What kind of reaction do you think you’d meet if, on Monday, when you get to work or to the shops, you suggested to whoever you might bump into, that they should repent and believe the Good News?
My guess is that you wouldn’t want to repeat some of the answers which would probably come your way.
But, for Christians, this is one of the most important things that we’re called to do. So, if we want to be taken seriously, where do we start?
Well, some of you might have heard of a Church of England Bishop called Tom Wright. Bishop Tom was the Anglican Bishop of Durham and he’s now retired; but earlier in his church life he was chaplain to one of the Oxford colleges, and he used to make a point of meeting every new student at his college, just after the start of each academic year in October.
Bishop Tom was usually politely received, but he says that many students, after the pleasantries had been exchanged, would tell him that he wouldn’t be seeing much of them because they didn’t believe in God.
Tom would move the conversation on by saying something like :
“That’s interesting, which god don’t you believe in?”
And most of the answers would involve some kind of reference to an elderly man sitting on a cloud, surrounded by angels, and generally spoiling everybody’s day.
Tom would nod wisely and reply that this interested him because he didn’t believe in that god either. The way was then open for him to explain that the God he believed in was the God who was made visible through Jesus from Nazareth.
You see, it’s very difficult to talk about God in terms which can make sense to us with all of the limitations which are part and parcel of being a human being. How can we, as finite human beings, even begin to think about an infinite God, who must be beyond anything which we can imagine? What does that hymn say? “Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?
But we can understand another human being; and if that human being, in a wonderful and mysterious way, shares the life of God, we can begin to see what God is like as far as he can be revealed through a human life.
And that’s where Jesus comes in. If we want to know what God is like, in terms that we can understand, well then, we only need to look at Jesus.
Jesus was patient, gentle and kind. He accepted men and women just as they were. He didn’t turn his back on them because they came from the wrong side of the tracks. He didn’t look down on them because they mixed with the wrong people and got themselves into all kinds of bad situations.
Of course, he didn’t want men and women to stay in those situations, but he always accepted them, loved them and wanted to move them on. The New Testament is crammed with stories like this. Think of the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Holy people wanted to put her to death and they tried to use her predicament to trap Jesus. But Our Lord didn’t condemn her; instead, he saved her and gave her back her dignity. Think of the stories which he told as well. The story about the prodigal son and the good Samaritan are just two.
We have no trouble in seeing the love, compassion and care which Jesus had for men and women everywhere; and of course, the Good News, the Gospel, is that this is just what God is like. Jesus forgave, accepted and loved. God forgives, accepts and loves, because just as Jesus said: “I am one with the Father.”
Religious people often try to gain brownie points with God by doing good deeds. They act as though God is some kind of stern Judge who can’t wait to punish us if we fail to step up to the mark. This is a tragedy because God just isn’t like that. We don’t need to be frightened of God. We don’t need to try to impress him with countless acts of charity and hours of religious observance. All we need to do is to accept that he loves us and has done everything that’s necessary in order that we can live with him for ever. And, of course, once we reach that conclusion, we begin to do those charitable things not because we want to be rewarded, but because we have accepted God’s love and just have to love him back.
Jesus announced this Good News to those Galilean fishermen two thousand years ago. It took a long time for them to grow into a full understanding of what he was telling them, but even at that early stage they were sufficiently attracted by his magnetic personality to begin the journey in faith.
Very few things in life happen out of a clear blue sky and I rather expect that the first followers of Jesus, had already heard him and seen him at work, perhaps for some while before they made a commitment to the request which we’ve just heard.
And it was as they followed him, as they listened to him and as they trusted him and tried to do as he asked, that they moved into a deeper understanding of the truth. The truth which Jesus spoke when he said:
“To have seen me is to have seen the Father”
Good News indeed. News which calls us to turn away from our false beliefs of what God is like and to realise that in Jesus the Kingdom of God is really made present. Good News which needs to grow more deeply within us, and which will enable us in our turn to become fishers of men too.