From Gloomy to Good-News God

Luke 6:27-38 & Genesis 45:3-11, 15

If we strip down the Bible and our different faiths to a single concept we end with always end with love. God can be summarized in one sentence; “God Is Good News”.

In Luke’s Gospel story Jesus is in a teaching mode. He has people listening while he speaks. The three paragraphs we read this morning each end with a kind of summary;

  1. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  2. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
  3. …the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

These were not new ideas his audience was hearing for the first time. But he was presenting these well-known facts in a new context.

Jesus offered a correction to the notion of a gloomy God by revealing to his listeners the obscured Good-News God.

You see, when God becomes institutionalized in tradition it usually ends up turning God into a gloomy God. If you teach people about a gloomy God you can manipulate them so much better. If God is always angry and bent on vengeance for our mistakes the institution controls your destiny. At worst, the institution becomes the self-appointed mediator between you and God.

Jesus offered a course correction on the institutionalized God of his time and the question we face today is whether we may have done the same through our contemporary interpretations of God. Do we need a course correction?

The British theologian, NT Wright, says;

“…large sections of Christianity down the years seem to have known little or nothing of the God Jesus was talking about. Much that has called itself by the name of Jesus seems to have believed instead in a gloomy God, a penny-pinching God, a God whose only concern is to make life difficult, and salvation nearly impossible.”

Perhaps you were very fortunate to have grown up with a different concept of God but when I read NT Wright’s commentary, I recognized it as the institutionalized faith of my youth.

“God is angry and someone’s going to pay!” –was the dictum of the church.

Jesus reminds us today and every day, that it is human interpretation that turns God into a gloomy God and robs us of our Good-News God.

A God who shows us a path does it in love knowing we are human and apt to fail. Therefore, God is also a forgiving God, an accepting God, an embracing God, and a resurrection God.

God’s will for us is a full life and Jesus shows us the way.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

…the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

When we forget this path set out before us as the path to a full life we diminish our human experience and we lose out. But we do not stand condemned or discarded.

When we forget this path God beckons us back to the path of life—even if we have to start over, again and again.

In these times there appears to be a war for the hearts of people. Ideologies and values are used as weapons to inflict great damage upon those who will not conform. Value systems that encourage us to live a life of selfishness such as the Ayan Rands of the world, may create a world of such intense competition that we need to stomp through the lives of others to accomplish our goals. But the cost of such philosophies are beyond calculation.

Mother Theresa said; “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

It is when we forget that we are here to, at a very minimum, “do to others as you would have them do to you.” Anything less ends in the endless fight to dominate and control and manipulate. There can be no place for the love of God in such an environment and we suffer the consequences if that is the path we choose.

Secondly, on the issue of mercy. Jesus said, “be merciful, just as your God is merciful.”

Why would we be better off by showing mercy, especially to those who have wronged us or threatened us? Why not strike back, or as some suggest, strike first?

Our reading from the Old Testament was the story of Joseph who was sold as a slave by a group of brothers who followed the path of selfish self-interest. His brothers had figured that with their father’s favorite out of the way, their futures would be better served.

When they have found themselves in a desperate situation, searching for food in a foreign country, they happened to end up before Joseph, the little brother they sold as a slave. Now, holding their future—in fact, their very lives, in his hand, he needs to choose whether to show mercy and give them their lives back or embrace vengeance and take their lives.

It would have been so very 21st-century like if he had demanded restitution for the terrible wrong they had inflicted on him, but he chooses the path, not only of forgiveness, but of resurrection. He controlled their fate and he gave them back their lives.

In the words of our Genesis story; “…he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.”

Instead of death his act of mercy creates new life through a healing of their relationship. This is what the Good News God is all about. Not judgment but redemption. Not selfishness but selflessness. Not retribution but reconciliation. Life. Not death.

It does not mean that Joseph did not suffer greatly for the injustices of his bothers but as the wise old Catholic prophet, Richard Rohr, says; “If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it.”

By showing mercy we transform our pain when wronged—not transmit it to others.

Thirdly, and finally, Jesus teaches us that the Good News God assures us that “…the measure we give will be the measure we get back.”

For Joseph it was the gain of his entire family. A little further on we read how his brothers went back and brought his parents to come live with him so that the entire family was not only reunited but they could rebuild their relationships and transform their pain.

Rachel Naomi Remen, said:

Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone…”

She says of herself: “I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of.”

Dearest friends, we are in this together. We are a community of believers and searchers. We are not perfect people, but we are always God’s beloved. When we fail, may our shame serve to remind us that facing our weakness places us in a better position serve the Good News God by embracing the struggle of others.

May love, mercy and justice abide in our lives.

Amen.