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Refections on the Gospel, Week Before May 5 2013

Acts 16:9-15

9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

What I am Learning:

Paul sees a vision and is convinced to follow it. We might think this is weird, but why do we do half the things we do? Are we really as logical as we claim? I think not. It is just that we live in a culture in which to claim to experience a vision is to be labeled Pat-Robertson-Crazy. While Pat certainly has some challenges, not everyone with a vision is crazy. While we might not want to claim some kind of infallibility from a vision, we can claim to have received and accepted some direction from it. Paul does not claim his vision is infallible, but he does act on it.

Paul goes to Macedonia to share the "good news" there.

Let's pause right here.

As I do this work I am continually amazed at the power of our assumptions about the meaning of "good news."  The Romans would send heralds, their form of a presidential press conference, to announce the latest official Roman propaganda. They would call people in the market place to listen to the "good news from Caesar." They would claim that Caesar the son of the god Apollo was the savior of the world and the prince of peace, who brought peace to yet another outlying territory. What they really meant, of course, is that the Roman Empire had just conquered another land, that the Roman empire was strong, blessed by the gods, and you had better not fight back because it is hopeless.

Christians used the term "good news" in a subversive way. When the Christians used the term, they were fighting back against the official story-line of the Roman Empire with a deeper and freeing "good news."

Luke 2:8-14

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

So the "good news" Paul is going to preach there, is not, as is typically assumed, "If you believe in Jesus you get to go to heaven when you die (provided you are a good boy or girl.)" This understanding assumes that God is rescuing individuals from the earth.

In many ways the way Christians tend to use the term "good news" is yet another expression of a bullying culture - believe like us and act like us or we will assume you are going to hell and we will treat you like a second class human. Not very good news, is it?

I think the Good News in the New Testament includes, but is about more than individuals.

I really believe that the heart of Christianity is this:

  • God is bringing healing and creation to the world.
  • God is inviting us to participate.
  • Our participation is how God heals us.

I am not using this as a marketing tool. I am not trying to be poetic. I am not trying to avoid the scripture, or the book of  Revelation, or traditional theology.

I am saying that I think these words express, for me, the heart of the Bible's message.

The Good News is that we no longer have to live in the "bullying culture" of the Roman Empire. The Good News is that the Roman Claim that the gods made a dog-eat-dog world is a lie. The Good News is that we are free to begin to treat one another as equals, to share our food, and to love our enemies because the true God of the universe was moving to create a very different way for people to live: God's Way of Mutuality (the kingdom of God).

The Good News is that God's Reign is near and you and your community are freed to live by its vision for human beings, even while in the midst of the Roman Empire.

A second powerful assumption is that Paul is going there to start a congregation, to build a building with video screens or an organ, and to have a successful pledge campaign. Some have asked me if I think The Catacomb Churches "will work." What I think they mean is this:  Will house churches save our institutions?"

God is after bigger fish than preserving institutions.

God is inviting partners to join God in the healing and creation of the world, with its peoples, cultures, plants, animals, air and water.

Paul is not going to Macedonia to start a church, but to expand a movement of people who will act as salt in the food, leaven in the bread, and seed in the field until all can laugh off the lie of Roman "good news."

But of course, God is there ahead of him. It is not by his smarts or his skill in speaking that they are converted. They are already praying by the river, praying by the edge of a great Roman colony, praying for something different to emerge.

This time it is a rich woman named Lydia who greets him and with her whole household is baptized (this undoubtedly included baptizing children).  She is ready for a different "good news." Paul's willingness to take her seriously, after thousands of years of the subjugation of women, shows that in Jesus there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek.

I think we are ready for a different good news, too. We are ready for a good news that invites us from our own culture of bullying, of impossible expectations for what it means to be an ideal human, of communities in which we are estranged each other, of a culture that glorifies violence and power and fear.

I think it likely that there are people "down by the river," living at the edge of our dog-eat-dog society, our own bullying culture who are praying, like us, for something different.

Gracious God, call us together to be salt, leaven and light.

Amen.