So I am sitting at a table in a church in rural Manitoba, Canada. For Canadian readers, imagine the winter paradise that most of you think rural Manitoba is. For American readers, imagine the winter wasteland you might think Canada would be all about. This is where I am.
I am also betweens sessions as the co-presenter at a youth retreat. Our theme for the weekend is “What is the Good News?”
Two sessions in and 3 to go, it strikes me how difficult a question this can be. There are seemingly obvious definitions, like Jesus died for our sins, or God loves us, or God is King of all creation. But when you are trying to explain this youth, you need to be more concrete. At the same time, when you speak to youth and allow for their response, you will be surprised by their depth and their insight. Already the youth have been pointing out nuances that I didn’t consider when planning my parts of the speaking sessions.
As Lutherans, we have a very specific dogma when it comes to the “Good News”. We boldly declare that grace, that God’s love, that God’s mercy and forgiveness is entirely an action on God’s part. There is no earning God’s love. There is no choosing to follow Jesus. There is no repenting first, so that we may then be forgiven. The direction of God’s grace is always towards us.
We showed this video to the youth, of Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking to 40,000 ELCA youth in New Orleans about Lutheran theology:
Good News with this 1-sided approach (as in, it is all God’s work, and none of ours) becomes hard to nail down. We so desperately want to know our part. We want to have something to contribute. In in the middle ages it was good works which earned merit. The merit could be earned with works, and purchased with indulgences. The church sold Good News like a commodity. Merit became like ladder rungs to purchase for our climb to heaven.
Today, we are mostly over the good works thing. But the church is still selling Good News, in the form of faith or repentance or choice. We don’t say that we need to do good works to go to heaven, but instead that we need to actively accept God’s love. We need to choose Jesus in a conscious, life changing way. We need to truly repent of our sins to be truly forgiven. We need to DO something in our relationship with God.
This is still selling Good News. And we still buy it because it affords us a sense of control. If we can make the active choice, have the repentance moment, if we can accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, than we are in control of our eternal fate.
But this is not what Jesus says about Grace. This is not what Martin Luther realized by reading Romans. This is not Good News
It is all still buying Good News, still buying God’s love. We once bought God with work and indulgences, now God is bought with sincerity of faith or our choice.
God doesn’t act this way. The Good News is not that we can somehow earn or buy off God.
The Good News has always been, and still is, that God is the one coming to us. God’s love, mercy and grace is freely given. Given whether we have earned it or not. Given whether we repent, choose, or accept it or not. God is constantly giving Grace, and there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing at all.
So what is the Good News?
That God is doing all the work when it comes to us. That is God is doing the saving, forgiving, resurrecting work.
And it just happens to us.
God just happens to us… just happens to love us, before we even knew what love was, before we had any say in the matter.
That is Good News!