Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Gospel Sermon

Indian Creek is currenty in a season  which we've been challenging people to live as missionaries.  Part of that missional challenge includes leading groups through the Tangible Kingdom Primer.  I got to share during that series a couple weeks ago and here is a copy of that message.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.... At least, on a different continent in a different hemisphere - things were not going so well for the Republic.  Which was really too bad, because things had started out so well for this fairly young nation.  But since the assassination of the nation's leader, the country had been in the throes of civil war. Years of bloody civil war.  Eventually, one man was able to unite several armies and gain control over the Republic.  Finally bringing peace back to a nation that had been torn apart by bloodshed.

This leader turned out to be more powerful than anyone had originally imagined.  He took this national Republic and turned it into a global empire - an empire that dominated the known world.  Every Empire needs an Emperor - and he was that Emperor.  This Empire promised perpetual peace and financial wealth.  And the Empire delivered on that promise.  At least to its citizens.  The Empire crushed anyone crazy enough to threaten its peace, prosperity or strict obedience to law.  And the Empire continued to expand its wealth and dominance by conquering more and more of its surrounding neighbors. 

The Emperor crushed rebellions.  Took more and more territory. Won battle after battle.  And after each  battle, representatives of the Emperor would run from city to city, from town to town and all the way to the far away villages - announcing the good news of the Emperor's victories.  The good news was that the Emperor and his Kingdom was unmatched and undefeated. 

The citizens of this Empire spoke Greek.  And the greek word we often translate as good news could also be translated another way - gospel.  The biblical word "gospel" actually came from the Roman Empire.  To a first century Roman citizen, the news of the Emperor's conquests was "gospel" or "good news."  The "gospel" of Caesar.  The good news of Rome's Kingdom.  Although, this wasn't such good news if you were one of the ones who were conquered.  Or a non-citizen.  But to learn more about that, read the book of Revelation. 

Rome's "gospel" started with their "son of God, Prince of Peace" - their first Emperor - Augustus.  Caesar Augustus had united Rome from its civil wars and had conquered all of Rome's enemies, making life pretty sweet for Rome's citizens. And that gospel continued, through the victories of Augustus' successors - Tiberius, Caliqula, Claudis, Nero and on and on.  To a first or second century Roman, their Kingdom seemed unrivaled.  It seemed like a Kingdom with no end.

Imagine then, the gall, the audacity, the stupidity even, of a small group of Jews - Jewish outcasts - who began to refer to the life of their crucified Rabbi as "gospel."  They called it the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, one writer, Luke, even started his retelling of the Christian "gospel" by declaring that it was a peasant born Jew, not Caesar Augustus, who was the Son of God/ Prince of Peace/ Ruler of a Kingdom that would know no end.  Feel free to break out into some Handel's Messiah right here...

First century Christ-followers took the word "gospel" from the Roman Empire and redefined it to mean "the Kingdom of Jesus." 

There's a reason Christians were thrown to the lions, crucified and set on fire; it's because they boldly declared that Jesus was Lord.  They broke their nation's laws. They refused to add to "Jesus is Lord" the good patriotic belief, "Caesar is Lord."

And the gospel for which they were dying was not the watered-down, neutered version of "gospel" that has been prominent in most Evangelical churches since the revivalist movements of the 19th century.  If you were to ask most American Christians to define the gospel, they would say something like this; "the gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, so that if I put my faith in Christ, I can be forgiven of my sins and have eternal life with Jesus."   Right?  That's probably how you would define
"Gospel."  That's what I had thought for most of my life.  Whenever I preached and gave people the chance to make an individual decision for Jesus, I was say that I had "presented the gospel."  But what I had actually done, what most of us have done, is to mistake the biblical idea of person salvation (Jesus dying for my sins) with the larger idea of Gospel.  pause - think

Let me say that again.  This is the part of the message where you have to be open to reconsidering strongly held opinions.  Jesus dying on the cross for my sins - that's not the gospel, at least not the entire gospel.  Rather, that's the plan of personal salvation.  Personal salvation is one part of the larger biblical idea of Gospel.  We aren't the main idea of the good news.  It's so much bigger.  Which is good news.

The Biblical idea of gospel is almost exactly the same as the Roman idea of Gospel.  But instead of the hero being Caesar and his Kingdom, the hero is Jesus and his Kingdom.  Ever since the tragedy in the Garden of Eden, the universe has been in a civil war of sorts, God's creation has been in rebellion against its creator.  But the good news is that Jesus has started the process of setting everything right again.  And one day, Jesus' Kingdom will have permanent residence in this world.  God's original intentions for his creation will eventually replace the present, sinful reality.  That process is not yet complete, but it has started.  The Gospel message is that Jesus is setting everything right again.  And anyone connected to Jesus gets saved.

With that working understanding of the Gospel - the entire Gospel - let's look at a passage that outlines for us this story of Jesus.  The passage is from 1 Corinthians 15 pass out bibles.  Before any of the words of our New Testament were actually written down, Christ-followers had been telling and retelling the Gospel of Jesus.  So when Paul writes this letter to the church in Corinth, he is simply writing down what Christians had been repeating to each other for decades.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7 After this part, Paul starts to go on a bit of a tangent, but the retelling of the Gospel tradition picks back up again in verse 20.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28  The bad news is that the creation has rebelled against its creator.  The good news is that King Jesus is setting everything right again.  All things are being redeemed and renewed.  Even us sinful humans. 

I want to make a few observations about this passage:

The Gospel is the completion of Israel's story  Jesus didn't show up out of nowhere.  Jesus' story is rooted in the story of Israel - the stories of our Old Testament.  Day one of the Tangible Kingdom Primer talks about God's calling of Abraham.  That's really where the story of God remaking the world began - with God calling a people to be his representatives in the world.  God first chose to reveal himself through Abraham and his descendants. Then through Jesus.  And now - through the church.  In Romans, Paul says that we are grafted into Israel's family tree.  Ultimately, Jesus is the completion of what God started with Abraham and the people of Israel.

Personal salvation flows from the Gospel  Jesus dying to forgive my sins is not the entire gospel story - but it is a part of the gospel story.  Through Jesus, God is rescuing the entire world and that includes individuals.  Through Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.

The Gospel is the entire life of Jesus  So often, we focus only on Christmas and Good Friday, skipping everything in between and even everything afterwards.  But Jesus did so much more than just die for our sins.  He taught, he was resurrected, he appeared after his resurrection.  And one day - that day really is coming - he will return to earth and set everything right again.  Jesus isn't going to snatch us away from this earth and then blow the whole thing up. While you might find that in the Christian bookstore, you won't find it in Scripture.  Rather, Jesus is returning to this earth and will restore this earth.  In Revelation, the New Jerusalem comes down to earth. Culmination of the story.  But we don't have to wait until the end.  We get to be a part of restoring creation right now.  The Gospel story is not yet complete, but it has started.  And we get to be a part of it. 
Here's another way to summarize the gospel message:

Jesus lived, died, was buried, was raised, was exalted and is the ruling King who is coming back again.  The Gospel is the story of Jesus and we get to be a part of that story.

Geoff and Sherry Maddock are two people who are living out the gospel story.  About 15 years ago, they moved into the poorest part of Lexington, KY.  A part of the city that is ravaged by the effect of sin - both personal sin and systemic sin.  No grocery stores in their part of the city, making it hard for families to find nutritional food.  Just corner convenience stores full of cigarettes, lottery tickets and junk food.  Simple things, like trees - are hard to find in their neighborhood.  No parks for the kids.  Things we often take for granted but are essential for healthy living in a city.  The ascetics of the neighborhood are terrible, too.  A bunch of abandoned and neglected buildings.  It's an ugly place to live.  The destruction of sin is evident everywhere.  The bad news seems to be the dominant story. 

So when Goeff and Sherry moved to this part of Lexington, their intention was simple - to live out the gospel - the entire gospel. I had the privilege of hearing them speak last week and they kept repeating one phrase over and over, "God is making all things new and everything is included."  So their plan of sharing the gospel with their neighborhood did not involve knocking on doors and telling people the four spiritual laws.  No, their plan to share the gospel was to start cleaning up the neighborhood.  Knowing that as they changed the ascetics of the neighborhood, they would be living out God's redemptive, re-creative plan for their city.  In other words - the gospel.

They started working with the corner convenience stores to get healthy food into the stores, so the kids could have more options than just cheetos.  They painted buildings and fences.  They helped plant trees in empty lots.  Eventually got the city to let them plant an orchard that takes up several city blocks.  Where there were just weeds, there are now trees from which kids can pick fruit off the branches when heading to school.  Think about that.  And in a lot where there used to be just a burned out building, they have now planted a community garden.  People from all over the neighborhood get to contribute to and take from the garden. 

One neighbor helped them grow a watermelon plant.  As the watermelons ripened, Sherry began to get more and more excited about enjoying that watermelon.  She didn't mind giving them away, because there was still one she was keeping for herself. Sherry was keeping her eye on one ripening watermelon.  Just as she was about to go out into the garden to pick that watermelon, another neighbor who had been helping her garden came over and asked for that watermelon.  Just as she was getting ready to pick it.  Sherry knew she couldn't say no. But she was kicking herself for not going out to the garden just 5 minutes earlier.  Sherry even let some self-pity overtake her. "I give so much to others, why couldn't I just have the one watermelon that I wanted?" 

The next morning, the neighbor came by to thank her again for the watermelon.  He told Sherry, I've got it sitting in my fridge cause my entire family is coming over today to enjoy that watermelon."  He then told Sherry that even his two sisters, sisters he hasn't talked with in 5 years, were coming over to his house that afternoon.

That's the gospel.  The recreating of this fallen world.  The bringing of the Kingdom of God into sinful corners of the world.  Bringing healthy food to kids who don't normally get balanced meals.  Making an ugly neighborhood beautiful.  Turning abandoned city lots into thriving community gardens.  And helping estranged family members reconcile over a big, ripe watermelon.  The gospel is that the King is fixing his universe. And we get to be a part of it. 

When Geoff and Sherry's neighbors ask them questions - guess what? They get to tell them why they're doing this.  They get to tell them about the love of Jesus and God's plan to make everything right again.  What Geoff and Sherry have done in their neighborhood is a perfect picture of how we proclaim the gospel.  There is a quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words." 

The Gospel requires a response.  No one will force us to join in Jesus' story of salvation.  It's up to us to choose how will we respond.  Part of the response to the Gospel is to choose Jesus as Savior.  To allow Jesus to begin to cleanse all of the junk in our lives and to remake us into the person he created us to be.  But the Gospel requires that we not only choose to make Jesus our Savior, but to also choose to make him our Lord - our Leader - the one who calls the shots in our lives.  Which means that we join him in helping to restore his creation.  That may mean we help clean up our neighborhood or maybe it's some other area.  But we get to be a part of God's story of redemption.  That's good news.  That's Gospel. 

As we move toward communion, I want to share a quote from the Tangible Kingdom Primer. 

A Kingdom life lived on mission is really about living ordinary, everyday life in community, with great gospel intentionality. 

Almost every time we gather for worship, we get to physically re-enact the Gospel.  We get to feel and taste Jesus' story of redemption.  We do this when we celebrate communion together. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 

When we choose "Gospel" we are saved.  And we join Jesus in bringing salvation to the world around us, too.

So when you take the bread and juice this morning, let this be an act of choosing the Gospel. Maybe you're making the choice for the first time ever or the 700th time.  But don't take the elements without choosing to join in Jesus' story of Gospel. 

1 comment:

Joe said...

"This is the part of the message where you have to be open to reconsidering strongly held opinions." Ha! I am glad some things never change. You crank out some fabulous sermons bro. Keep it up!