Good News in the New Year
Notes from Sunday's Sermon.
In my second semester at Yale Divinity school I took a course called World Christianity and Missions with Professor Lamin Sanneh. He is Gambian royalty in Africa and a convert to Christianity since 90% of Gambia’s population is Muslim. His PhD is in Islamic philosophy but he has always had a deep interest in the relationship between Christianity and Islam.
In his World Christianity and Missions course back in 2009 he talked about how to be a missionary and what that looks like and means when traveling to places like Africa where the culture and also religious culture is much different than here in the US. For Professor Sanneh, sharing the Good News of Jesus is something that we do when we build relationships with one another. It’s not about the short-term--with pamphlets and week long visits.
For missionaries it’s essential to live in the area they are ministering for an extended period of time to become immersed in the culture and language. So that not only are the stories of Scripture able to be translated more accurately in the native tongue, but the actions and message of Christian love and charity can be embodied by those missionaries and then witnessed by those who they are sharing their faith with. So they not only hear about Jesus but they witness his message being lived out in others.
Sharing the hope of Christ is not just for missionaries traveling around the world or clergy. We are the priesthood of all believers--meaning we all have opportunity to have a relationship with God and thus we all have the ability to be ministers for God.
And to do this, Professor Sanneh believes that Christianity is a relational faith where our God wants a relationship with us and in order for us to authentically and fully make Christianity known and understood we need to form meaningful relationships with others. Essentially, we need to get to know the people. And that is how people in our own lives and those we meet experience Jesus-- through us. Through our faith and actions they will see and hear the love and grace that we freely receive through faith in Christ.
The author of the Gospel of John helped prepare us to live into the Priesthood of All Believers in order for us to share the Good News of Jesus it is important that we know who Christ is, and that is how the gospel begins.
It says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
John’s Gospel begins with this poetic description of Jesus. So, who was he? In the beginning was the Word--Jesus is the Word. The prophecies of Isaiah and the words written throughout the prophets are Jesus. Their truth is fulfilled in Christ. He existed before there even was a beginning of creation, He was always with God and Jesus is God. All things came to be through Jesus. The son of God. That is who Jesus is. The beginning and the end.
To know Jesus is to know that He is the Son of God--to have faith and believe that he is full of the grace and truth needed to redeem this world, and each of us.
But as John’s Gospel says even though Jesus was always within the world and the world came into being through him, the world--people still don’t know him. That after everything we know about Jesus and everything he has done--the world still does not know who he is. This was written during a time without wifi or social media. But this unfortunately still applies to today. Things haven’t changed.
There are still many people who have never heard of or experienced the redeeming and forgiving love of Jesus. They may have never heard that his birth was the fulfillment of God’s promise of peace on Earth. They might not know that his death and resurrection bring us new life in Christ--where we will always be with God in life and in death. They may not know that Jesus’ freely loves and freely forgives.
They may have heard his name or gone to church or believed in God before, but have never felt like they experienced God’s love or the hope that is found in Christ. They may have never experienced it through their relationships with fellow Christians. Because living in this age of advanced communication we tend to hide behind computer screens and cell phones.
This is where Professor Sanneh’s beliefs on ministry and missionary work prove to be true. That Christianity is about relationships centered on Christ--that we must immerse ourselves in getting to know people. To patiently understand who they are and what has them interested in knowing God and also what has them hesitant in going to church or knowing Jesus.
Jesus was always within in the world but people still don’t know him and God is calling us in the Gospel of John today to be examples and ministers to those in our lives who don’t know or question who Jesus is.
As the body of Christ and baptized believers, our baptismal covenant clearly asks of us “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” So, if there are those who don’t know the Son of God. What can we do about it? Will we live into this baptismal vow? Will we be out there proclaiming the Good News of God?
It the new year after all. A time when we start over. We get another try. As Christians we don’t get to sit idly by and wait for God to return someday. Because the word was made flesh and dwelled among us--and taught us and blessed us and reassured us of the grace of God. And because of Jesus being here on earth we have been given the example and the knowledge of how to be a part of Christ’s ministry to the world. So, in this new year, in this beginning, how will you share the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Will you mend broken relationships? Forgive? Read scripture? Be a good listener?
Christianity is Jesus. It’s a relationship, it’s love and it’s wholeness. Let people know.