Thursday, February 4, 2010

Being Good News

Our church has a partnership with Waverly Elementary School, which serves some of the poorest people in the area.  I have mentioned to our people numerous times that our approach has continually been “service without strings” i.e. we don’t have any ulterior motives in wanting to serve them.  We aren’t trying to get them to come to our church, though we’d be happy if any of them did; we aren’t angling to find an opportunity to give them a gospel presentation of how to accept Christ, though if they asked I wouldn’t pass; and we aren’t serving in the hope that they will talk us up and enhance our reputation in the community, though we wouldn’t mind that either.  There are a number of reasons for this.
First of all, and I hope this isn’t too cynical, but it seems to me that we live in a world where there is too little done with no expectation of return.  You pick up the tab at lunch this time, it’s usually understood that I’ll pick it up next time.  You scratch my back and it’s understood that I’ll scratch yours.  A favor done out of the blue without asking is often looked at with suspicion.  We immediately think, “What do they want?”  Such cynicism is widespread; it’s almost counter-cultural to serve without asking for anything in return, and if the Church is supposed to be anything, it’s supposed to be counter-cultural.  We’re to be subversive to the forces of cynicism.
Second, I believe that there is intrinsic value in doing good.  No other reward is needed, and none should be sought.  Doing good isn’t a self-help program to build self-esteem, although it does seem to help with that.  But that’s a happy byproduct; serving others and helping our community is simply the right thing to do, and we should be doing it.
Third, it’s Kingdom work.  Whatever the Kingdom of God is going to look like, it is going to be good, and people will be doing good things for each other, for the poor and disenfranchised, for the building up of relationships in community.  Anything that anyone does now that is good is a precursor of what life will be like all the time when the Kingdom comes in all of its fullness.  When the Church does good, that by itself is a witness to the Good News of the Kingdom, for it bears witness to how good our God is and how good his Kingdom is.  And it demonstrates why the Kingdom—and the King—is worthy of our devotion, our service, and our sacrifice. 
Ultimately, Kingdom theology is incarnational theology.  When Jesus said that the Church was his body, he wasn’t being metaphorical.  He meant it.  When Jesus was alive on earth, he had a body; after he ascended, the Church became his body.  Once again, this isn’t a metaphor, it is a spiritual and a physical reality.  In a very real way, the Church out serving and ministering in the world is the very presence of Christ.  I can’t say this enough—this isn’t symbolism, metaphor, or hyperbole, it is the way that God designed things to be.  When Jesus walked this earth he bore witness to the love, the forgiveness, and our acceptability to God by what he said and what he did, and when we, together, do good out in the world, we bear witness to the God’s love for the people we serve as well as his forgiveness and acceptance of them as well. 
        In the Roman world, The Good News or gospel was an imperial term; it was an announcement that the rule of Caesar was coming to a territory.  When Jesus, being more politically subversive than he is often credited for, announced the Good News of the Kingdom of God, he was asserting that the rule of God had come—and, unlike the rule of Caesar, God’s reign really was good, and it was good for all, including the poor, the immigrant, the uneducated, the underemployed, and those discriminated against.  But the Good News wasn’t primarily a message about God, it was primarily the presence of God, in the person of Jesus.  That was Good News, that God was present.  “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”  (Rev. 21:3)
I’m not being slick or innovative here; this is the understanding of the earliest Christians as well as the teaching of the Church from its inception.  We are the Body of Christ, his very presence in the world, and when we are out there doing Kingdom work, we proclaim the Gospel.  And, if necessary, we use words.  (See Assissi, Francis of.)


  1. Sometimes, it is difficult to do something "good" without somehow wanting something back eventually. What a blessing it is to give and be given to with no motive, but to be given to or to give in love.

  2. Yeah. That's the problem with giving to people who have something to give in return; even if you say you don't want anything in return, it's hard to resist that voice of self-interest that's always there. That's why serving people who, by our perception at least, have nothing to give in return, is so freeing. It frees you from the expectation of return. Then there's the serendipitous realization that those are the people who have the most valuable gift to give--not things, but friendship.