210704 – Two By Two

Yr B ~ Pentecost 6 ~ Mark 6:1-13

It’s worship day, and Jesus finds himself back in his hometown. So he goes to the local synagogue – to what amounts to his home church – and he begins to teach. It says that many who heard him were ‘astounded’. But it’s not the good kind of astounded. It’s more like they’re shocked or mortified. I kinda get it. I mean, I love y’all, but if one of you went away for a while and then popped back in on a Sunday morning, and walked up to this spot, and looked into the camera, and started preaching, well, I’d be a little ‘astounded’ too!

Their complaints amount to “That’s Jesus. Joe and Mary’s kid. Who does he think he is?”
And Jesus responds, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
In other words, Jesus is saying that it’s hard to talk to your family about religion!
Hands up all those who agree.

But that’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about today, and for the next two Sundays. I’m doing a sermon series on the E-word – yes, evangelism. My goal is to change that queasy feeling you just got when I said that word, and have you embrace it. That’s a tall order when for a lot of folks the E-bomb may as well be the F-bomb! For the series I’ll be drawing extensively on a fantastic book by Martha Grace Reese called Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism.

Let’s start at the beginning. We all know the E-word, but what does it actually mean?
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘sharing/spreading the gospel’.
Hmm. What does ‘gospel’ mean? We call those 4 books in the bible the gospels, is that it? Nope.
Gospel means ‘good news’. So it’s about sharing the good news!
What good news?
And here’s where we stub our toes.

When I say ‘evangelism’ the type that probably comes to mind is a theological one – and it advances a certain theological interpretation that is not necessarily cut and dried – even though the people doing that kind of evangelism try to say it is. They would tend to say “the good news about what Jesus did for us on the cross.” And instantly we’re in a theological tussle and trying to convince somebody that our position is the right one.
Friends, that kind of E-bomb is an F-bomb!
And it’s absolutely the worst and least effective form of evangelism there is.

So if I don’t mean that, what do I mean?
Effective evangelism is really only about one thing: YOU.
Your life.
Specifically, it’s about how your life is positively impacted by your faith. The ‘good news’ is that your life feels better because of your faith than it would without your faith. You don’t have to know anything about theology, or liturgy, or psychology, or any other –gy – you only have to know about your own self. And for most of us that’s our favourite subject!

What do you think Jesus was teaching that day in the synagogue? Was he schooling them in the finer points of theology, or debating their understanding of scripture interpretation and atonement? Not very likely.

Or was he maybe sharing with them how his own life had been so dramatically changed, and how his faith had deepened, and how his sense of God’s Presence had so intensified that it felt like every single breath was filling him with spiritual energy, and passion, and peace of heart, and empowering him to reach out in love and help the people he met as best he could?
That sounds like Jesus to me! And that’s what evangelism is. Sharing how your life has been positively impacted by your faith.

Before he was famous, John Wesley was becoming disillusioned in his work as a preacher. He wasn’t feeling it. He was going through the motions. One night he reluctantly attended a worship service, and something about it stirred an awakening within him. He described it as having his ‘heart strangely warmed’. It changed his life, and inspired him to become the great church man we now know about.

His heart was strangely warmed. It wasn’t a lightning bolt, there were no angel choirs, he wasn’t miraculously healed, or saved from rock bottom. His heart was simply warmed. It probably built up gradually over time and that night something made it become more real for him. He had a deep spiritual experience. And it changed him – and stayed with him.

A deep, spiritual experience is the warm heart of evangelism. That sense that my experience of God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit is really real – that it’s alive, and energizing. That sense that this faith stuff isn’t just something I do, or some place I go or tune-in once a week – but that it’s meaningful, and purposeful – that it makes a difference in me, that it matters.
That’s where evangelism starts – in a strangely warmed heart.

The second key aspect of evangelism is having a great church experience – being part of a vibrant community of faith that you love, that nurtures you, that encourages you to grow deeper, that supports you, that offers you ways to express your faith in actions and ministries.
I sincerely hope I’ve just described your relationship with Faith United.

I’ve never met a solo Christian. To be Christian is to be in relationships – to love. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? To be Christian, to be a follower of the Way of Jesus, is to love, love, love – to love God (that’s the warm heart part), to love people (I’m going to get to that next), and to love one another (that’s the vibrant church part).

I always make the joke that evangelism is like a grandparent.
Just try to get a grandparent to not show you pictures of their grandkid!
Their hearts are full, and they want to share their joy.
They can’t help themselves.

Now, to whom are those grandparents showing their pictures? Are they likely to walk up to a stranger in the grocery store, whip out their photos, and start bragging? I doubt it. But we have this stereotype of evangelism being about clubbing strangers over the head with our bibles until they submit to Ja-eez-us. Doesn’t sound like love to me. No, you show your pictures, you share your joy, with people you know – people you’re in a relationship with.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a gushing grandparent? What do you do? You smile, and you receive their joy.
And while you’re not likely to leave the encounter and rush out to make yourself a grandparent (a bizarre thought) you are likely to leave the encounter feeling a bit of their joy and enthusiasm lingering.
And if you’re not already a grandparent you’re probably going to remember their joy the next time you find yourself thinking about kids or grandkids. Grandparenting equals joy.
That’s evangelism – sharing something about how your life feels better than before, and having the other person get a sense of why that is.

A person with a warmed heart, nurtured in a vibrant church, encountering someone they have some kind of relationship with, and somehow sharing a sense of the benefit of it all.
But unlike grandparenting there is an implicit, and sometimes explicit, invitation to ‘join the team’. Not because their immortal soul is in peril, and not because the church needs more financial givers or kitchen help – but because you know how much more wonderful your life feels because of your faith and you want them to feel that for themselves. That’s evangelism.

Mark 6:7-9 from The Message – Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out two by two. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment.”

Let’s tie this together.
Jesus and his disciples travelled around, but just because they didn’t have a bricks and mortar home doesn’t mean they weren’t a church. They were the church. Presumably, hanging out with Jesus 24/7 would produce a pretty warm heart in a person – and their ministry together was clearly vibrant and supportive. You can tell by the crowds they were drawing.

Jesus sends them out two by two – he was sending them out as a ‘church’. His instructions were to go and build relationships and share their warmed hearts and changed lives with people. “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment.” Their purpose wasn’t to make the 12 into the 1200 – their purpose was to share their joy so that the people they were in relationship with might be drawn to God, feel God’s Presence more powerfully, and have their lives feel better too. I say this all the time: the greatest love you can give someone is to help draw them into a deeper love of God, and then God and them can figure it out together.

And then Jesus lays a little hard reality on them. He says that not everybody is going to be warm to your warmed heart. Even Jesus had a hard time sharing his in that synagogue that day. The NRSV bible says it kind of harshly with the ‘shake the dust off your sandals’ bit – but the Message says it beautifully:
Mark 6:11 “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

Grandma doesn’t force you to look at her pictures!

What is evangelism?
Martha Grace Reese says it’s “anything you do to help another person move closer to a relationship with God, or into Christian community.”
Evangelism isn’t just conversations – it’s also actions. Loving people is evangelism, if somehow along the way there’s something that links the action with God’s love. Loving them is compassion and care. That’s great. Add in the link to ‘why’ and it becomes evangelism. All those ways you show compassion and care, all those ways you express God’s love that has warmed your heart and made your life feel better, can be evangelism if on some level the idea that you’re doing it as an act of loving faith is communicated.

Mark 6:12-13, again from The Message – Two by two they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.

Communicating with joyful urgency that life can be radically different.
Living out and loving out a different kind of ethic and way of being than the ways of the world are – and showing how this way of love brings wholeness and healing.
Sharing their warm-hearted, community-nurtured joy and peace and genuinely wanting that joy and peace to be felt and embodied by everyone they’re in relationship with – so that everyone can experience warm-heartedness and the loving presence of God in themselves too.

That’s evangelism.

And we don’t necessarily only do it on our own in one-on-one moments.
We do it as a church – two by two, in so many different ways, as ministries of Faith United, in the name of Love – by naming the Love.

Next week we’ll look at some of the challenges to evangelism – and the week after that we’ll look at putting evangelism into action.

A person with a warmed heart, nurtured in a vibrant church, encountering someone they have some kind of relationship with, and somehow sharing a sense of the benefit of it all, and how it’s warmed and nurtured.
If we did that perhaps we wouldn’t have to call it the E-word anymore!

More to come.