|7 ft lobby Jesus at the hospital where I did my CPE|
The reflexive Lutheran answer that I have to the question of “what is Gospel?” is to immediately say, “a promise, given FOR YOU.” This probably has something to do with the fact that I am currently in Lutheran confessions class, but the idea of what the Gospel is can be summed up using the idea of “because…therefore…” as opposed to “if…then…” The Gospel is a promise received not because of anything that we do, but because of who we are. It is the promise of God fully entering into this broken world and redeeming us all through the death of Jesus Christ.
So what does this mean for communities of faith? I have always considered ministry to be highly contextual, and that my preaching and pastoral care is for a specific person (or people) at a specific time for a specific reason. Context matters. You have to know your people in order to preach to them, and they have to know you in order to hear the Gospel from you. This is the “FOR YOU” essence of the Gospel.
Social media provides an opportunity for us to know one another. I have said before that the Facebook wall posting or quick response to a tweet is essentially the post-modern version of running into someone in a grocery store aisle or in line at the post office. They are quick ways to connect in a community of faith outside the church walls. I think social media is the party telephone line, or small-town café, or general store conversation of the post-modern era.
For me, pastoral authority is derived from relationships with others, it is not something that is bestowed along with a seminary degree or as a result of wearing a clerical collar. In order to preach, provide pastoral care, forgive sins, and preside over the sacraments, one must be in a community and in relationship with other people. This is why Lutheran pastors are only ordained while they are in a specific call, not ordained in perpetuity like some other denominations.
Interpersonal connections are absolutely essential to the body of Christ. The very root of what the Gospel is, Jesus Christ, exists in relationships. The promise of the Gospel is that God became incarnate to dwell among us, to be in relationship with us, that we might be saved from sin, death, suffering, and all misfortune and continues to do so. This is not to say that we will never experience these things, because we absolutely will, but to say that these things will not have the final word in defining us and that we have a God who will bear through them with us, and commands us to bear with one another as well.
This is what we affirm each time that we celebrate the Eucharist. That God is fully present in and among us. This is why the sacraments are communal for Lutherans, that we baptize and provide communion in the presence of one another. Gospel needs community and the community needs the Gospel.