Sermon – Why I Am an Evangelical

Isaiah 52:7-15; 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2

Farmville Presbyterian Church

May 12, 2024

– Being Good News People


So how is it going today?  Anything new?  Anything good going on?

Nine times out of ten, when I go to visit someone in the church, the first thing they say is “what’s going on in the church?” or “how are things in the church?” or “anything new happening in the church?”  Lately with our move to Farmville, the questions also involve whether we are settled yet – which by the way, we are not entirely there, little by little, but the whole idea is the same.  We want news.  And this is a good thing!  We want to know what’s going on among the people we care about.  I have no doubt that many of you are also attentive to new outside and beyond our church family.  We are interested in the happenings of the community, and we have become even more serious about the goings-on with others thanks to social media.  It should surprise no one that Facebook is our biggest source of news.  It started out with just finding out about people we know, and it has evolved into a behemoth of information on all kinds of things – true and untrue.

Our desire to know what’s happening is not a product of the 20th or 21st century, though.  It has been human nature from the beginning of time ever since we recognized that we cared about what was going on in the lives of others.  After all, what happens to others can easily impact us.  It was harder to find out what was happening in places before the internet or newspapers or mail or the telegraph or radio.  In ancient cultures, messengers were held in high regard.  You were good to messengers, and they were to be treated with special consideration.  Messengers with good news were especially welcome, but they were also in a precarious situation sometimes when they brought bad news.  David killed a messenger or two after they brought bad news to him.  We still hate bad news because it can change our lives in very unpleasant ways beyond our control.

Thankfully, I am thinking good news today.  I love the word euangelion or “good news” in Greek.  The word “angel” is right there in the middle, God’s messengers.  This word is at the heart of God’s story and the source of all four Gospels.  This is the word that gave us the English word “evangel” or someone who tells good news, and “evangelical” or something related to good news.  It deeply distresses me that the word has been hijacked by political actors with their own agenda.  It is naïve to believe that everything promoted by evangelical groups is actually according to the heart of God.  We are all human beings.  Just like Christians are most certainly not always working in the model of Christ, we have to be very careful what we are promoting when we act in the name of Christ or God or even the Good News.  There is a greater standard for those who claim to be representing God and leading people in the pursuit of God’s glory.  I doubt anyone wants to invite hypocrisy or idolatry.

This is exactly what Paul faced as he squared off with the followers of Christ in Corinth.  This was a huge Greek town, a very cosmopolitan place with all kinds of people and ideas.  He had spent a lot of time there and knew many folk in Corinth.  He had encouraged communities of Christian faith and discipleship, but along the way, they got lots of things confused.  Pretty much all of this letter is trying to sort out their divisions and conflicts and confusions.  One group was saying or doing one thing, and another group was saying and doing the opposite.  Sure, that is the Christian story from our beginning, too, but it is easier to look at the ancient Corinthians as they divided over what color to pick for the carpet.  They were fighting over who had baptized them, whether it is OK to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols, whether you needed to speak in tongues or not, and how to celebrate Communion – all kinds of things that even today still cause problems between some looking to follow Jesus.  That is why this first letter to the Corinthians has the love chapter (13).  Paul lays it out: you can carry on with whatever you think you need to do, even amazing works, but if you are not doing it with love, it is pointless.

Before Paul gets to that place in his letter, though, he makes a hugely important foundation right here in chapter one.  In the face of all kinds of division in the church, he knows one thing and one thing only.  We are all tied and connected in this one thing and one thing only first and foremost – the crucifixion of Christ.

Please understand that any crucifixion was a horror of horrors.  People were still being crucified as Paul wrote this.  No one, and I mean no one, would brag of a loved one being crucified.  It was terribly dishonorable, the worst way to die for the worst of criminals.  It still causes problems for people when they seriously consider it today.  There was nothing peaceful or pleasant about Jesus’ or anyone’s crucifixion.  Paul is being entirely earnest when he admits God choose utter foolishness to wake the world up.  The death of Christ on a cross leaves no one with pride or arrogance or ego or self-inflated importance.  To come to the cross is to come to the cross as you really are – a hurting, broken, selfish child of God.

To put this in some kind of modern context, imagine our faith leader being branded a terrorist and charged with treason and executed by hanging after they had to weave their own rope.  Would you really want to still follow that person?  Would you advertise that you were following in the example of that person and doing your very best to live in their example?  That is a hard sell.

This was how God got our attention, however.  With all of the other things going on in the world, all of the other kinds of news and busyness and worries and distractions, God needed something that would pierce through all of that preoccupied humanity and show us what it really means to love and to be loved.  God wanted to show us what being human really means, what being God’s child really means.  A crucified Jesus is what God was willing to do for us.  This is what love was willing to do for us.  Such an act heals our selfish and sinful ways.  It opens the door to loving God and loving our neighbor.  If Jesus can go to the cross for us, I can certainly care a little more about my neighbor, the stranger, and even my enemy – even love them.  This is the power of the gospel.  This is the power of God’s good news.  In this respect, I am happy to be an evangelical.

No one gets to come in and puff themselves up.  That’s pride and ego.  CS Lewis warned of pride as the most devilish of sins.   It leads to so many other problems when think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  This is not to say we are not precious.  We absolutely are precious, but that value is a value given to us in God.  I am precious to God; you are precious to God; if I want to share IN God, I must appreciate how precious you are, too.  This is the heart of everything.  This is why God is love.  This is what the cross brings to us in all of its shame and horror.  Jesus despised the shame, however, and gave us love.  When Jesus returns after his death in the gospels, he is still bearing the marks of the cross.  When John in Revelation describes the only one worthy to open God’s scrolls, it is the Lamb who was crucified.  It still had the marks of its death.  That’s what makes the Lamb (Jesus) worthy.  His life and death make us worthy.

Once you come to the cross, you are then in a place to move forward in his life, in the power of the resurrection.  We are people of the resurrection, but we can never forget that our story is tied to the cross and that it is always good news.  I hope you also love that Good News and that you are also happy to make it yours.  The love of God changed the world and is still changing our lives today.

To God be the glory.  Amen.