Flashback to 1974.
I just want to go on record and say that I hate almost any statement that starts with “these days.” Because quite often, people, no matter how old they are or aren’t, are just speaking for what they’ve seen as adults, not the actual reality and scope of human history.
For example, no, we are not more violent these days. That is a ridiculous statement if you’ve ever read a history book. Violence is a human problem, not a modern one.
I’m willing to make an exception for substantive claims based on big changes to the way we relate to each other — and the 24 hour news cycle is one of those changes, exacerbated by the immediate availability of breaking news information right on our smart phones.
We hear news, all day, every day.
Just this week:
A man opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual congressional baseball game. Steve Scalise, House majority whip, was among the injured.
We learned from the President himself that he is personally under investigation.
The police officer who shot Philando Castile was acquitted of manslaughter charges.
A fire in London claimed the lives of many people — the exact toll we don’t know yet, but it’s now soared to over 50.
A US warship collided with a much larger merchant vessel off the coast of Japan. Seven US sailors are presumed dead.
And finally, just yesterday, Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial is declared a mistrial, while another trial in Massachusetts has landed a young woman behind bars for encouraging the suicide of her friend.
There is so much pain, and many of us are getting it all in real time, right on our smart phones. Every time I hear the telltale :do do doop: alert, my stomach drops. It’s rarely good news.
In all of this bad news, I’m reminded of the 1974 hit by Rufus and Chaka Khan:
“Tell me something good!”
And then you come to church. We all come here for a wide variety of reasons: some of you have been coming here for years because you love this church, its mission, and its people. Some of you have been coming here for only a short while, but you come because you love the liturgy and you love the warmth of the people here. But hopefully you all come for the same primary reason, whether you’ve been coming here for decades or whether you only just started:
You need to hear some Good News.
“Tell me something good!”
:dododoop!: News alert:
“New rabbi, Jesus, going about all the cities and villages, teaches in synagogues, proclaims the good news of the kingdom, and cures numerous diseases.”
These days, we don’t much hear good news. Those in Israel in the first century didn’t either.
Jesus shares some Good News with people in another age where good news was sorely needed: the Israelites were oppressed by Rome. They saw their neighbors killed for no reason in their occupied homeland. They often feared for their own lives. And they reached out to Jesus with the same cry we have today:
“Tell me something good!”
And he did. He healed their sick and he proclaimed the coming kingdom — fear not, beloved, the pain you see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here.
We’ve heard the church described as a filling station, a place where we can refresh ourselves for the week to come, where we can dare sit in our divided world with people of multiple political persuasions and leave with good news of God’s good grace for all of us, and with hope for the world — that the pain we see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here.
Summer is when the church goes green and stays green for quite awhile: my stole, the paraments. We call this “ordinary time.” You may assume that we call it ordinary time because it stands in contrast to the seasons of the church year: it’s not Advent, it’s not Lent, it’s not Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. It’s just ordinary. Plain. Nothing happening here.
But you’ll notice in your bulletin that each Sunday from here on out will be numbered — “second Sunday after Pentecost.” “Third Sunday after Pentecost.” Through the summer and deep into the fall, we will count: “Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.” “Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost.”
And so on.
What “ordinary” actually means isn’t “plain.” It means “counted days.” “Ordered days.”
Pentecost was a big day for the disciples and a big day for us: the Holy Spirit made its appearance. We added new members and confirmed one of our own in a beautiful service. We finished up our yearly telling of the story of Jesus and today, we begin to tell the story of the church in ordered, counted days.
There is no longer a followable story of Jesus to tell. Now we hear the teachings of Jesus and we begin to imagine what they mean for our story. Our story, together, week by week.
Because the truth, beloved, is that we don’t live most of our lives in Advent, waiting for something to happen, or in Easter, when we celebrate. Most of us live the majority of our lives in counted, ordinary days, when we get up, we do what must be done, we hopefully grow, and we go to bed.
But most of you know that it’s in the ordinary days, at least as much as in the high and low seasons, that we begin to figure out who we really are. It’s in those times that we focus and we order our days and we hopefully grow as human beings. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to really grow as a professional or a parent or a human being during the hectic seasons of our lives. When things finally settle down and become ordinary, we say, “Okay, now I can focus on personal growth.”
Maybe that’s why the church, in all its wisdom, painted this season green, the color of growth. This is when, week in and week out, after a week of hearing horrible news in the headlines, we come together and we all say to the church together:
“Tell me something good.”
In today’s Gospel story, the church in all its wisdom includes this story: one where Jesus tells and shows the good news — fear not, beloved, the pain you see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here.
And that’s not the end of the story. Because you see, the Gospel would be boring and cheap if it weren’t participatory.
It’s natural to hear news and then spread it. For every recent big story that has broken in recent years, I have heard phones go off and immediately, people begin to turn to their neighbors and face the screens towards them or whisper what just happened. And if the story is big enough, people get on their feet to react: depending on what the story is, there are protests, or vigils, or service days organized immediately. News is meant to be shared — in word and in action. If it’s not shared, friends, it’s just not big news.
Obvious statement of the morning: we are not the only people who need to hear Good News these days. We’re not the only people getting more depressing news by the minute on our smartphones and tablets and laptops. We’ve got the whole world crying out:
“Tell me something good!”
So let’s tell them: Fear not, beloved, the pain you see today will not always be. God is coming. God is here. You just have to look.
This summer, our liturgy is explicitly for beginners, and for you. Each piece, you might have noticed, is explained: what it is, why we do it, and why it matters. So that we can, in these ordinary days, grow. So that we can hear the Good News and be sent out by our assisting minister each week: “Go in peace, share the Good News!” and the congregation responds: [wait]
And the sign outside beckons for people to come share life with us. The slogan, shamelessly stolen from a Lutheran church in Atlanta, is pure good news and invitation: a message to the community that we exist for them, with an open invitation — come hear some good news. Come share life with us.
And so, during these ordinary days, when things have slowed to a summer’s crawl and we are no longer tied up in the obligations of winter and spring, let’s grow, as creation outside deepens its green. Because, and I mean every word of this: God knows people need to hear some good news these days.
So let’s go — tell ‘em something good. Amen.