Saturday, June 12, 2010

Whose Gospel Is It?

Sermon Preached on Sunday, June 6, Pentecost 2, Proper 5.

    If you read Dagwood and Blonde in the comics, you might know about the neighbor who has borrowed all of Dagwood's tools so that Dag has to ask Herb the neighbor if he can use what belongs to him.  The truth is that we often lay claim to things that do not belong to us.  It is the whole premise of Biblical stewardship.  But the things we have co-opted are not always money or material goods and resources but can even be the Gospel itself.  We have forgotten that this Gospel does not belong to us and treated it as our possession to do with as we please.  But the Gospel of Jesus Christ belongs to God alone.
    In the Epistle lesson for today St. Paul challenges the Galatians to whom he first proclaimed the Gospel.  They had abandoned the truth of Jesus Christ as merely Paul's Gospel and he was reminding them the Gospel did not belong to him or to any person – not even to the Church.  The Gospel belongs to God and He reveals to those to whom He chooses by means of the Word and the Sacraments.
      Whose Gospel is it?  It might seem a strange question but it is a fundamental question for the Church today.  If the Gospel belongs to the Church then the Church can decide what that Gospel is, can change that Gospel, effectively placing the Church over Scripture.  If the Gospel belongs to the proclaimer or even to the believer, then he or she can do the very same thing.  But if it is Jesus' Gospel, then the situation is radically different.  If it belongs to Jesus, then we are  simply to proclaim Jesus Christ and the Gospel will accomplish its purposes.
    If you look around you, you see churches and Christians who have forgotten this fact.  In far too many places it is man's Gospel which is being proclaimed and promoted and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  How is this?  If the appeal is not to the cross and empty tomb but to our minds for understanding or our feelings for what the Gospel says or what is truth, then we have ripped the Gospel from the hands of our Savior and made it our own.  We have lifted its foundation from the clear word of Scripture to the cloudy words and feelings of our opinions and choices.  We have moved the Gospel from the solid rock to the shifting sands of time and trend.
    If we make the Gospel ours, then it is about me – captive to my own definition, wants, desires, feelings, and decisions.  As long as we treat the Gospel as our possession, then its truth is limited only to me and only to this moment.  In contrast to this stands the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is true for all people everywhere, for all time – the only Gospel that can deliver upon its promises and do what it proclaims, forgiving our sins and granting to us the gifts of life and salvation.
     St. Paul insists that we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  The only Gospel that counts is the one that speaks Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that we may believe only by the power of the Spirit, that we cannot obtain apart from the Word and Sacraments.  The only Gospel that counts is the Gospel of Jesus' cross and empty tomb for it is only this Gospel that paid to redeem us, purchased and won us not with silver or gold, but with the holy and precious blood of Christ.  The only Gospel that counts is the one that does not change, not yesterday, today or tomorrow, but which has the power to change us and give us the new birth that leads to eternal life.  The only Gospel that counts is the one that does what it promises and accomplishes what it says.  This Gospel belongs to Jesus Christ alone and it alone has the power to apply the cross and empty tomb to us and all our needs for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
    If the Gospel is something we define, then it has no power but the power we choose to give it.  If the Gospel is subject to our feelings and interpretation, then it is only ever one person deep and one person wide.  If the Gospel is defined by the Church then who is to say which church is right and whose Gospel authentic. If the Gospel changes from time to time or place to place, then how can we know what to trust in?
    The truth is we have too long sat in Bible studies to say what we think this means to me instead of pursuing the truth of the ages that is Jesus Christ. Now I believe my opinions are pretty good and you could learn something from me but the Gospel rests on what I think or feel then there is no reason to value my thoughts or opinions above anyone else’s.  Who cares what the Gospel means to me -- what matters is what Christ has said and done.  The sad truth is that we have allowed our reason and our feelings to shape the faith so that in too many places it no longer resembles the Word of the Cross and empty tomb of Scripture. We have given in to the false idea that each church as its own truth, its own gospel, and who is to know which is the genuine article.  We have for too long acted as if all truths are the same and all faiths lead to the same result.
    The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not belong to us, it does not belong to the Church, it does not belong to a particular time, and it does not belong to our feelings or our reason.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ belongs to Him.  It is for us only to believe.  It is the Church's to proclaim.  It is today's because it belongs to eternity.  It changes our feelings and transforms our minds because it has the power to take what is dead and make it alive... as long as it remains the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and authentic to Scripture, or it is worthless and weak... so whose Gospel is it?  It better be Jesus' Gospel or none at all.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are so right, and it is worth repeating over and over again. What the Gospel “means to me” is an attempt to put myself at the center of the mighty works of God. If we do not realize that the Gospel is all about the immeasurable mercy and grace of God, then we indeed invent another Gospel.

Nevertheless, it is not so much a matter of whose Gospel it is, but what it is. If it is indeed Jesus’ Gospel, and I am convinced that it is, we should listen carefully to what He says about it:
Mat. 4: 43 but He said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And Mat. 8:1 “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” Our Lord Himself said very little about the cross and the empty tomb. I do not write that to deny the importance of the cross and the empty tomb, but to point out that our Lord kept talking about the Kingdom, and the Church tends to ignore that. There are almost 100 places in the Synoptic Gospels and John in which our Lord is quoted directly speaking about the Kingdom of God. He mentioned it in the Second Petition of the Prayer He gave us. Just before He ascended, Acts 1 says that He was “speaking about the Kingdom of God.”

One of the great preachers and theologians of our time, John R. W. Stott (who would not be allowed to take Communion in our churches) put it this way: “Certainly we must never conceive ‘salvation’ in purely negative terms, as if it consisted only of our rescue from sin, guilt, wrath and death. We thank God that it is all these things. But it also includes the positive blessing of the Holy Spirit to regenerate, indwell, liberate and transform us.” (John R. W. Stott, Baptism and Fullness. The Work of the Holy Spirit today. Inter Varsity Press, P. 25, 26.)

Please do not misunderstand me. We must preach the cross and the empty tomb. But if that is where “our” Gospel ends, then it is indeed “our” Gospel, because, as wonderful as it is, without our Lord’s “Gospel of the Kingdom,” it is not “the Gospel” our Lord wants us to proclaim.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart