Will you proclaim, by word and example, the good news of God in Christ?
When Michael Curry stepped into the pulpit at Washington National Cathedral last All Saints Day to preach his installation sermon as Presiding Bishop, he said, “Jesus came to…transform this world, from the nightmare it often is, to the dream that God intends.” He went on, in that magnificent space, with more bishops than it would be easy to count, and everything and everyone fully adorned, to say that that was not what the day was all about. “The real reason we are here,” Presiding Bishop Curry said, “Is that at the beginning of the service, we renewed our vows of baptism.”
And so I return again to the promise that is our focus this week: Will you proclaim, by word and example, the good news of God in Christ?
What does that mean for you, that promise you made: “We will, with God’s help,” when you were baptized, or, more likely, the promise that was made on your behalf, as you were baptized as an infant or a child? What does it look like in your life, to proclaim God’s good news by both what you say and how you live? Where do you see it made real in the words of scripture, particularly today?
You know the story of today’s gospel, no doubt – the parable Jesus tells in response to the Pharisees’ and scribes’ grumbling about Jesus and sinners and tax collectors: “This guy welcomes them…and eats with them…”
You know – the man, his two sons, one with the audacity to ask for his share of the family inheritance, which he blows off in what the King James Version of the bible calls “riotous living,” then finds himself in trouble, working with pigs who eat better than he does. So he goes home. He goes home, prepared to say all the things you’re supposed to say in a moment as potentially humiliating as that might have been. But when he gets there, it seems like he barely has the chance to get the words out of his mouth before his dad has thrown a robe around his shoulders and put a ring on his fingerand shoes on his feet, ordered the killing of a fat calf and planned a party to get started exactly right now.
His older brother, the one who didn’t ask for his inheritance, who didn’t go off to live riotously, who didn’t go anywhere at all, but stayed put and did the work of a faithful son…he’s not so ready to party. “All that is mine is yours,” says the father. “Your brother was dead and is alive, he was lost and now is found!”
Where is the good news here? And how are we to talk about it?
In the second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes: “If anyone is in Christ, then there is a new creation…” All of it is from God, who reconciled us to God’s own self through Jesus, who gives us that ministry, entrusts us with the ministry of reconciliation.
At different times, the story of the Prodigal has landed on me in different ways. Sometimes I’m curious about what exactly was involved in that little brother’s “riotous living.” And sometimes, I understand the older brother’s indignance, older sister that I am (with apologies to my younger sister Becky who is here with us today); more often, that indignance embarrasses me, makes me uncomfortable. And sometimes the word I hear is purely one of thanksgiving for a father prepared to set everything aside and lavish abundant love on the lost child, now found.
Today, I find myself wondering about what comes next. I wonder how this reconciled family – if they are in fact reconciled on this younger son’sreturn – lives differently as a result of that reconciliation. I wonder what the good news looks like in their life. And I wonder, if this parable were to take flesh, how they would share their good news in the days ahead. I wonder how they might proclaim it, even, in what they say and how they live.
In his installation sermon, Bishop Curry talked about last summer’s General Convention, the wide gathering of the Episcopal Church at which he was elected the first black Presiding Bishop. “I heard a call at that Convention,” he said, “I heard a call for evangelism and a call for reconciliation – to work for evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus, and to work for racial reconciliation, to cross the divides that separate us.”
The Presiding Bishop went on to tell this story: “In the 1940s, long before desegregation, before Brown v. Board of Education, before Rosa Parks sat on that bus…an African-American couple went to an Episcopal Church. They were the only people of color in the church. They went to worship – the woman had become an Episcopalian, the man was studying to become a Baptist preacher…The service went along, following the order of the 1928 Prayer Book. The woman had told her fiancé beforehand, “When the time comes, I’ll go up for communion, and you can either stay here or you can go up and receive a blessing.” He said, “Well I’ll just sit here and see what happens.” So the time came, and she went forward to kneel at the altar rail, and the priest was giving out the sacrament. And everyone else was not…black…And that was all okay when it was the bread getting passed out, but then the chalice came. And the man looked up and saw there was just one cup, and it had wine in it, too! But the wine wasn’t the issue – it was just one cup. And he watched as the priest took the cup to each person, to the lady just before the African-American woman (remember, this is before desegregation, before Brown v. Board of Education, before Rosa Parks sat down…) and then the fiancé took the cup (“the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, shed for thee, preserve thy body into everlasting life”); and he looked. And then the next person received, and then the next, and the next. And years later, the man would say that he joined the Episcopal Church because he really hadn’t imagined that that could happen in America. He said, ‘Any church where blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the gospel that I want to be part of.’
The Holy Spirit has done evangelism and racial reconciliation in the Episcopal Church before, because that man and woman were the parents of the 27th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.”
My friends, we have good news to share that God has entrusted to us in the person of Jesus. We have the stories of our faith and of our lives to share with people who need to hear them, stories we have our own need to share of those moments when we see glimpses, when our lives have been transformed from the nightmares we sometimes encounter, to the dreams that God intends.
In the words of Paul’s letter, we are a new creation, entrusted to continue the ministry of reconciliation in thanksgiving for the ways that God has reconciled us.
It’s good news. Good news, indeed.
How will you live, reconciled, as a new creation? How will you proclaim God’s good news in the person of Jesus by what you say and by how you live?