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Do you remember the days of listening to the news at home on the television at a set time? Maybe the 6 o’clock nightly news after dinner or the 7 o’clock news as you were getting ready for school? Do you remember there was just a handful of trusted news sources? Within 25 years, the landscape of how a large majority of people receives their news has shifted drastically. I am by no means the first or the last to observe this. This impacts our world news, national news, cultural news, urgent news, family news, and even how we understand our faith. The volume of sources available is incredibly accessible and tantalizingly at our fingertips. How can we discern what is good news, what is mediocre news, and what we can truly live without news?
Today, we begin a new series through the month of September looking at the good news, the gospels. The other weeks of September, we will look at the 4 gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – their writers, and their audiences – and the impact on our lives. Even though they are all good news, they were written for different audiences, with different foci.
When we talk of good news, some of us anticipate hearing the words: Jesus died, rose, and He lives with us forever. Some of us are figuring out how to make the grocery list and the amount set aside for groceries to match. Some of us are looking for the links in our ancestry and the ancestry of Jesus.
Some of us would just like to do something and change it already! Did you know that I have just spoken the gospel language: broadly and in order: John, Luke, Matthew, and Mark?
There is a parable dated as early as 1600 BCE and told in different ways, here is one: There were a group of six blind men traveling together. They came across something brand new to them. Each of them wanted to describe to the others what they felt.
One touched the trunk. And another the tusks, another the big ears, the fourth the tall legs, another rough skin, and the last, skinny tail.
Each one saw the elephant as the specific part they touched, but without the full knowledge, could not picture it. It was only when they heard of the others’ experience that they learned that the elephant was more just their own understanding. (1)
In the biblical witness, there are four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of those gospels tell the narrative of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And each of these writers or schools or series of writers came from a perspective that gave us an understanding that has allowed later generations to see a part of the good news, a part of who Jesus is and the community, the church. The Emily Dickinson poem, Tell It Slant, reminds to acknowledge the reality that we can only be where we have come from and what we are formed by and where we are headed. (2) The good news of the Jesus’ life sounds different for the community coming out of the gospel of John, than it does out of the gospel of Mark – and yet, they are both good news! (3) The good news in West Grove and Erie, perhaps, the same.
Our reading from Acts, pulls back the curtain on the writer of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, who refers to the first book written. Scholars understand that Acts was written in connection with the gospel of Luke. In fact, they are referred to together as Luke-Acts. The author, who we conveniently refer to as the physician, Luke, whether it was a collective school writing in his style or the actual apostle, composed books as accounts of the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as well as the continuing life of the church in the acts of the apostles. (4)
The good news, the gospel is not a collection of regulations or set of protocols to be followed. In the gospel lesson today, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day lost track of this distinction. The Pharisees and the scribes, who often get a bad reputation, are holding the disciples to the laws they know. They are calling them to task and enforcing the protocol. Often, we caricatured the Pharisees and the scribes, not understanding their roles and intents of enforcing the law and Jewish commandments. As the debate over which traditions to hold onto is raised, Jesus takes seriously the debate with the Pharisaical religious leaders and scribes by quoting from what would have been a familiar scroll in Isaiah 29:13. However, the debate is not ended with the human traditions, but rather the action of good news of what God is doing.
Our yearlong focus has been James 1:22 – Be doers of the word, and not just hearers, only. We, too, often find ourselves assenting as well-meaning without following through to live out the good news. Living out the good news as hope to those who are hungry and thirsty. Living out the good news to those who are lonely and isolated. Living out the good news to those who are mourning and seeking healing. Be doers of the word, and not just hears, only.
On, this long weekend, we find ourselves pausing. Many of us have begun something new. Children and students have gone back to school or will soon. Some have begun retirement. Others have tiptoed into new jobs, roles, positions, opportunities. And every week, we find ourselves as a community pause for Sunday. We set aside this time as generations before have. We hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We hear the call to live the good news.
Our phones, our computers, our lives give us news every moment, if we let it. I began by asking you how you can discern the kinds of news. You and I walk together leading up to a midterm election and a world in turmoil to make some of the most challenging news related discernments. However, one kind of news remains rock steady – God of all Creation, made you and loves you. The sacrament of Holy Communion today is our food for journey. As we discern how we live out the good news, we never journey alone. The triune God of community surrounds us in this community through communion.
This is the Gospel, the good news, of Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(1) Buddhist text Udana 6.4,
(2) Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson, 2010.
(3) Petersen, Eugene. Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers, 2012
(4) Fitzmyer, Joseph. The Gospel According to Luke I-IX: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (The Anchor Bible, Vol. 28). 1982.
New Testament Lesson: Acts 1:1-5
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7:1-13
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)— then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, September 2 ~ Saturday, September 8
Sunday: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.” Acts 1:1-2 The same author of Luke continues into Acts telling of the acts of the apostles. Where would the writer see you doing the good news of God in your life?
Monday: “After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” Acts 1:3. Pray for those speaking about the kingdom of God. Sharing God’s word can be exhilarating and draining. Pray.
Tuesday: “While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Acts 1:4-5. Consider how the movement of the Spirit has seasons of waiting.
Wednesday: “Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.” Mark 7:1-2. Consider the critical judgment that begins this scene. Where are you being called to open your heart even when you might begin with judgment?
Thursday: “Jesus said to them, ‘Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” Mark 7:6. Pray for those who are quick to respond, there is often more to the story.
Friday: “Then he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition!” Mark 7:9. As you find yourself angry at others consider the root of the upset: is it tradition, emotion, do you feel compelled? Is there grace?
Saturday: “Then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.’” Mark 7:12-13. Jesus did not reject tradition out of hand, nor did he accept every tradition because it was tradition. As we consider traditions, let us consider each one with open hands and hearts.