When The Good News Is Really Good News
A friend shared with me that when they recently attended a funeral in a rural area of Texas, they were taken aback by the sermon of the pastor who was officiating.
After just a few moments of speaking about the deceased, the pastor launched into a twenty-minute diatribe about how if you didn't accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you would one day burn in Hell for all eternity.
I was not surprised, honestly. I've seen and heard that kind of thing before.
And to be fair, there's a good reason why the pastor did what he did. His entire theological structure is based on this premise: You will face eternal retribution when you die if you're not a Christian.
So, what better time to talk about that kind of thing than at a funeral when everyone contemplates their own mortality?
There are so many problems with this way of thinking that it would take me a hundred Devos to address them.
Suffice it to say when your theology is based on a transactional kind of faith and grounded in the idea that God is judgemental, you lose the true meaning of the Gospel.
One of the many things that gets glossed over in what passes for Christianity in our current culture is that Jesus didn't let politics, class, gender, or difference get in the way of reaching out to people where they were.
In the book St Francis and the Foolishness of God, the authors noted this:
In a social structure shaped by exclusion of the leprous, the ritually unclean, the “non-chosen,” the women, the possessed, tax collectors, sinners—Jesus embraced them all, both individually and as social groups.
This was the Good News, according to Jesus, not eternal retribution.
In fact, Jesus talked about money more than he did about Heaven and Hell, and when he did talk about the afterlife, it was almost always in parables.
Jesus was way more concerned about the suffering in the world right now.
His messages and teachings centered on the idea that God's peace, or shalom, was breaking through the world's corrupt systems and the brokenness they caused.
He had deep compassion for the hurting people he encountered, so much so that the Scripture describes it as an actual pain within him--- a gut reaction if you will.
Jesus wept when his friends mourned the loss of their loved one. He wept over Jerusalem, a city entangled in seemingly hopeless knots of politics and religion.
And he reached out to heal, connect, and show mercy and love to people on the margins who were left out, forgotten, abandoned, and persecuted.
The late Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn once wrote:
Understanding someone's suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love's other name. If you don't understand, you can't love.
If the foundation for our Christian faith is focused solely on some kind of escape from an angry God, it's not Good News. It leads us to deeper divisions in our culture because the logical end of this kind of faith is a zero-sum game.
Some are in, and some are not. Some are saved, and others are lost. "Othering" others is far too easy when we see the world this way. It leads to triumphalism and prideful certainty, which we see running rampant in our culture today.
What happens to us when we die is a mystery best left to God. And because of Jesus, we know that God is gracious, loving, merciful, and present with us right here and now.
May we learn to follow Jesus with humility and hope. May we trust that God's purposes for us are beautiful and true and beyond our imagination. May we learn from Jesus' example that grace and understanding are the best ways to show love.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.