May 7th of this year marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 in Europe. Very few of us here will have any memory of that first V.E. Day (as it`s called) but I hope we might have the imagination to appreciate what it was like to hear the news that the war was finally over. If not, then do take a look at some of the photographs and News reels of the day which record, for instance, outbreaks of spontaneous celebration and relief among so many who had suffered for so long. Of course, the reality of it all would only gradually dawn as the men started coming home and the re-building began but at that point all that mattered was the news that the war was over.
This is one of those moments which we sometimes call `historic`. We say this because it stands out and because it marks a moment from where we can all say “something changed”. This news as it got out, had a profound impact; and we can probably think of other moments like this: perhaps the moon landings; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the terrorist attacks on what we call 9/11; the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa; the death of John F. Kennedy and so on. In other words, it`s in the nature of `News` that it comes from outside us…it catches us by surprise; we remember where we were when we heard it and it changes the way we understand ourselves and the world.
Now, I want this morning to make the very simple point that this is something of what it`s like when you hear Christians talk about the `Gospel`… a word which means “Good News”. Gospel is a word which was used many centuries ago to describe the message someone would bring from a battlefield to say that a great victory had been won… or a new King was on the throne. The Gospel was cause for great celebration. The impact of this victory or change in regime might have taken a while to have an impact but from that moment everybody knew that nothing would be the same and we Christians took to using this word as a way of describing what we`re about.
You see the Christian Gospel or Good News is the announcement that about two thousand years ago everything about our world has changed. It has changed because a great victory has been won and there is a new King on the throne. The victory is over death and what we call sin: the fracture in our relationship with God… The new king is Jesus Christ; and the news has travelled to us from the scene of the battle…. Outside the city walls of Jerusalem where Jesus died on a cross…. and three days later was raised to life. And what I`m saying again is that this Good News changes everything. A famous Christian called Paul said that in Jesus Christ God was doing something incredibly important; He said “God was reconciling the world to himself”: he was putting the world to rights…. And all Christians are bearers of this News: there has been a great Victory and we have a New King.
So, in this sense the Christian faith is really very simple. St. Paul again says in the light of this Good News, “Be reconciled to God”. Believe what has been done for you ….Be Baptised…. washed clean; let him give you His Holy Spirit so that you can receive a life of friendship with God and pass on the Good News to others. But anyone here who knows a game called `Chinese Whispers` will know that sometimes News doesn’t always get passed on correctly. And so we have to be aware of two mistakes that are easily made.
Firstly, we turn this Good News into Good ideas. So for example; there was a survey conducted recently which noted how few people were aware that Jesus is actually a real person and a matter of historical record. But when you think about it this isn`t really that surprising because we`ve been brought up to think of religions as philosophy or ideas and so therefore Christianity must be the same. And it`s more convenient to do that because it then becomes a matter of personal opinion; it`s just your thing; it`s pretty harmless, inoffensive and bland. But everything changes when you take faith out of the realm of ideas and root it in actual people and historical events, which is what the Christian Creeds do.
That`s why the Slogan of the first Christians was “Jesus is Lord”…. They weren`t saying they`d just had a nice religious experience that made them all warm inside…. They were making a claim about whose really running the world; and they themselves were executed because this was an inflammatory thing to say in Roman times where the Imperial slogan was “Caesar is Lord”. So Christians will always go against the grain by saying “We`re not about Good Ideas… but Good News”…. something that has objectively happened.
Now, just as we turn this Good News into Good Ideas… the second error we make is to turn the Good News into Good Advice. Just take a look at your local bookshop and see how many people there are making a tidy living from giving you good advice. Books about weight Loss; pseudo-spirituality; programmes for self-improvement so as to achieve your `goals` and `be the best you can be` are all over the place. And because the Christian Faith is very much concerned with real life and a better way of living in the world it`s assumed that we belong in the same category. But the Christian Faith is not a programme for self-improvement or a private spiritual `trip`. In fact, as I say it`s not really about US at all, it`s about God. It`s not Good Advice on how to live a better life but Good News of what has been done for us…. and how to receive a new life.
So, as we remember with huge gratitude those who gave their lives in the tragedy that is war I`d like to invite us to hold onto that picture: On V.E. Day there was Good News of Victory that has been won… a new order in place…. and spontaneous celebrations. These three things point us to the heart of our faith. We bear the Good News of what God has done in Jesus and we are drawn into his friendship. We announce not good ideas or good advice for self-improvement but the story of Jesus…. God present among us, his defeat of what we call sin and death and his new order in place.
And this is cause, I would say, for spontaneous and regular celebration… which is why we gather here Sunday by Sunday and why the second part of our worship this morning is called the Eucharist or `Thanksgiving`.