Every Monday morning I try to post something on my Facebook page that is really inspirational to help people start the week in a good place. I love the music of John Rutter and this week I posted a magnificent rendition of the composition “For the Beauty of the Earth” sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under this comment: “This is such a magnificent work by John Rutter that it would have been enough if he just stopped after creating it…but I’m awfully glad he didn’t. I hope this helps everyone have a blessed start to their week.”
Shortly after posting it, I received this message from a woman who thanked me for the posting and said how much she loved it and how grateful she was to be able to begin the week with it echoing in her mind. I thanked her in response. A bit later I received another message from her that said:
“Robin: I told my husband about this and he encouraged me to tell you
“This morning, I was sitting in our sun blessed living room enjoying my morning coffee and checking my emails and Facebook on my phone. Up popped your post with the Rutter piece. As I sat singing along, the sun came through a side living room window and blotted out the video but not the music. Suddenly the screen showed a cross, which filled the entire screen, I was momentarily stunned and emotionally moved to tears. How had that crossappeared? I realized that it came from a reflection of a framed print on the wall behind me and as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. It must have just been a peculiar accident.” Shirley.
So here was a woman who had responded to a posting I had made and had been inspired so much by the music and the image of a cross on her phone that it had brought her to tears. And just as quickly as her tears had dried she had rejected the event and chosen to class it as an accident.
And so I responded:
Nothing is an accident. Everything is a gift from God.
Thank you and Blessings”.
And about an hour later I got another message from Shirley that said:
“Robin: I have made two attempts to repeat my experience without success and have decided to accept the gift.”
We had connected we had talked about God in the world Shirley and I had been inspired and that is a great demonstration of what evangelism can be. It is something each of us can do if we are simply aware of God’s work in our lives and are ready to share that news with others.
The Gospel lesson that we just heard read is a continuation of the 10th chapter of Matthew “the Evangelist” that we started last week but the tone of this week’s lesson is much darker. We are at a point in the life of Jesus where he has spoken the parables and demonstrated the miracles that should make it clear who he is and where this story is going but it is almost as if he feels the need to make his message much clearer, much more precise and impossible not to understand. We are at a point in this story where something is going to happen and it is likely going to be dramatic and messy and dangerous. When Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “I send you out like sheep among wolves: be wary as serpents, innocent as doves.” He is clearly trying to tell them that by following him, walking in his footsteps, professing their faith and standing up unwaveringly…the apostles are about to find out that this is a dangerous and difficult task and they could lose their lives for what they profess to believe.
When Jesus says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master, it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” He is telling them bluntly that they (the disciples) will share the teacher’s lot or what ever befalls Jesus will be visited on them as well. They are likely to find themselves in a whole lot of trouble very soon. Jesus knows the punishment he is going to experience and so is warning them of what is to come to them. But the truly important part of what Jesus is telling them in this Gospel and the gift that I think we should take away from today’s lesson is that only God can protect us as he protected his son. Only God can direct us on the path that is best for us and only God can preserve and protect each of our souls. We are children of this ultimate protector and there is no other. Surely this is the message that Jesus was in the process of demonstrating by showing that it was possible to live a life with him and to walk the paths he walked demonstrating the love of God that lead him inexorably toward the cross. And that brings me to how this message has application to our lives today in the church. Episcopalians and the Anglican tradition have never (at least in recent times) had a very positive attitude towards the concept of Evangelism. We shy away from any demonstration of our faith as if we are embarrassed about discussing it with anyone other than someone who has been sitting next to us in the same pew for the last 20 years. And yet that is exactly what the disciples truly were: Evangelists. And they had so much more to lose, their lives, than I think we do in Charleston in the year 2017.
I’m reading an interesting book about Evangelism called “Lifestyle Evangelism: Crossing Traditional Boundaries to Reach the Unbelieving World” by Dr. Joe Aldrich that has a lot of valuable information on Evangelism in our lives. It begins with this story:
“There is a legend which recounts the return of Jesus to glory after his time on earth. Even in heaven, he bore the marks of his earthly pilgrimage with its cruel cross and shameful death. The angel Gabriel approached him and said:
“Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there”.
“I did”, he said
“And,” continued Gabriel; do they know all about how you loved them and what you did for them?
“Oh no” said Jesus, “Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.”
Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what have you done to let everyone know about your love for them?”
Jesus said “I’ve asked Peter, James, John and a few more friends to tell other people about me. Those who are told will in turn tell still other people and my story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of mankind will have heard about my life and what I have done.”
Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He knew well what poor stuff men were made of. “Yes”. He said, “but what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? Haven’t you made any other plans?”
Jesus answered: “I have no other plans. I am counting on them”
Twenty centuries later, he still has no other plan. He is counting on us… In reality, one of the most important things we are asked to do is to be about the business of evangelizing…each and every one of us. In fact our presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls us all to be Evangelists. And here is how he does it…by telling a simple and heartfelt story that can do no less than touch my heart and yours. Perhaps you have heard him tell this story about his Father. If you’ve heard it before…that’s OK. It is so powerful that I think it is worth telling over and over again.
“When my parents met, my mother was an Episcopalian. My father was in seminary and a Baptist preacher. One Sunday, my father decided to go to church with my mother. He had never been inside an Episcopal church. It was an alien world to a person who came from the African-American Baptist tradition. The Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy, the written prayers, the silences, the chanting…all were new. But he later said the most striking difference for him that day was communion. He had never experienced a chalice, the common cup from which everyone drank. That morning my parents were among the few African-Americans in the congregation. This was the 1940’s. Jim Crow was alive and well. Segregation and separation of the races was still the law in much of the land. The armed forces had not yet been integrated. Brown v the Board of Education had not taken place, and it was long before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Martin Luther King Jr. was still in seminary. Still, my father saw on the altar only one cup from which everyone was to drink. My father didn’t feel comfortable going up for communion but when my mother went up, he watched closely. Was the priest really going to give her communion from the common cup? And if he did, was the next person really going to drink from that same cup? And would others drink too, knowing that a black woman had sipped from that cup? He saw the priest offered the cup to the next person at the rail and that person drank. And then the next person, and the next, all down the rail. When my father told the story he would always say: “That’s what brought me to the Episcopal Church. Any church in which black folks and white folks drink out of the same cup knows something about a gospel that I want to be part of.”
So why is it that we find evangelism such an objectionable activity?
I read a piece recently on a blog called New Wineskins that brought this home to me. Even if we are the most introverted of introverts, one of the things we all should be finding a way to do is to bring the Good News of Christ to the world around us the way it was brought to us. (Think back a bit…who was it that went out on a limb…took a chance and brought the good news to you?) After all, the word Gospel translates to “Good News!” Each of us, like Matthew, has a responsibility to make Evangelism an important part of our lives but what stops us, I think, is an aversion to interrupting another’s personal space, of expressing our faith and being afraid of a negative reaction. Plus I think many of us have had a bad experience with someone trying to “save” us. As Dr. Aldrich says in his book: “Unhealthy evangelism models have hurt the evangelism enterprise. Often the artificial and unnatural methodology of some of these models offends us. Gimmicks, pseudo-questionnaires, buttonholing, altar calls, evangelical mugging and the outright rudeness of some witnesses can turn us off and the result is that evangelism has become a much misunderstood term – one that most people either swear by or at.”
Well here is a solution to that problem that I think could help each of us. Instead of talking about our faith…why not BE a living demonstration of it? Listen to what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians:
“My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power!”
Evangelism is something we should BE more than something we should be doing or talking about. It is so important that we try to make the point with what we do in our daily lives that “Born into sin and blemished by infinite imperfections, we have not been excluded from Christ’s love. That God not despite what we are, but because of what he created us to be both nourishes and cherishes us. Isn’t it incredible to think that he cherishes us? That he is always with us and that as the bible says, “even the hairs on our heads are numbered.”
I think true and meaningful evangelism means to replicate and demonstrate the nature of God, his love, righteousness, his faithful and steadfast commitment to care and protect us in everything we do every day. To be joyful, in the face of despair, to be positive in the face of negativity, to be generous in the face of miserliness and to be loving in the face of bigotry and hatred.
So tell a story like Bishop Curry’s…and if you don’t have your own story…tell his or the hundreds of others that can be found in books like his “Crazy Christians” Do this. Be this and we can truly live a life in Christ and be his shining light banishing the darkness in the world. I cannot conceive of a better definition of evangelism and Jesus is still counting on us!