Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
December 15, 2002
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.
I donít know about you, but sometimes, indeed most of the time, I feel simply overwhelmed by all of the bad news we see, hear, and read every day. Indeed, it seems any more that if the story isnít about some actual or pending disaster, or some scandal in our national life, that it really isnít news. Thereís a famous maxim about television news. I donít know where it comes from, but my experience with television news certainly seems to confirm it: "If it bleeds it leads." Without being untrue to the practice of journalism generally, we could expand this maxim to say: "If it doesnít bleed, or shock, or frighten, it doesnít get reported; or if it does, it gets buried in C section with the seasonal recipes and the warm and fuzzy but innocuous human interest stories." Whatís in the news today? Well, our dubiously legitimate President is about to lead us into a war in Iraq the justification for and necessity of which, it seems to me and to a lot of other good people, has not been established. We are waging a "war on terrorism" that doesnít seem to have done much to stop the terrorists, who are still carrying out assassinations and bombings all over the world. Thugs in three piece suits have destroyed the retirement savings of thousands of working people using dishonest accounting tricks to make themselves rich with no regard for anyone else, and our governmentís solution is to appoint more corporate insiders, more Wall Street wheeler dealers to oversee the stock market. Unemployment is unacceptably high, the Congress goes home without extending unemployment benefits and seems utterly incapable of passing any economic stimulus legislation that does anything but make the ever widening gap between rich and poor in this country even wider. The Catholic Church, the great Catholic Church with its magnificent liturgy and spirituality that are so important to me, is rocked by a sex abuse scandal; and the institutional structure of that great church reacts first of all by trying to protect the abusers and its own position of power over the faithful, removing one of the worst of the offenders in this regard only when public pressure becomes so strong even the isolated men who run the church can ignore it no longer. The most powerful man in the United States Senate makes remarks that betray an utter unawareness of how evil segregation was and racism is, that show that he is oblivious to the nature of institutional racism in America; and although the President is pressured into condemning his remarks by political considerations, he wonít even have to give up his leadership position. And no one even asks how a man so appallingly insensitive to the nature of American racism could have risen to such a powerful position in the first place.
And thatís just some of the news that gets reported. It doesnít even scratch the surface of the misery that could be reported if anyone cared. In our own state hundreds if not thousands of people who have lost their jobs in this bad economy are being evicted from their homes because they canít pay their rent; and our society isnít even aware that it is happening, much less prepared to extend a hand to help. Even worse, you would hardly know from the news that we Americans, who represent something like 2% of the worldís population, consume something like 25% or more of its resources and that the result of this imbalance in resource allocation is misery, abject poverty, for hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Yes, thereís more than enough bad news to go around.
Now, at this point you are probably wondering how this sermon got to be titled "We Bring Good News." So far, I have brought you nothing but bad news and told you that thatís about all the news there is. Well, the world is full of bad news. It seems like itís always full of bad news, and when on occasion something good happens it is quickly lost beneath the next wave of bad news. Well, thatís the way of the world. But here in church we proclaim that the world does not have the last word. We donít just proclaim it. We celebrate it, rejoice in it, revel in it. As people of faith in the Christian tradition we know that all this bad news is not our ultimate reality. Our ultimate reality is God, and God intends something better for us. God will bring about something better for us. Our faith is our resounding No! to the ultimate reality of evil and of suffering. Our faith is our great Nonetheless! in the face of all the bad news the world can throw at us. Bring it on world, we will say: Nonetheless we know that our God is a God of grace and of love, a God of justice and of mercy, and a God of joy. Throw your worst at us world. We will nonetheless scream Yes in the face of your No. We will affirm the goodness of life in the face of all the evil. We will affirm life in the face of all the death. We will affirm creation in the face of all the destruction.
And just how can we do that? We can do that because we have Godís promises, we have Godís word that in the end life is not like that, life is not ultimately about suffering and greed, death and destruction, injustice and oppression. We have Godís word on that. We have it, for example, in passages like that great passage from Isaiah that we heard this morning. Here the Prophet gives the vision he has received from God of that better reality, of that ultimate reality that is Godís will and desire for us and for all. What is the nature of that ultimate reality? Well, the Prophet here give a lot of specifics. It is a reality in which the oppressed hear good news, the brokenhearted are bound up, the captives are released, those who mourn are comforted, old devastation is rebuilt. It is a reality in which there is justice and not wrongdoing. It is a world in which the people of the Lord are blessed, they rejoice in the Lord, and are clothed with salvation. It is a world in which the people live in righteousness praising the Lord.
What does all that amount to? It is, in short, a world in which all people are restored to wholeness. To live in wholeness is to live the life that God intends for us. To be whole means to be free, physically free and spiritually free, free from imprisonment and free from grief. Free from oppression and injustice. To be whole is to live life praising God and doing Godís will. This is the ultimate reality that God promises us.
We all strive for wholeness. Our lives consist of a movement from wholeness-- the wholeness of the infant, pure and entirely authentic--through alienation, loss and pain, to growth and, if we are fortunate, to restoration of pure, authentic humanity. In this life only Jesus reached that goal fully. The rest of us fall short to one degree or another. And yet we can affirm ourselves and our lives despite our shortcomings because we have Godís promise, a promise that wholeness, that restoration of the broken bonds between humans and between humans and God, is the ultimate reality that God will bring about in Godís good time.
The bad news we hear every day is the news of a broken world. It is the news of a world desperately in need of a better message. We have that better message. We know that God offers us something better than the world does. We know that God longs to make us whole and will make us whole if we will only let God into our lives, into our hearts, and open ourselves to Godís healing saving work in us.
And like the prophet Isaiah so many centuries ago, we are anointed to bring the good news to the people. We are anointed by our baptism and by our calling as Christians to tell the world of Godís better way, of Godís way of peace, justice, freedom, and human wholeness. In our mainstream tradition we arenít comfortable doing that. Our proper aversion to forcing our beliefs on others often leads us to an excessive timidity in sharing the good news that we have in Christ Jesus. But friends, the world is thirsting, the world is yearning for the good news of Godís love for all people. In this Advent season we practice longing, yearning for the coming of Christ. We know what is coming, and what it means. The world does not. All creation is groaning for the coming of a better way. All that bad news is a symptom, a symptom of a world that has lost its way, that at some deep, unspoken level knows that it has lost its way, and desperately wants something better.
Who will offer the world that something better if we do not? Our more conservative Christian brothers and sisters are not shy about sharing their vision of the good news of God. Yet that vision (which despite what seem to us to be its shortcomings does contain much good news) seems so often to fall short of the fullness of the good news, with its exclusiveness and judgmental nature, with its one-sided emphasis on salvation as something that happens only after we die, and with itís religious justification for social and cultural prejudices. We have better good news than that to share. We have good news that truly is good news of great joy. We know that God offers us a better way than the way of the world and that wholeness, which is another word for salvation, is ours for the asking from our loving and gracious God. We are anointed to bring that good news. Letís get on with it.