This past January I helped plan and attended the UCC Winter Youth Retreat; this was our t-shirt. It’s one of those shirts that could go in a lot of different directions (just looking at the front of it), but if you know what’s on the back of it - literally, what’s behind it, then it makes sense.
The theme for the weekend was “Am I Good?” It’s the question many teens - and adults - ask in our moments of self-doubt. Am I Good?
At this weekend, we thought we’d make the answer pretty obvious. During the course of the weekend, we looked at the Creation story and how after each thing that was created, the author noted “and God saw that it was good.”
We saw that the only entity able to answer “am I good?” is God (not other human beings) and we saw that, indeed, in our core we are good by our very creation. Nothing had to be done to earn the title of “good” other than being created.
We noted that it doesn’t mean all of our actions are good, but that, at our conception, we were created good. At creation, God’s intention was for relationship between the Divine, humans, animals, and this world - the intention was shalom, or peace.
In looking at our world, though, we see that
we do not live in peace with ourselves - or else we wouldn’t have such body image issues
we do not live in peace with Creation - or else we wouldn’t have the pollution problems that we have
we do not live in peace between genders, between nations, and between other peoples - or else we wouldn’t have the discrimination, racism, and wars that we do
we do not live in peace with death - or else we wouldn’t have so many efforts to avoid it all costs
This longing for peace and goodness is what the book, The Very Good Gospel, by Lisa Sharon Harper references. Over the next 5 weeks I will be working with this book to talk about the longing we have to find God’s intended peace. I would hold up the book to show you, but it’s on my Kindle app on my phone. So, instead I have it on projection...
I encourage you to read the book because it has so many wonderful points and insightful stories included in it that I just can’t fit into every sermon. I am enjoying reading it for many reasons, but mainly because of how it connects the Creation story to the Gospel story.
So, the Creation story - if you have stepped foot in a church for more than 5 minutes or probably even just walk by a church, you have heard of the Creation story from Genesis. It very simply begins with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and the author goes on from there to tell a story about this world’s beginnings, as we know it. In Genesis 3, we read the “fall” story where people try to give females get a bad rep because Eve reached for the fruit. The “fall” story is where the biblical author introduces the brokenness and sinfulness of the world.
This Creation story is traditionally connected to Jesus and the Good News of the Gospel by saying that Jesus had to die as a substitute sacrifice so that we avoid eternal punishment after we die for the “fall.” This is a “substitutionary theology.”
Creation and the Gospel of Jesus do connect, but I believe we sell that connection short if we don’t investigate it further.
In this book, Harper references “thin v. thick” faith. “Thin” faith resting on what one person says about a passage or without exploring the context around which it was written. “Thick” faith delves deeper into study and reflection. It asks questions like “how could a group of people claim to be Christ-followers and allow slavery to continue?” or “Why, in the Bible, does God at times endorse violence while at other times speak against it?” These questions develop a thick faith.
Harper asks a particular good question in her book that leads to a thick faith: what makes the Gospel “Good News?” In the face of oppression and discrimination and broken relationships, what is the good news of the Gospel? Is it simply that peace after death is offered? Is it that God’s wrath will come upon the oppressors? Or is it something else?
Such a great question: what makes the Gospel Good News for you?
As said previously, the Good News of the Gospel is often told to be that Jesus died for our sins - connecting the Creation story and describing how we humans have “fallen” - how we are sinful creatures - and then down the line Jesus was a substitute sacrifice for our punishment. That’s often a standard for what we’re taught as children in the church. The Good News of the Gospel is often framed as “Jesus died for you so that you aren’t tortured for your sins after death.”
Perhaps there is more. Perhaps the Good News of the Gospel can speak not only to what happens when we die but also to how we live.
Lisa Harper says on the video, as she saw sorrow across the land, the only good news that she could offer from the Gospel she was taught was “when you die, you’ll be free from this pain and oppression.” And this wasn’t satisfactory.
What is the Good News for today? What is the Good News for the living? What is the Good News for people living in poverty or under oppressive forces or feeling caged by their past?
Harper suggests (and I agree with her) that, in following the way of Jesus, this world could be healed and reach shalom - and that is good news!
This Good News does not discount peace after death - it includes shalom with death. Please do not hear what I am saying as “Pastor Kim said there is no hope after we die.”
Pastor Kim said: “There is Good News in our Gospel, not only for peace after our life on earth, but also for our living on earth, and that Good News is found in following Jesus’ teachings on ways to reach the shalom, the peace, that God intends for this Creation.”
Shalom has different forms throughout the Bible. Its meanings range from “peace and wholeness” to “make right and restore” to “loyal or devoted.” Harper notes that “shalom describes the absence of conflict and is used in...prophesies of salvation for the vulnerable and condemnation for the unjust.”
Reaching for shalom means restoring broken relationships and that is the goal! Reaching for shalom means striving for peace in our relationship with God, with creation, and with other people.
Many people speak about wanting peace - hand gestures are thrown up in pictures - people say “peace” instead of “bye.” What if we thought about wanting peace in terms of wanting shalom. Thinking of those meanings we just heard - what if instead of saying “I want peace,” we act on wanting shalom. To make right - to restore - to be devoted in doing so.
It may be on a personal scale of striving to restore your relationship with God or it may be on a larger scale of striving to make whole the rights of people who have been marginalized.
Jesus worked to make whole the relationships God has created - the relationships between people and God and the relationships among people. That is Good News. That Good News is found in the way of life that Jesus taught.
Over the next 5 weeks, we’ll look at how we follow the way of Jesus to restore peace within ourselves, in our personal relationships, with other nations/races/genders, and even as we approach death. My hope is that you’ll join us for these topics and that it sparks conversations among us about how we work towards the shalom God intends for us.
Friends, YES we are good - we were created to live in relationship with God AND we can be a part of the Very Good Gospel, following Jesus’ path to shalom.