Psalm 126 says:
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
But some who sow in tears never reap. Some who go out weeping return weeping, without sheaves, or never return; and some never go out, having no seed to sow.
My wife told me yesterday about parents in famine-stricken parts of Africa now who are giving their children sedatives to stop their crying in hunger, because they have no food to give them.
A psalm like this (Psalm 126) is not a flat claim that everything always works out well for everyone. Not even for everyone who speaks of or to the Lord. Written or read like that, such a psalm would be a cruel, stupid lie; it would be a weak opiate for weaker-minded people.
But it is not that. It is not about delusion (for those in trouble), or about complacency (for those who hear about the cries of those in trouble).
It is about remembering: remembering a time in the past when the Lord did something so unexpected and wonderful for us that we could hardly believe it and were flooded with joy.
It is about believing that the Lord is willing and able to do something wonderful again and praying, hoping, and vividly imagining that it will be so.
And not just praying, hoping, and imagining, “like those who dream,” but firmly trusting that it will be so—either in the visible and palpable physical realities of this life, or beyond.
The evangelistic imperative is not, as many of us were told, about getting those starving children and their parents to say a “sinner’s prayer” before they die because otherwise God Will damn then to an eternity of suffering in hell. Many of us abandoned evangelism when we matured sufficiently to be able to throw off that hideous blasphemy as the sick nightmare of minds that never accepted fully the teaching that God is love.
The evangelistic imperative, rather, is twofold.
Either way, it begins with recognizing that in the life and death of Jesus, God did something unexpected and wonderful: God came to dwell among us in fully human form, and taught and healed in ways that clarify and correct our understanding of the scriptures of Israel, and of every other pattern of thought and life, in the direction of better understanding and imitation of the God who is love. And God suffered and died among us in a way that sums up and draws into God’s own heart the pain and suffering of all who suffer and die without seeing in this life any divinely engineered reversal of their pain. And it—the evangelistic imperative, the necessity of spreading the good news of Jesus—is sealed, finally, by the story that this Jesus who lived and died also rose to life again, and still lives, and is rightly called Lord—and even “LORD,” the divine proper name of God invoked in this psalm.
Twofold: First, the imperative is to imitate the self-giving goodness of Jesus by doing everything possible and beyond apparent possibility to relieve the suffering of the world around us. What can I do, where can I go, what can I give, to bring sheaves of life-saving grain to those starving children and their parents, and to enable them in the future to sow and reap and rejoice in this life? What careers can our young people pursue that will beat back the darkness and extend peace and well-being in our world?
Second (or first!—never mind the order), the imperative is to tell the story of Jesus to the whole world in order to persuade everyone that God is love, and has done something wonderful in the past, and can be relied upon to do something wonderful in the end, so that it is right and good in this life always to hope, and to go forth bearing precious seed even when we must do so weeping. The imperative is to tell that story so well that those who have no seed to carry out will know that Jesus, who is Lord and Love, is their companion in their suffering, and that even if their suffering and weeping continues to the point of death, for themselves and their children, they can know that the resurrection of Jesus entails life beyond death also for them.
In short, the gospel imperative is to enable all to live in hope that is not delusion, to laugh not in folly but with joy, and to die in the knowledge that they will, in that joy, arrive finally at home.
What is the good news for you and me today? And what does the good-news imperative require of you and me today, and tomorrow, and in the ordering of the rest of our life?
May the Lord fill your mouth with laughter and your heart with hope and trust.