Embodying Good News
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus says, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for again each tree is known by it own fruit (6:43).” Jesus goes on to say, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you (6:46).”
The power of the Church’s message is dependent on the extent to which the followers of Jesus embody the way Jesus wants us to live. All of our proclamations about God’s love and forgiveness will ring hollow if the church doesn’t live this out. Yes, we will fall short on any number of occasions. Welcome to being human. But if people around us don’t see enough evidence that our words and deeds are one, we shouldn’t be surprised if others find the message of the church hollow.
Let me give you an example of the power of good fruit: Whenever I meet with a family to plan the funeral for a loved one, regardless of whether they are members of St. Timothy’s, I ask them if they would like to have a reception after the service. Families that are members of St. Timothy’s are grateful for the offer and feel loved; the offer is not surprising and seems consistent with their life in the church. What is stunning is the reaction of families that have no connection with St. Timothy’s. When I ask them if they would like us to host a reception, they look puzzled and often say something like, “You are willing to do that for us? I mean we are not members, you know.” I then inform them that this is just what we do and Anne, the head of our reception committee, will be in touch. After the funeral and reception are over, I usually hear something like this from the family: “I can’t tell you how grateful we are for all that you have done for us. Everyone has just been so kind and caring. I really don’t know what to say.”
Although there is no evidence that Francis of Assisi actually said these words, he is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words.” Whether or not Francis said this, the point is clear: “How we live is a more important statement than what we say.” The power of Francis’ life was not in what he said, but how much he loved.
The Church has often fallen woefully short of embodying God’s love and many people have found the church anything but Good News. However, all it takes is one disciple and one church to give the skeptical reason to believe that the church has something to offer. Last Sunday I met a person who had basically been asked to leave her former church when people found out about her sexual orientation. Quite frankly I am surprised such a person was still willing to give the church another chance. In any event, she showed up on Sunday and was overwhelmed by the welcome. Love is powerful. Maybe love really does “cover a multitude of sins” (1 Pt. 4.8).