How beautiful the feet

6 minute read

I don’t know about you, but I am frequently taken aback when I watch the news. Not particularly at the headlines. I’m talking about the presentation. I’m talking about the 3D presentations. About the maps where we zoom in on troubled regions of the world. About all kinds of graphics and sound effects. And not only that, but the universally attractive people reading the news as well. No doubt they spend hour upon hour getting made up for their daily appearance.

And this is true in our newspapers as well. And on websites, for that matter. And even on the radio. We don’t get the news, plain and simple. We get it filtered through layers of flashy decoration.

I think this says something about how our society likes to receive information. The presentation is about as important as the message.

Now, if you have been on Facebook or Twitter recently, you will have seen something called the ‘ice bucket challenge’. This is where you take a video of yourself pouring a bucket of iced water over your head, then post it online, and challenge some friends to do the same. You then donate money to a charity doing research into motor neurone disease. This is excellent, in a way, because it’s raised a lot of money, but it seems to me a bit sad as well. Why should we donate money because a clever marketing campaign has caught our attention? The presentation of the ice bucket challenge is so much more important than the message. Some people who take part hardly remember what the charity they’re supposedly supporting does.

So today’s society likes presentation. We like those who give us messages and news to do so in a convincing way. We like to think that they are trustworthy. We like them to be well presented, well made-up.

Which leads us on to this evening’s readings. In our first lesson, from the second book of the Kings, we hear of the siege of Samaria by the king of Aram. The siege is so severe that a quarter of a kab of dove’s dung was sold for five shekels of silver. (That’s about £25 for half a pint, according to the internet, which is more than I’d pay for some dove’s dung.) Five lepers outside the city gate decide to defect to the Arameans, because they’d rather be killed by them than die of starvation. They find the enemy’s camp abandoned, so they eat and drink and steal silver and gold. Then they go back for a second helping.

And then they get a pang of conscience, and go and tell therest of the city what’s happened. And, unsurprisingly, they aren’t believed. Well, you wouldn’t, would you? This extraordinary, ridiculously good news has been told to them by the most unpresentable bunch of men imaginable. They are lepers, so they are social outcasts. They’re thieves. And they’re currently drunk. Why on earth would you believe them?

And these are the people bringing the good news of the salvation of the city at the hands of God.

As the psalmist says, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’

In our second lesson, we heard of the apostle Paul preaching in Corinth. Now, I don’t want to dwell on what he was doing in Corinth today—that can wait for another sermon. But it is worth reflecting upon what an unlikely character Paul is to be preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. This is a man, remember, who persecuted the church ferociously. He supervised the stoning of Stephen. As he himself said, no one could have accused him of a lack of zeal in persecuting the Church.

And yet he is one of the greatest of all the apostles. He, perhaps more than anyone else, shaped the Church of the first century. And the persecutor ultimately became the persecuted, as he was martyred in Rome.

This is a constant theme. How unlikely are those who bring the good news!

Take Peter, the prince of the apostles. He may have declared, ‘You are the Christ’, but seconds later Jesus called him ‘Satan’. He denied his Lord three times, on the worst night of his life.

Or Mary Magdalene. She was the first witness to the resurrected Christ. She was the apostle to the apostles. She brought the best news of the whole of human history. And yet she was an outcast. Perhaps she was a prostitute, perhaps she wasn’t, but she certainly suffered from demonic possession.

‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’

We should pay attention to this. We often expect the good news of Christianity to come to us from ‘nice’ people. But in tonight’s lessons, as in so much of the Bible and the Church’s tradition, we see God’s preference for the outcast and the poor and the disadvantaged. He doesn’t bring us the good news through the obvious routes. We have to be listening constantly for the voice of God, even in unlikely places. We are constantly hearing the good news again and again, in new ways and with new accents.

This is difficult in the life of the Church. Our mission is to proclaim Christ to the world. We are called to be messengers who announce peace, bring good news and announce salvation.

So we are to be heralds. And at the same time, we are called to be listening. We live constantly torn in two directions: listening and prolaiming. We are constantly receiving the good news, and we are constantly proclaiming it.

How on earth are we meant to do that? How do we say ‘we believe X’, if we are going to say ‘we believe Y’ ten minutes later? How do we stop ourselves from being incoherent?

Well, I think we should avoid thinking about our proclamation as a set of principles. It isn’t. We have our creeds and our dogmas, but they aren’t the object of our faith. Ultimately, I don’t believe in the Nicene Creed. I believe in Christ and I believe in the redemption that he works. I believe in a historical event that has continuing significance. It doesn’t work itself out in the obvious way, but it changes everything. It’s not just open to the nice people, the obvious people, but to everyone. Because God brings his good news through the unlikeliest of people.

When we proclaim the good news, then, we have to be humble. We are calling people to join us on a journey that isn’t planned ahead. We don’t know the route, even if we do know our ultimate destination. ‘Come and join us,’ we say. ‘Come and see. Come and join the community of unlikely people who have been redeemed. Come and join this absurd, paradoxical community.’

It’s not about principles. It’s not about words. It’s about people and redemption and hope and joy and love.

‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’