Friday, February 02, 2007

The Right Gospel?

What is the gospel?

I’d say that The Gospel is the grand, expansive Redemptive Story, that transforms all of time and eternity, and everything created within them. But The Gospel has a starting-point: the gospel. If The Gospel is the radiating ripples transforming the water of a lake – beneath, as well as on, the surface – the gospel is the pebble that broke the surface. The impact-point of the gospel, as modelled by Jesus, is always personal, contextual and experiential. To the blind man, the gospel is, “Receive your sight.” To the leper, the gospel is, “Receive your cleansing.” To the demonised, the gospel is, “Receive your deliverance from affliction.” To the widow of Nain, the gospel is, “Receive back your son.” To Martha and Mary, the gospel is, “Receive back your brother.” To the woman excluded from society because of continual menstrual bleeding, the gospel is, “Receive your physical healing and your restoration back into the community.” To the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends, the gospel is, “Receive forgiveness for your inner being and healing for your outer being.”

At the funeral I attended yesterday, the gospel was proclaimed. But I’m not entirely sure it was the right gospel. The vicar spoke of ‘our belief’ that Jesus was the human face of God. But many present would not necessarily share the vicar’s beliefs; and I wondered whether his language didn’t rail-road all other beliefs into silence; didn’t (quite unintentionally, I’m sure) manipulate those mourning? He pointed to the cross on the wall above us, and spoke of how we all deserved to go to hell for the wrong things we had done, but that Jesus’ death in our place meant that we didn’t have to. And I understand why we might think that a funeral is the most appropriate place to talk about ‘Life After Death’ (including a measure of desperation: this may well be the one shot we get at saying this to these people). But I can’t help wondering whether a funeral is not, in fact, the most inappropriate place to talk about ‘Life After Death.’ I can’t help wondering whether a funeral should not, rather, be the place to talk about ‘life after a death’ and that the right gospel – the experiential invitation – to proclaim is God’s expressed will to comfort those who mourn…

I don’t take issue with the things that the vicar said. I’m just not sure it was the time and the place to say those things. And I’m genuinely not sure. So I’m not saying, he got it wrong; and I’m not saying, I’ve got it right. But I suspect that in our desire to proclaim The Gospel, we all sometimes – perhaps often? – miss the opportunity to proclaim the gospel. And I suspect that proclaiming the gospel is what we are called to do.

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