But is it really? Good news? To our neighbors, to our co-workers, to the immigrant, to the single mom or the elderly shut-in, to those struggling to put food on the table, to those without homes and stability, to those being abused, to those who are addicted, to those without friends or community. Is the gospel really good news? Is the church good news?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is often a decided no. In so many ways, the church is often portrayed and epitomized to be at best, irrelevant and at worst, more bad news in a world brimming and overflowing with bad news. Judgmental, narrow-minded, naïve, oppressive, hypocritical, legalistic, unenlightened, and harmful. How did we get here? These are the same attributes for which Jesus chastised the religious people in his day.
In Jesus’ inaugurational speech, he declared the prophetic words of Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” This is what good news looks like. Jesus was all about bringing freedom, healing, lifting up the poor and the marginalized and the oppressed in society, restoring our humanity and extending scandalous grace. And this is the work he has called us to as the church.
And these words reverberate in my soul. This is what drives me. This is why I said yes to the call to pastor. If it was more of the same - doing church often in very irrelevant ways - then no. No thank you. But this word reformation. It calls to me. It allures me when I think of giving up. It entices me when I grow weary. What if….?
What if the gospel was embodied and reinterpreted in our time and in our day to be good news? Like actual good news? Reflective of the depths of kindness and healing, grace and freedom that I have encountered in Jesus.
What if the church embodied this good news? What if we were known for our sacrifice? Our kindness. Our generosity. Our work in the neighborhood. Our compassion. What if we puzzled people by our desire to listen, our graciousness, our hospitality, our laughter and our unconditional acceptance?
What if people sensed that God had moved into the neighborhood? What if we became champions for the poor and lovers of the marginalized? What if we fought for the flourishing of all of our neighbors? Those who live outside, those without citizenship, those without privilege? What if we decided that it wasn’t okay to live above place with a kind of spirituality that keeps our heads in the clouds -- but instead, chose to live faithfully immersed in the complex stories of our neighborhoods with a commitment to cultivate love and justice there. What if we realized that we needed connection, integration and wholeness just as much as the least of these? What if we decided that it was impossible to live this way of Jesus without some radical shifts in our lifestyles and the way we think about church?
What if the gospel was actually good news and our lives and our communities experienced reformation? This is what I am longing for. What I am waiting, hoping and praying for. This Advent, come, Jesus, come. Move into the neighborhood.
By Jessica Ketola