Sunday, April 7, 2013

Preaching the Good News

 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus. \When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old. -- Acts 4:13-22

One thing about doing a turn on a street corner is that you never know who's in the audience. If you get a good crowd and what you're delivering is good stand-up comedy or even something inspiring, you might get a smattering of applause, some laughs or maybe even some tips (and not the kind that tell you to lay a fiver on #8 in the third race). Add a healing and suddenly it's a whole different ball game. That tends to attract attention, sometimes attention you really don't want. That seems to be what happened to Peter and John in Jerusalem. Their healing of a man lame from birth caught the eye of some priests, Sadducees and a temple captain who got them arrested and taken before the big wigs, not just for healing the guy but for preaching about the resurrection of a man the temple authorities thought they'd gotten rid of for sure, an itinerant preacher and rabble-rouser named Jesus.

The whole temple crowd, including the big wigs, met and looked Peter and John over. They weren't overly impressed with their educational or social credentials, much as had been said of Jesus, "Can anything good come out of Galilee?" These were ordinary men, working-class guys, unsophisticated and probably almost illiterate, in short, there was nothing to set them apart except for the message they were preaching -- and the fellow standing next to them on perfectly sound limbs but who, until recently, had had to be carried everywhere he needed to go because he had legs that hadn't worked.

Sometimes important messages come in unexpected and unpretentious ways, like Galilean disciples preaching on a Jerusalem street. Earth-shattering news can come in very small packages, envelopes or telephone calls: a pink slip from work, a pathologist's report, a rejection notice from a college or prospective employer or publisher. Good news can come from unexpected things too, like the telephone call from an offspring to report a major promotion, a new addition to the family or even a slightly larger tax refund than expected. Often we go to church, though and hope to hear good news; that's what the gospels talk about and even what the very word means, but oftentimes what we hear (or what we preach) is anything but. I've sat through a whole lot of sermons in my life where I (as well as everybody else in the congregation) were pointed to as miserable sinners, totally unworthy of the sacrifice of the crucifixion of the Son of God and without hope of salvation unless we grovel before God, say the proper words, and, in essence, surround ourselves with sackcloth, ashes and long faces to prove we're not being frivolous or sinning by enjoying things too much. It's one thing when the General Confession from the 1928 prayerbook told us to recite that we were miserable offenders, but on the whole, I'd rather tell myself (and God) that I'm one rather than have someone preach at me using the same terms.

Peter and John brought good news to Jerusalem, the same Jerusalem that had been the host of good news before but who had witnessed the ruthless stamping out of that good news on a hill just outside the town on the day before a sabbath and a holy time. But here they stood, giving good news again and, if their words weren't enough, healing the man who everyone knew had been unable to walk since birth certainly ramped up the emphasis.

If I look for good news, it's more likely to attract my attention if there's something good going on at the same time, like a miracle, even a very small one. How often, though, do I overlook the very small ones in everyday life that should be reminding me that there is good news and that like all good news, needs to be passed on to others. It's odd, but good news often travels slower than bad instead of the other way around. It would seem that I would be more eager to pass on good stuff than bad, perhaps because I need comfort when there's bad news but can rejoice and be happy all by myself when it's good? Of course, if I have someone to share it with, then there's twice as much happiness and that can't be a bad thing at all.

I wonder, do I need to stand on a street corner preaching about the good news?  Do I have to produce a miracle? What do I have to do to pass on the good news I read in the gospel and in stories like this one?  Evidently a sizeable number of those who heard Peter and John got the idea of the good news even if the temple higher-ups didn't, but alas, I'm not a street preacher, unlike a friend of mine who started his clerical life doing just that -- and probably rather successfully, judging from the quality of the sermons I heard from him in his later years. Now, he could put out the good news! But you know, his wife did much the same thing in a much quieter way. She knew the message and lived as if it were the most important thing in the world. Perhaps that's the thing -- living it.  No miracles needed, just a simple passing on the good news as if it were the most important thing in the world.

You know, I think it might just be the most important thing in the world. 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul  on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 6, 2013, under the title "Good News on the Street Corner."


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