Good News

January 18, 2024 | My Jottings

Hello friends. It has been so cold here in northern Minnesota these last several days, I’ve been setting my alarm for dark thirty so I can drive my foster gal to the bus stop. Normally she walks to catch the city bus herself, knows how to dress herself warmly and looks forward to her part-time job each day. But when it’s eight degrees below zero, I don’t want her skin hitting the air for long. Frostbite is a serious thing.

I am not fond of the trendy five-second rule for springing out of bed within five seconds of the alarm’s sounding to get the show on the road. At my age I prefer the 900-second rule. I need about fifteen minutes of slowly waking. I might raise the head of my electric bed and pull the covers up, looking out toward Lake Superior in the dark. I might reach for my phone and play the day’s devotional from the Pray As You Go app. I probably do get up to go potty, but then I click up the heat and hunker down beneath the covers again until I feel my room warming up. I reach for my little clip-on reading light and ask the Lord to speak to my heart through the epistle, the psalm, and the Gospel scriptures I’ll read.

Then after holding firmly to my 900-second rule, I get up, take my keys and my phone, and while I’m still clad in my nightgown, my sweet foster gal and I head to the car and set out in the still and white neighborhood, up the hill away from the steaming Lake to the sheltered bus stop. She pulls on her mittens, thanks me cheerfully for the ride, and gets out of the car to stand in the sheltered shed, where the bus will stop for her in a few minutes. I make a U-turn on the deserted main road and drive home. I make my coffee, warm up a wheat-filled heating pad in the microwave to wrap around my always-chilled neck, and pad down the hall in the dark to my bedroom sanctuary.

Here’s the Gospel (which means Good News) I read this morning, propped up in bed with a single beeswax candle lit and a magenta band of light peeking up on the horizon of the Lake:

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with His disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what He was doing, a large number of people came to Him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush Him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon Him to touch Him. And whenever unclean spirits saw Him they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make Him known.   Mark 3:7-12.

As I sat and slowly read this, of course I tried to picture the details. Jesus being so pressed in by the hordes of people with such desperate needs, He was close to being crushed. I’ve been to Disneyland and Disney World, two places that come to mind that at times can have such crowds you can barely walk along without having someone within inches of you. But I have never been in a crowd so dense that there was a danger of being crushed.

What struck me in this passage was the last part — the unclean spirits who cried out when they saw Him, “You are the Son of God,” and how Jesus would not permit them to say that again.

They weren’t wrong. He was and is and ever will be the Son of God. Demons and their father satan always lie, but evidently they can’t lie about Him. But why did Jesus sternly warn them to stop saying He was the Son of God?

I’ve heard sermons and read things with excellent theological explanations about why Jesus forbade some people (and unclean spirits) from spreading the word about Him, mostly regarding the timing of His ministry. It was not yet time to declare He was the Messiah… there was still more for Him to do before He could permit His arrest and mock trial and eventual crucifixion.

But this morning I thought, Jesus will not permit the Gospel to be preached by demons. The Good News of Jesus Christ is to be preached by people. And by all creation. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says the rocks will cry out about who He is. In Isaiah we’re told that mountains and hills will burst into song about the Good News, and that the trees of the field will clap their hands with joy. Which, by the way, I totally believe, and think of reverently and joyfully on a breezy fall day in Minnesota. When I watch a nature program on television that shows slow aerial footage of the Alps or the Rockies, I think to myself, “I can’t hear their song with my own ears yet, but they are singing out about the glory of God.”

I do not have the gift of evangelism. I don’t have the courage to stand on a street corner and preach the Gospel like some do. I think I might have other gifts. But this morning as the sky pinked up and I read and reread the verses from the Gospel of Mark, I thought of how good news is preached to me every day.

The other night I was able to sit with my nineteen year-old granddaughter and gently brush her beautiful, long auburn hair. I remembered how I used to do the same thing when she was a little girl, and she’d patiently sit while I French-braided it. Being close to her and feeling her love and the life within her, being able to love her back, was good news to me. To pray for her is a privilege. A gift from the Son of God.

That same night my eleven year-old granddaughter asked me if she could put makeup on me. She washed her hands, gently applied moisturizer to my face, let me choose the dramatic sparkly burgundy-colored eye shadow, slowly and softly put a bit of mascara on my old-lady lashes, smiled her beautiful smile at me, and made me feel drenched in good news. She and her older sister are my own flesh and blood, and the Lord saved my life when I was fourteen years old so I could be brought to my sixty-sixth year to know and love them.

My twenty-one year-old granddaughter texted me last thing before I slept last night, and first thing this morning. What a gift. My delight for her cannot be plumbed.

I recently shared a restaurant table with my three daughters, who are the blood in my veins. To look upon their faces, into their eyes, feel the depth of love I have for them no matter what we are all going through, was good news to me.

Today I will brave the bitter cold and drive to the Subaru place to have my oil changed, tires rotated, things checked out. What unfathomable grace is it that I have a car, it has gas, I have eyes and faculties to drive it, money to pay for the service, a furnace to keep my home warm? Isn’t the Lord preaching His Good News to me every hour of every day? I am here. I am caring for you. I sent my Son to save you. You can trust me. I am your Light, your Bread, your Hope, your Life.

Unclean spirits are not allowed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is too sacred, too wonderful and life-changing and pure and holy, for them to speak from their foul lips.

But you and I can speak His Gospel. To our loved ones in various ways, even with just a brush in hand or by putting our head back on a soft leather couch to give a child a warm memory. We can tell of His faithfulness in our lives without standing behind a pulpit and preaching a sermon.

I do want to speak words that convey His Gospel as well. I’m not very good at it. I’m still bumbling along learning to live it. I look for ways to share that in the midst of all the disappointment, hard times, turmoil and confusion of my (also richly blessed) childhood, He made Himself known to me when I was three years old. He reminds me that He is the Son of God, in charge of all, and that He brings the Good News of Himself and His love to any who would try to listen and receive.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 157

January 16, 2024 | My Jottings

Take fifteen minutes (that’s it), leave your phone in another room, and go to the most peaceful and quiet room of your house. And just sit there, quietly. Say nothing, except, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then listen. Just for fifteen minutes. Do nothing, say nothing, just sit quietly and listen.

The first few days it will be a little uncomfortable. You may not hear much. After a week you’ll really be starting to listen and you’ll probably love those fifteen tranquil minutes in your day. After a month you’ll be aware of little things the Lord is saying to you all the time. In a year, you’ll be a prayer professional. At the end of your life, you’ll be a saint.

There’s no magic to it, just say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then listen. If you do that every day, I bet God will transform your life. 

~~Fr. John Hammond