Look for the Good

On May 6, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Look for the Good Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins May 6, 2018 Philippians 1.3-9, 12-18 Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. What is the gospel? I grew up hearing that […]

Look for the Good
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
May 6, 2018
Philippians 1.3-9, 12-18

Let us dwell together in peace and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

What is the gospel? I grew up hearing that the gospel was that Jesus would give you a get out of hell free card if you believed certain things about him. But I do not believe the gospel is afterlife fire insurance.

So, what is the gospel? The gospel is good news, so good in fact that people risked their lives for it.

The gospel that changed lives in the first century, the gospel Jesus lived and shared, is this: the kin-dom of God is at hand.

The oldest gospel, Mark, tells us this: “Jesus came to Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s Realm. Change your hearts and trust this good news!’”

Jesus would demonstrate the message by ministering to the sick, by affirming the dignity of the outcast, by helping broken people rebuild their lives, by embracing those whom society and religion had rejected…but behind it all was this simple message: “The time is now. God’s realm is at hand. Change your hearts and trust this good news.”

God is omnipresent, all-inclusive, unconditional, never-ending love and we are meant to shape our world to reflect what God is. And we can, and that’s the good news.

In God’s realm the forgotten and disadvantaged have their dignity restored, the poor are fed, the sick are tended, political prisoners are released, refugees find safety, violence is not acceptable, and all people are reminded that they have sacred value. That’s Jesus’ vision of God’s realm, and the good news is that such a realm is in our hands. It’s time for it. It’s at hand.

Jesus says: trust that this heavenly vision of earthly possibility is ours to bring about.

Now, those who gained influence or power or wealth by exploiting the poor or waging war or ignoring suffering didn’t want to hear about a world where none of that is lauded.

The last will be first, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, feed the hungry, touch the untouchable, heal the sick? That’s not how empires are built? That gospel is a direct challenge to all who aren’t using a fair portion of their resources to make the world better for everyone.

So, the power keepers try to squash this Jesus thing, this seditious movement. If it were about getting people to an afterlife paradise, that would have been no threat at all. It wasn’t about getting us to heaven, it was about challenging us to conquer every hell on earth and do all that we could to challenge systems of oppression so that all people could thrive.

I don’t worry about the afterlife; I am convinced that God is a Love that will not and cannot let us go. We don’t have to earn God’s favor nor can we lose it. So, now that we’ve seettle that, let’s get back to healing the world that God has entrusted to us.

The gospel looks at what isn’t right yet with the world, and sees the good that is possible, and then calls us to usher in that good. Not a home in gloryland, not the sweet by and by, but peace on EARTH, goodwill toward humankind. That’s the gospel, and it strikes fear throughout the halls of power to this day. It even makes the church uncomfortable (to be honest).

Paul has been transformed by the gospel message. It changed him and he dedicated his life to sharing the message of God’s kin-dom over against Caesar’s empire.

And so now, Paul is in prison. He’s challenging empire. He’s challenging power and privilege. He’s challenging the world where oppression and marginalization are rampant and he’s saying the Good news is that God wants us to have a different kind of world and we can start building it now. That’s revolutionary and for that, Paul is on lock down.

And from prison, Paul continues to share good news. He can’t be intimidated. He can’t be bullied or threatened into not sharing the gospel. Later, someone writing in Paul’s name says, “You can chain me, but there is no chaining the word of God.”

What plucky Paul is saying is: Do your worst; that shows who you are. But you don’t have what it takes to make me give up the vision of a world built on God’s justice-love.

So Paul just keeps sharing. The power keepers are trying to shut this thing down, this thing that says everyone has dignity and worth, and that there is a way of forming community that builds us all up and that affirms the sacred value of all people; and Paul says, “Look, the power keepers don’t want this message getting out, but the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.”

Keep up the good work. People are hearing that the world can be better…it can be a place of promise for all people, not just the lucky and powerful few. Justice work is God’s work; don’t give up.
God has given us the gospel vision, but we are the laborers in the vineyard to bring it about. What God does for us, God does through us. The kin-dom is in our hands.

The good news that Paul is sharing is so good it encourages him. While giving people hope, he finds his own reserves of hope replenished, and now he can share even more hope with others.

Paul says: “What has happened to me has actually helped me to spread the gospel…it has become well known…that my imprisonment is for Christ…[So others] have been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment [and] now dare to speak the word boldly…”

He’s not thrilled about jail, but he sees that his boldness has given others courage to be bold. His enduring challenges may encourage others who are facing consequences for this commitment to the cause of Christ of ushering in God’s kin-dom, God’s counter culture.

Even in jail, Paul has chosen to see the blessings that have come in spite of or maybe even because of his experience. He sees the good, or at least the good that is possible. That’s the gospel! Even when there is loss, something is left. Even when there is failure, there is also a lesson learned. When there is suffering, this is also courage or grace or overcoming. If we can see the good, we can make that our focus and then bring about even more good.

There’s a Buddhist saying: “The lotus is a flower that blooms in the mud; the thicker the mud, the more beautiful the flower.” Even when the world seems ugly, beauty can be brought forth. That’s the gospel. That’s the kin-dom of God at hand.

In our world right now there’s a lot of ugliness: The president of a seminary in Texas has counseled women in abusive marriages to stay in those unsafe situations, and he has no remorse for it. That isn’t the gospel. That kind of cruelty is precisely what the gospel calls us to confront.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise, unrepentant and often violent demonstrations of racism are increasing, and listen…there is an attack on LGBTQ people being launched blasphemously and mendaciously in the name of religious liberty.
They aren’t trying to gain freedom to worship as they please (we have that). They want the power to use their brand of religion to marginalize, demonize, and dehumanize Queer folk and limit women’s personal choices. They may or may not get away with it but in either case they will not have the gift of my silence. The gospel compels us to resist tyranny.

We are being called today to embrace the gospel vision and get back to work.
Times are tough right now, but the Roman Empire of the first century was worse, and in that even more hostile environment, Jesus and Paul and the early church risked everything to lift up a vision of what the world could be…a world that offered hope and dignity and security to every person. We aren’t there yet, but the vision and the work to fulfill it are still in our hands.
And this is the good news. Amen.

God is doing something good in me.
I see and seize the good in life.
And I boldly share good news.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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