Fifth Sunday of Epiphany - "Have You Not Known? Have You Not Heard?




Today we continue our journey through the season of Epiphany with the surprise of Good News. 

Aren't you ready for some good news?  I know that I am.  It has felt like all we have had is bad news or worse news over the course of the past year.  

Here's what I thought I thought would be a good idea... why don't we share some good news stories... some of the ones we might have missed because we've been worrying and fretting and feeling bombarded by all of the bad news. 

As I was thinking about this sermon, I got to thinking about the Psychology of why good news matters.  

First, let's talk about the effects of negative news over time.  

Even in the best of times, negative news takes a psychological and physical toll on us.  But now, with so much bad news for so long---things are serious.  

Negative news increases the production of cortisol, the body's stress hormone.  Constant exposure to negative news results in high cortisol over time, which has adverse effects on blood pressure regulation, and can also affect our mood and mindset.  

An additional result of constant exposure to negative news is increased anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep, depression, anger, and the like.  

It's been well documented that we also struggle with a negative bias, which means we tend to give more weight to negative news than positive.  Negative experiences are exponentially easier for us to internalize and created lasting impressions---it takes twice as long for positive news to take effect.  

So it's important for us to hear and to share good news with one another.  

This brings us to a conundrum... 

What if the good news in question doesn't feel like good news to everyone?  Is it still good news?  It would depend on your perspective then, right?  

Well, this is the problem that we are facing right now in Christianity.  We say that we want to share the Good News or the Gospel.  That's kind of a church-y thing to be honest with you, but there it is.  

We get this turn of phrase from the Gospel accounts themselves, with the Gospel of Mark actually starting off with these words:   "This is the beginning of the "good news" of Jesus Christ..."   

So what does that mean, exactly?  What is the "good news" to Christians?  Is it, like so many of us seem to think that if I believe in Jesus that I get to go to heaven and not hell when I die?  Because that's what most Christians seem to think. 

It's bigger than that.  Way bigger, in fact.  Jesus declared his entire purpose in Luke chapter 4 when he started his ministry:  

8 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Basically Jesus declares that the Good News is that God is for us and not against us... that God wants to lift up the downtrodden, give freedom to those who are oppressed and imprisoned by hopelessness and helplessness, to give sight to those who have blinded from seeing hope... to let the world know that the peace of God is possible for you, for me and all of Creation.  

Come on!! 

So when the Gospel excludes, alienates, leaves us wanting... when the Gospel is small, narrow and focused on just a few people who are in the inside, and not on the many people on the outside looking inside... is it really good news?

Here's what we need to know today about the Good News.  The Good News is for all of us.  The Good News is good news for everyone.  And this above all... 

THE GOOD NEWS IS BIGGER THAN_________________

I know, I know I left that last bit blank.  That's because no matter what you put in that blank, the Good News is bigger than that thing, or person, or idea, or belief, supposition, fear, challenge...  the Good News is bigger than that. 

Isaiah 40:21-31

21 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
God stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 God brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than God blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
God who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of God's great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
God will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 God gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Here's the context... 

People who had gone through the worst things imaginable... the destruction of their homeland, the Temple, exile... living in a strange land as outsiders, with no hope of ever being able to return. 

This prophetic promise offers some incredible imagery.  

God sets life-giving boundaries between us and chaos---keeps the waters at bay. 

God makes a home for God's children---no matter where they are--provides and protects. 

God is sovereign over the powers-that-be... you don't have to be afraid of rulers, even the nasty ones. 

God is intimate--the closeness of naming the starry hosts. 

God is not done---there is more to come so be ready.  

The bottom line for the people of Israel in exile and waiting was this: 

When you are struggling to imagine a future filled with Good News--look around-God is at work making it a reality.  

And the Good News that is being laid out here is Good News not just for the people of Israel, but for all nations if they are willing to receive it... and indeed for all of Creation as well.  God is doing new things all of the time to bring God's shalom to the world, to show everyone that God is for them, that God desires justice and peace and equity... that God longs to redeem, restore and resurrect...  

So the question that is before you and me today is simply this:  

Is the "good news" that we are sharing really the Gospel--the Good News that God is for us? Is it the Good News that Jesus came to show us all---that God is willing to go to the greatest lengths possible in order to show God's love for us? 

Or are we stuck in the negative news cycle that so much of Christianity seems to be stuck in today---where the Good News isn't really good news for everyone.  

How did Jesus proclaim the Good News?  He did it by living it... by telling stories about the surprising ways that the Good News lands on ordinary people... by showing God's love through healing, restoration, and even sacrifice.  

And then ultimately Jesus demonstrated that sin and death have no hold over us.  That evil doesn't get to win.  That injustice doesn't get the last word.  Because the last word is "risen." 

The second thing that we need to consider is this: 

Do we live like we believe in the Good News?

So often we get caught up in fear and our ideas of what constitutes Good News get narrowed.  As we mentioned earlier, it's easier to focus on the negative and so that's what we do.  

We have a fear of losing what we have... and so we close ourselves off to the possibility of something new... 

We have a fear of being wrong so we double down on certainty at all costs. 

We have fears of an uncertain future... 

And so when it's fear that drives the train, our vision can get pretty narrow, pretty fast.  In light of this, we need to stop and consider this question: 

Do these fears dominate our understanding of the Good News?  

We've seen the results that a constant barrage of negative news can have on us physically, emotionally, and psychologically... but what about spiritually?  Have we become so narrowed in our focus on everything that is wrong around us that we can't see what's right?   That we can't see God at work in the world through the Spirit of the Risen Christ---making things new, bringing shalom, raising what was left for dead to new life?

Listen to me... The Good News is bigger than that. 

The Good News is bigger than your fears.  The Good News is bigger than your challenges... your broken relationships... your financial situation... your addiction... your illness... The Good News is bigger than our divisions... our politics... our tightly held religious beliefs... The Good News is bigger than all of it... 

And that my friends... is truly Good News... for everyone.  

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