Good News Should Be Good.
City pride in Oakland is strong this week. Yesterday was the championship victory parade for the Warriors and - let me tell you - it was a party.
I've never been a sports enthusiast, but I can't deny - there's nothing like a championship to bring unity and connection among total strangers.
For example, yesterday in Oakland, as you passed someone on the street and they saw your Warriors hat or shirt, they'd say "WARRRRIORRRRS" and high-five you as you walked by.
Not only that, but I was going to the parade all by my lonesome, until I met Leslie at the crosswalk. Leslie is my neighbor, and she's lived in the area since the 70s, so she had a lot of great Berkeley and Oakland stories. It wasn't long before we decided that we were going to enjoy this parade together. We found a spot, and it wasn't more than 5 minutes before Leslie made friends with a few folks perched along the parade fence. Since Leslie (or "mom" as they lovingly nicknamed her) vouched for me, Leslie's new friends became my friends too.
Everything was going great until the bullhorn people arrived. You know who I'm talking about, right? The judgmental people with angry signs and slogans, all conveyed through a bullhorn which, is a fairly imposing means of communication.
If you had something to say that was worth hearing, would a bullhorn be necessary? What if the bullhorn says more about the quality of your message than the morality of your audience?
Needless to say, I think it's fair to say we've all had a good time ruined by the bullhorn people.
But I have some more questions about the bullhorn people...
Like, how it is that no matter where you go, the bullhorn people all have the same signs and t-shirts? Is there a BullhornPeople.com website where they order all their merch? Regardless of their product, you have to admit, they have really consistent branding.
And what is it about a big group of people having a great time that inspires the bullhorn people to think, "You know what we should do this Tuesday? We should bring all our signs and shirts and just yell at people for awhile!"
The Warriors fans would not be deterred from celebrating their team's victory, but not without sending a clear message to the bullhorn people that they weren't wanted: booing so loudly that even the bullhorn was drowned out, parents telling their kids to ignore their big angry signs, and the crowd cheering when the bullhorn people decided to go bother a different city block of basketball fans.
But what hurt my heart the most was that my friend Leslie was calling them "Jesus Guys." As in, "Where did these Jesus Guys come from?", "Don't these Jesus Guys have anything better to do?", "Oh good! The Jesus Guys are giving up and going home!"
(And I'm thinking: Please, call them anything but "Jesus Guys.")
But wait! I haven't told you my favorite thing about protests, which are the counter-protestors.
Amidst the noise and vanilla of the tired-and-tried bullhorn people slogans, the counter-protestors seem to get even more creative and hilarious with their own slogans.
Have you seen the photos of the guy standing in front of the "Jesus Guys," dressed as Jesus, holding his own sign that says, "I'm NOT with these guys"?
C'mon! That's way too good.
Counter-Protestor Jesus is the GOAT, and I want to be friends with him. Not just for the contextual genius of his costume and sign, but because he's saying what I wanted to say to Leslie and everyone at the parade yesterday: Jesus isn't with those guys, they've got it all wrong.
Which reminds me of a Jesus story in the Gospels where Jesus is walking through a grain field with his disciples who, clearly are hungry, because they're plucking off pieces of grain and eating them as they walk.
When up jump the Sabbath Police!
"What are you doing? You can't pick grain on the Sabbath!"
A little context...
The Sabbath is the most special day of the Jewish week, where you do no work, but set aside the day to be fully present to God and other people.
But the bullhorn people of Jesus' day had taken the whole "do no work" thing and put their own legalistic spin on it, so much so that they saw picking grain as "harvesting," a.k.a. "work," a.k.a. "breaking the Sabbath."
And another thing...
Who has nothing better to do than to hide out in grain fields, keeping their eyes peeled for Sabbath breakers?
(I'll tell you who - these guys.)
And they want some answers...
"Jesus, what do you have to say about your disciples?"
But Jesus has no correction for his disciples.
He turns it back on the bullhorn people, and tells them that they've got their Creation Story all wrong.
According to them, when the Creator God made the world, he made a bunch of rules - all beautiful and shiny and perfect - "and it was good."
And then, God thought to God's-self, "something is still missing... oh YES! I know what we need to do! We should create some PEOPLE to keep our perfect rules."
According to Jesus, this is their Creation Story, and they've got the whole thing backwards.
He reminds them that in the true Creation Story, God created people - and because he wanted them to flourish and experience life to the fullest in his good and blessed world - he established rules and boundaries, including the Sabbath command to stop and rest.
Because Sabbath would keep people, not the other way around.
People don't keep the boundaries.
The boundaries keep the people.
Jesus is all about people-keeping.
"So yeah, my disciples can pick grain on the Sabbath, because they're hungry, and God loves to give people life on the Sabbath."
Jesus had to reclaim all kinds of things from bad religion, not just the Sabbath.
And this wasn't the only time that he had to let people know that - when it came to their picture of what God is like - they had to go through some reorientation.
In Mark 1, we're told: Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Jesus has some Good News, or Gospel.
And the gospel – according to Jesus – is that the time has come!
The long-awaited time – the time for the Living God to radically intervene in history – has arrived.
This implies that Jesus moves the world into a new era in history.
The time has come! Time for what?
For the kingdom of God to break in to the world.
But what does it look like when God's rule is being carried out on earth?
Immediately after Jesus’ short but explosive announcement of his gospel, he heals all kinds of sickness. Why?
Because these are the kind of actions that put God's rule on display.
In God's kingdom, sickness gives way to restoration, justice rolls in like a river, things are being set right again.
These are the kinds of actions that prove that his gospel is true.
God’s new world order of light and life is breaking in, therefore sickness has to go.
In light of this in-breaking Kingdom, can you see why Jesus would need to call people to repent?
Repent is one of those words that we have to reclaim from the bullhorn people, because it's beautiful.
My guess is that you've heard the word "repent" before, but the way you heard it, it was anything but beautiful.
Have you ever heard someone talking about how they gave someone "the Gospel message," but as they described it, it didn't really sound like good news?
The essence of the message is something to the effect of: "Attention all of you royal screw-ups! You are a dark and dirty scumbag, and God can't even look at you - that's how gross you are - and you're going to burn for all the things you've done, but lucky for you, God punished Jesus. So you better accept the good news, which is your only hope - because in case I didn't make it clear, you're a dirty sinner."
(Maybe that's not exactly how they said it, but it was in the subtext.)
Maybe you wanted to tell them that this wasn't very good news at all, but you wondered if they were right because they couched the whole thing with a bunch of Bible verses. So even though it gave you a sick feeling in your stomach, you thought they might be right.
And then you feel guilty for not sharing "the gospel" with people, but if you're being honest, it's because you don't believe it's very good news to begin with! You'd rather tell them about your newborn baby nephew who is just so cute, or a really great TED talk that really inspired you, or when you were 4 feet away from Steph Curry at the Warriors parade.
Because if you're opening line is, "you're a dirty sinner," why are you surprised that people don't want to hear more? And why do you feel guilty for not wanting to share "the gospel"?
I know that these kinds of questions make some people nervous, but it doesn't have to... because it's not how Jesus shared his good news.
The Gospel according to Jesus is, "the time has come."
When you think about the good news of Jesus, do words like "fulfillment" and "longing" come to mind? Does everything in you cry out, "Yes! It's finally here!"
If not, maybe we're delivering an incomplete message?
The Gospel according to Jesus is, "the Kingdom of God has come near."
When you think about the good news of Jesus, do words like "healing" and "truth" and "justice" and "mercy" come to mind? Does everything in you awaken with hope, because the True King with his unstoppable Good New Order is breaking into systems of oppression and shame and evil - and he's going to get the last word and set everything right?
If not, maybe it's because we've sidetracked the backstory that necessitates our gospel hope?
Are the bullhorn guys taking repentance out of it's beautiful context, to the point that it's anything but good news?
To repent is to change your thinking and life's direction.
To repent is to return, to come back to who you were always meant to be.
More often than not, repenting has been associated with begrudgingly going along with something we never wanted to do in the first place.
But Jesus is announcing that something so good and right has broken into the world, and therefore repentance is the only sane response to what is now here - available to anyone who is ready to reorient their life to what God has done.
In light of this good news, of course you would repent! You'd be crazy not to! You'd be missing out on all the goodness and life!
Our Gospel is that Jesus has broken into a world of pain, darkness, and injustice, and he has come to do something about it once and for all.
Our Gospel is that Jesus won the victory over the powers that were keeping people enslaved, and now there's a parade to enjoy.
A follower of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, put it like this: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
2 Corinthians 2:14
Our Gospel is that, in light of what God has done, there's a way of life that makes no sense in light of the new in-breaking reality, and so it's time to shed that old way of life and embrace God's reorientation.
However we explain this gospel message and the repentance that fits so well with it, if we're really telling it right, people shouldn't be telling their kids to look away and not read our angry signs.
The good news is good for kids. (And adults.)
(And it should lead both to a response of "thanks be to God!")
That's why the bullhorn people have got it all wrong.
The God of Life has won the greatest victory of all,
the long-awaited time is breaking through,
the Kingdom of God is among us,
something new is here that changes everything.
So let's get our Gospel right.
The Good News should be good.
Put your bullhorn away, enjoy the parade, and ask God how you can give LIFE to your neighbors.
That's the sort of thing that will leave people wanting more.