God Is Good . . . Good Is God

A sermon based on Matthew 28: 1-10
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on April 12, 2020 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!!! HAPPY EASTER from First Congregational United Church of Christ in Mount Vernon, Ohio!
If you have attended our church in the past half dozen years or so, you have likely participated in a tradition where we proclaim every week, like Laura did, that “God is good!” and then we all reply, “All the time.” And then we reverse it, as the leader says “All the time” . . . and we all respond “God is good.” When we say “God is good all the time” and “All the time God is good” I imagine that most of us hear it to mean that God is always good, which is true. But we can also hear it to mean that God IS good, that is ALL … GOOD … IS…GOD. Listen for that meaning this time as we proclaim it again (you can join me at home): “God IS good . . . All the time. All the time . . . God IS good.” It’s a different spin.
Understanding God as A good God most of us have down. That all good is God is a less common take on the phrase. But Jesus can be heard to first suggest it for his followers. In Mark 10 (17) a man asked Jesus “Good Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response was “ Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” If God alone is good, then good alone is God. God is what calls us to good . . . good is what calls us to God.
The definition of “good” in my Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms is “Excellence of quality, particularly moral qualities.” The dictionary then points out that “God is the supreme good who not only “does good” but “is good” . . .”
I am mentioning this God is good stuff on Easter Sunday, not JUST because Easter is a day of great goodness –which it surely is– but also because as we discussed last week, in order to get to this day of goodness a lot of ugly stuff happened and goodness not only prevailed in the end but, all the time God was good and God was good all the time. Even today in the stories of Jesus’ ministry, and especially in the Passion and Easter stories, goodness calls out to us from the pages of the Bible and the stories that form in our minds as we hear the Word read. Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, exemplified Jewish concepts goodness. They are summed up in words from Micah 6 on our church walls. He walked humbly with God, seeking justice, loving kindness. Put another way Jesus followed the commandments to love God and love neighbor.
In fact Jesus took those commandments AND the Micah 6 teachings to their logical extremes. He trail-blazed – and left behind– a Way of following them that is so complete even the neighbor who is our enemy is to be loved. That is good stuff. It is God stuff.
See Jesus did not just preach good stuff he put goodness – GOD– into his actions. He made it his Way of life. Christians have been trying to make it their way of life ever since. As Jesus trail-blazed The Way he brought into his community every sort of neighbor imaginable and embraced everyone of them with love. No one was left out. Jew, Gentile, Roman, Samaritan, male, female, rich, poor, religious, non-religious, criminal, pious, old, young, sick, healthy, friend, and enemy. All got in. All were loved and treated with respect by Jesus. This is good stuff. This is God stuff.
Rome’s political and religious elite in got worried about this good stuff, this . . . God stuff. Justice, kindness and love for all clashed with their system of oppression established to make a few very wealthy and powerful. In this clash we feel God tugging us to the good and pushing us away from the bad. The good stuff, the God stuff, is like a magnet for the soul. We want to move toward the positive pole of God. We are attracted to it. At the same time we are repulsed from the negative pole of violence and oppression of Rome and its stooges. We want to move away from it.
The Passion stories, of course, get really ugly. We wince and even cry at the pain and the darkness Jesus traveled through. It’s nearly unbearable to consider. Jesus is brutalized. Crucifixion is horrible. It is difficult to imagine a worse way to die. We feel repulsion from the horror of the story of Holy Week. That repulsion is due to goodness, God, calling us away from evil . . . the bad.
I mentioned in my vlog this past week that one of the miracles we often overlook at Easter, is that neither Jesus nor God responded with violence to the brutality inflicted on Jesus. Rather the Divine responses were victories through non-violence. If God and Jesus had the power to call in legions of angels to inflict harm and defeat Rome and its stooges with violence, they did not use it. They did not do it. What they did do was inflict love on them and everyone else– whether they wanted to be loved or not. On the cross Jesus demonstrated the most extreme extension of the logic of Love having no strings attached. He not only loved everyone without qualifying it with the costs he would pay by being beaten and scorned and executed for doing so, but he even loved the ones who mistreated and executed him. He asked they be forgiven.
God responded by loving Jesus back – and being IN Jesus– even though the most powerful human institution hated, rejected criminalized and executed him. Love prevailed. Good prevailed. Love wins on Easter. Good wins on Easter. The power of Easter is pure love, it is pure good. God is love. God is good. All the time. It’s not a so-called tough love or a good that punishes or sacrifices humans or a Son of Man or a Son of God to get results. It’s unadulterated, pure love. It’s good. Jesus on the cross, with great pain, humility and complete rejection by Rome was utterly loved by God, as were his disciples . . and his abusers. And on that cross, Jesus– being brutalized– utterly loved us and God and his disciples. . . AND his persecutors. In life and death Jesus loved everyone, and we have none of us ever been the same since. That is good stuff, God stuff!
After his death Jesus continues to love everyone. That is amazing! Easter is about the miraculous amazing end of the story which resulted from Jesus’ execution, sacrifice, and death– and most importantly his love though it all. These things– which the worldly powers tends to think of as weaknesses– ARE turned on their head and made everlasting strengths by God. They are so powerful they lead to Jesus’ resurrection; which in turn leads others (even now) to his Way of new life, of love for all. Easter is about unqualified love. It is about good for all.
Regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality or enemy status we are loved, our well being is desired and acted upon. Easter means that however God made us, whatever situation we are in; even in our darkest hours; even when are on a cross; even when we feel forsaken; even when we are wrongdoers; even in death; even in a pandemic of epic proportions God is good ALL the time . . . and SO loves us. That’s the good news, that’s the GOD news.
Christians do not have the only way to Empire of God, but we do have a Way. Jesus’ Way that saves us from our lesser selves. At Easter we celebrate that Way and the transformation to our better selves we find through it. On Easter we give thanks for that; and love God and Jesus back. A common way Christians understand this is that while Jesus died, he now lives.
Christ’s resurrection is clothed in mystery; and has been since that first Easter. Jesus was killed to stamp out his life and his cause. Yet both live on to this day. From Easter onward Jesus has a new existence. It is a good existence. He can no longer experience death. He is no longer confined by time or space. He lives on vibrating through history positively affecting lives throughout humanity. That is a new kind of existence beyond ordinary humanness, it IS a resurrection.
The actual state of Jesus’ body is not what matters, it is the state of his BEING that is resurrected, that is risen, risen indeed. What matters is that Jesus lives on after his death in a new kind of existence, that can transform lives. After his death Jesus experienced as staying and walking with and speaking with his followers. Jesus did that the first Easter morn . . . and he has done that to this today. On Easter we remember and celebrate that.
We experience Christ today not only in Biblical texts, but in varied and deeply personal encounters, including in the church. Churches have been known shortly after the first Easter as the Body of Christ in the post-Easter world. And here is the thing, Good-ness, God-soaked experiences, are the common thread in all of the Jesus stories, those in the Bible and, those we know from personal experiences, those that continue on in communities gathered in his name, just as we are this glorious Easter morning– gathered as the Body of Christ on line.
Jesus embodies love and goodness –God-ness– in both the pre-Easter and the post-Easter experiences. Any way we look at the meaning of his stories, of his resurrection, of Easter itself, Jesus provides an everlasting Way to connect us with God. The God who is love. The God who is good, all the time. And all the time . . . IS good ! AMEN.

* This sermon is based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2009.