Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good News

When the Gospel was first proclaimed, it was Good News. But I think that Good News message tends to get lost over time. Part of that is because of the familiarity with it. For example, knowing our salvation is dependent on God's grace is commonplace now. It doesn't strike us in the same way as it would for those who first heard it. Furthermore, those who aren't Christians have some familiarity with the basic Christian doctrines. If they think about whether they'll get into Heaven at all, they presume they will because they're basically a good person. And that's if they want to get into Heaven at all. The depiction of heaven as angels playing harps, fluffy clouds, white outfits and Philadelphia Cheese (actually, I'm hoping there is Philadelphia Cheese in Heaven!) doesn't really appeal to people (even with the Philadelphia Cheese).

The idea that, if you become a Christian, you get to go to Heaven (which they equate with that Heaven portrayed in popular culture) doesn't sound like good news. Especially when you combine it with, and if you don't became a Christian, you go to Hell. Many people who aren't Christians don't believe in Hell. And those that do often think it's reserved for people like Hitler. Or alternatively they think it's a place where you drink alcohol, play lots of pool and listen to all the good music. When you add the fact that many Christians are more vocal on issues like abortion and homosexuality than anything else, is it any wonder that the Gospel is no longer seen as good news?

  18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
   19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
            (Luke 4:18-19)

Now that is good news. It was good news in Jesus' time and it is good news for today. Christians should be focusing more on this good news that the bad news that often gets the most coverage in televangelist shows.

And it is particularly good news for today, concerning our ecological crisis. Jesus comes to proclaim good news to the poor. The poor today are the ones most likely to suffer from ecological damage. The poor today are the ones who are starving because they do not have enough food. The poor today are the ones whose livelihoods are in jeopardy because of either ecological damage or practices by multinational corporations. The poor countries today are the ones who pay the price of our high western consumerism. And even in the western world, the poor today are the ones who believe they have little value or worth because they have little money - and therefore little power and little ability to buy the things that, according to the story they've been hearing all their lives, will make them feel fulfilled.

When Jesus says he proclaims freedom for the prisoners, he's not just talking about people who are in jail. He's also talking about those who are imprisoned by ways of thinking and he is talking about those imprisoned in societal systems and structures. He's talking about the person who keeps getting into debt to afford the things consumer society has told them they "need". He's talking about the teenage girl who feels terrible about herself because she doesn't fit the image she sees of models in magazines. He's talking about the workaholic, who spends too much time at the office and not enough time at home, but can't see how he can change this because he needs his income to pay off the mortgage and provide for the family. We are all prisoners. We've been taken captive by a system that tells us that we need to buy things to feel worthwhile, and no matter how much we earn or buy, it will never be enough.

And who are the blind in our society? We all are. We all fail to see the shortcomings of the way we live. We see things in terms of dollars and fail to see their real value. We're wearing green-coloured glasses, looking at envy with those who have more money and more material possessions that we have. We see an advertisement on the TV for a product and think it's a need, when in reality it's not what we need at all.

And the oppressed? All of us in one form or another. But the way we have structured our society contributes to the oppression of others. What about those who work for very little wages in sweatshops so that we can buy clothes at a reasonable price? What about those who have no power because they have no money? What about those who are treated as less valuable because they belong to a low socio-economic group? What about the fact that a small percentage of our population has a huge proportion of the wealth?

The way our society is structured contributes to people being poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed. And quite often Christians are the ones most in favour of the structures that do this. Where's the good news? Good news is not just about getting to Heaven when we die. It's about what happens here and now. We are a world that desperately needs the good news of Jesus. But it's not going to be found in telling people how to get to Heaven or the evils of homosexuality or abortion. It's going to be found in Christians standing up and saying, we don't want you to be poor, blind, imprisoned or oppressed any longer.

Environmentalism has been compared by people to religion. If it is religion, it's often the fundamentalist, legalistic type. It's the type that tells people they must do certain things and, if they don't, they'll be living in a type of hell. The ecological crisis is not a good news message. But if we only speak of it as a bad news message, environmentalists will soon be treated the same way many Christian evangelists are. People often don't listen to messages they don't want to hear.

But the environmentalist message can also be a good news message. We don't need to base our worth on how much we earn or what we buy. We can focus on those things which truly add value to our lives, rather than those things the magazines tell us will make us fulfilled. We don't need to try and look like people on our TV screens. We can earn less money, spend more time with the family and actually end up happier.

If buying things really made us happy, we in the western world must be the happiest people that have ever lived. I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone to discover that we're not. And I think, deep down, most people realise that there is something wrong with the way we're living. They're doing all the things that are meant to make them happy and fulfilled, but they're left feeling empty, stressed and miserable.

The ecological crisis may not be a good news message. But living in an environmentally sustainable way can be good news for many people, especially if we all took that message onboard. It can be good news for those who have been made poor by western consumerism or who feel poor because they don't have as much money or material possessions as their neighbour. It can be good news who feel imprisoned in a system that makes them work long hours just to pay off debt and continue their lifestyles. It can be good news for those who are oppressed or powerless because they don't have the money to change anything. It can be good news for those who see everything in terms of its monetary value and fail to appreciate the true worth of what they already have.

Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free. As Christians, we must be asking ourselves where the poor, the imprisoned, the blind and the oppressed are today. And we must be asking ourselves how we can bring good news to those people.

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