield, and Rev. Jay Marshall )

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Terre Haute, Indiana. Central Christian is an open and affirming congregation where he has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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previous posts by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH........the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. GOD IS......................................the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. RECLAIMING GOD................a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT................the #8 most-viewed article at [D]mergent RECLAIMING MIRACLES.......and the controversial list of RECLAIMING MIRACLES.......what is not the Good News.