In bible study today, I asked the group about what they understood the Gospel to be in just one sentence.
There was some puzzlement in the room, mostly because the Gospel is generally understood to be one of the four stories about Jesus that begin the New Testament Canon – The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. For some, this was the first time that the Gospel was considered from the perspective of a statement of faith, or even a statement of mission for the church.
Let me say with some certainty here that the Gospel is the story of Jesus Christ, but it’s also something more than a set of historical narratives, or biographical stories about a great teacher, a tragic death, and a miraculous climactic ending. The Gospel is much greater than any words on a page, and yet these stories and these words are such an important part of the truth of the Gospel.
Martin Luther wrote that this is the Gospel, in a nutshell: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life”. (John 3:16) That saying is part of a story – a story of an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, a secret follower of Jesus. That saying are words written on ancient pages. But there is even more power to that saying, that Gospel truth than the story itself.
Luther understood that there was something more than the words at work. The Gospel was alive and its purposes was to bring faith to the people that heard the stories. It is the Gospel that gives us access to the peace of God, and to God’s grace. The Gospel works in us the power of endurance, building faithful character, and encouraging us to have hope in all circumstances. Out of the Gospels work, our faith turns to hope, which turns to love and the freedom to act lovingly in our relationships with others, because we need not worry about failure, about loss, about rejection or about reciprocity. We are no longer tied to our own need to produce or to get something in return.
The Gospel is loving for love’s sake, and it really works!
What is your one-sentence description of the Gospel?
Daily Devotions for Week of May 22, 2016
The Holy Spirit is a mysterious visitor. She was with God at the beginning, when God’s Spirit breathed over creation. She was there at the conception and birth of Jesus, the Redeemer and as promised she is what makes us holy since the day of Pentecost. She convicts us in our sin and at the same time lifts us up to work miracles. She has been called by the ancients – “The Lord and Giver of Life”. She is the sustainer of our faith.
In Thankfulness for this empowering mystery, I offer this poem.
This unknown visitor, renewing what was stale,
Who leaves us oft as if she never came,
And yet we feel her memory assail
Our soul remaining never quite the same.
She meanders through our home both night and day,
Never set along a chartered course.
And weaving while we’re grieving or at play
Her garment which is ne’er bestowed by force.
Become enchanted by her seductive touch!
Expecting not to treasure her full power
To make alive the one she longs to clutch
Or pluck the supple petals from a flower.
With tender love she yields her gentle will
Her purpose made most clear when she is still.
The final hours were racing by.
Jesus knew the end was near, and that he would be leaving behind a small group of simple folk to carry his legacy forward. As he folded his hands that night and knelt in prayer, his thoughts turned to the welfare of those he was leaving to the wolves. He knew that their only hope was to stay united behind all that he had taught them. And so Jesus prayed, “…that they may be one, as we are one”. As close as a Father is to a Son, Jesus wanted the disciples to be with each other. Jesus understood the power of One. The one thing that would hold it all together was to be united in love for God and for each other.
We don’t always understand the Power of One in the same way as Jesus. Too often we mistake unity for sameness. Too often we try to capture and control the Power of One, by reducing the plea to love into a set of practices or methods to be replicated and put to the test. If we don’t dress the right way, speak the right language, play the right music or recite the correct creed, we fall short of someone’s definition of unity.
The disciples were not members of the same family. They did not all have the same occupation. They had their differences with each other to which Scripture attests. After Christ departed them, they all did different things and were sent as missionaries to spread the gospel over three continents. The early church spread throughout the Near East, into North Africa, to Greece and Rome, and as far to the east in Asia as India. History shows that the expressions of faith were very different from place to place, even in those early years, but there was one common element that held it all together, and that was love – that God loves us and that means that we can love each other through our differences and harness the Power of One.
Much of the differences that exist in the church have to do with personal and group identity much more than they have to do with the important work of the Kingdom of God. Their so called doctrinal purity has more to do with ethnic and cultural traditions and the turns of history, then about how we live our lives under Christ. Jesus was not concerned that we all do it the same way, but that we all do it because we love him.
And that is the true Power of One!
Most people who run for election to public office have to raise money to support their campaign. The higher the public office, the more money is needed. I’ve read that projections for spending on the 2016 Presidential campaign could be as high as $6 Billion.
That’s Billion with a “B”!
One way candidates raise the money they need is by inviting their supporters to attend lavish banquets. In exchange for this invitation, candidates expect something in return - $1,000 per plate, $5,000, per plate, $10,000 or more – big money gifts to help the candidate get her word out in the hope of being elected. Once elected, candidates quickly realize the cycle doesn’t end there, and those that contributed to the campaign now look for something the candidate might give back.
This is the way the world gives – by expecting something in return.
When God’s Word is given, something different happens. It comes with a promise, not a demand. Where God’s Word is proclaimed, Jesus has promised us that God makes God’s home there. God’s Word is an invitation for us to invite God into our midst and to invite others to share in that promise. It is an invitation given freely and therefore we are free to give it freely as well. It is an invitation that promises peace, not an endless cycle of give-backs and favors. In some respects, we might consider this to be a Holy dance where God leads by taking the first step of invitation and we then step in response by inviting God (and those made in God’s image) to take part in the Holy dance.
In the Book of Acts, Paul meets a woman named Lydia, who was captivated by God’s Word proclaimed through the lips of Paul. God’s Word was so powerfully dancing with Lydia, that her spirit of hospitality became joyfully engaged and she invited Paul and his followers to dine with her family that very evening – a life forever changed by the Word that gives as only God can give, without any demand for us to even the score.
Hospitality is love. Hospitality is grace.
How will you take part in God’s invitation dance today?
Devotions for the Week of May 1, 2016
Welcome to The Soul Cafe, a place for gathering, for learning and for conversation.
We invite you to join us as we study and discuss how God reveals himself to us in the Bible and in our lives.
Please read our blog, share our devotions and join the conversation.
About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.