A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Pentecost 3 ~ Matthew 9:35-10:14 (MSG)
It starts with Jesus in motion – con moto – travelling around a circuit of towns and villages. It says he shared the good news, taught about spirituality, and brought healing and wholeness wherever he went. His ministry was clearly drawing crowds, which means we can say that it was effective at reaching people, and apparently they liked what they heard. But it also says that those crowds were filled with hurting people.
Matthew 9:36 When Jesus looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd.
Making your way in life can be hard, especially if you’re lacking some inspiration and direction. It was true back then, and it’s true today.
So Jesus surveys the situation and mutters under his breath, “There’s so much need – and so few people willing to help.” So he prays for strength, and conviction, and direction, and his prayer is answered with an inspired plan. He has a group of devoted followers – it’s time to send them into the world to love like he loves. First though, we get their names – and perhaps it surprised you as you heard the names that there were a couple that you didn’t know. I mean, Bartholomew and Thaddeus don’t get near the attention that Peter, James, and John do. Perhaps Bartholomew and Thaddeus were the prototypical United Church members – out there loving their hearts out, but doing it quietly, and humbly, and not generating a lot of press? 😊
So, out Jesus sends them, but not without training and guidance. The first thing he says is where not to go. Don’t go to some far off land, and don’t try to tackle some monster injustice. Start in your own neighbourhoods, with people you’re already in relationship with, or at least have some things in common with.
Matthew 10:6 Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. In other words, there’s enough hurt and need close by – you don’t have to go far to find people and situations that need some loving-kindness.
And when you go – con moto – with motion – what do you do? You hit them with the E-Word! (Gasp!) Yes! Jesus says directly that we’re supposed to evangelize people. However, somehow, even though Jesus gives crystal clear instructions on what to say and do, Christians over the centuries have managed to ignore his crystal clear instructions and instead have done a ton of harm. Jesus says, “Go and love!” Somehow Christians heard, “Go and be a jerk.” Today we’re trying to change that!
Let’s start with what evangelism ISN’T! Here are some incorrect definitions of Evangelism (borrowed from a website called Engage 360 – which, truth be told, I probably disagree with about evangelism, but this first part is really good).
Evangelism: the process of telling people everything they believe is wrong. Synonym: being rude to your friends.
Evangelism: awkwardly trying to sneak a Bible verse into a conversation. Synonym: being a poor conversationalist.
Evangelism: knocking on doors, holding the largest Bible you can find, and being told to leave. Synonym: feeling like a salesman.
Evangelism: something that other people do by their words, and which I can do by my actions alone. Synonym: not doing evangelism.
My thinking has recently evolved on this, so I’d like to refine our understanding of what evangelism really is, or should be. Evangelism, in my view, has suffered from being confused with 2 things, one bad and one good, neither of which, I think, are really evangelism. How’s that for a brain twister?!
The 2 things it has generally been thought to be are: proselytizing and advertising.
The proselytizing part is very bad – coercive, rude, privileged, arrogant, unloving, and un-Jesus-y.
The advertising part is actually very good – it’s just not evangelism. It’s advertising. They’re different things. Should we be finding new and creative ways to explain to people why Faith United is a warm and wonderful place, where they could nurture their spirituality, and deepen their sense of joy, peace, kindness, compassion, justice, and love? Yes, we should! Absolutely! We should be marketing, and advertising, and doing all sorts of things to let people know about us, and encourage them to join with us and numerically grow this Community of Faith, because this is a very wonderful community that loves God, loves people, and loves one another. Love, love, love! Yes! Let’s advertise!
However, advertising is not really evangelizing. Literally, to evangelize means to share good news. We could debate all day what exactly constitutes the ‘good news’ that the bible alludes to, but I think I can solve that argument by just asking Jesus to weigh in. Always best to go to the source, right?
So what is evangelizing? Here’s where I am today. Evangelism is exactly what Jesus said it was. And he says it in crystal clear terms in Matthew 10:7-8 Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
Tell them that the kingdom is here. In other words – start with “Surely, God is in this place!” And then love them – in whatever way helps move them toward wholeness and peace of heart. You can’t do that unless you have some kind of relationship – otherwise you’re just bringing your own agenda, and we’re back to proselytizing.
Here’s another way to think about it. In the end it comes down to the why. Other than “Jesus commands it” and my preacher guy keeps blathering on about it – why are we doing this? What was Jesus’ motivation to send out the 12 to evangelize? What was his goal or purpose?
- To get the people to join his movement and follow him around – leaving their jobs and join his merry band?
- To get the people to start up a franchise church in their neighbourhood?
- To solicit donations to fund their travelling, itinerant ministry?
No, no, and not even a little! He created ‘followers of his WAY’, his way of loving-kindness, NOT necessarily literal, physical followers of him. Our models of evangelism just about ALL smack of an underlying sales pitch to join OUR church – oh, for the best of reasons (surely not just to do the work and pay the bills, but to grow with us and journey with us) – but that is still, at its heart, more than a little self-serving. Again, advertising is good – but it’s not evangelism.
Could you, would you, evangelize if the person you were talking to was guaranteed never to join our church or send a penny? What if they took our evangelistic effort and went to some other church (even one you didn’t care for much)? How would you feel? What if they took our sharing of love and just simply became more loving and compassionate in their life?
What’s your motivation? If your evangelistic motivation is to prove everyone else’s belief system is flawed, and that you know the only acceptable, true, and right way to live, then primarily you’re not about loving, you’re about being right. That’s a power and control move – not a movement of love. Love gives and demands nothing in return. Matthew 10:8 You received without payment; give without payment.
Also, if your evangelistic motivation is to grow your church, which is how we usually frame it – then you’re also not primarily about loving – you’re about building up a really good expression of mutuality in community, and nurturing faith – which are definitely loving things, and deserve to be built up – but if that’s your ‘goal and purpose’ for loving then you’re church-building, you’re advertising, you’re not evangelizing.
Evangelizing is expressing God’s love for the sole purpose of having someone experience God’s love, and hopefully be drawn into God’s love ever more deeply. Evangelism is declaring that surely, God is in this place, and helping someone notice. Full stop.
Now, if they ask more – like about how you came to feel, and know, and live this expression of God’s love – THEN you can switch to advertising! Have I got a place for you! It’s called Faith!
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 God is present – everywhere and always – and knowing and experiencing that means 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.
Evangelism is simply about sharing with people how your own life has been so dramatically transformed (and is transforming), and how your faith has deepened, and how your sense of God’s Presence has so intensified that it feels like every single breath is filling you with spiritual energy, and passion, and peace of heart, and all that together is empowering you to reach out in love and help the people you meet as best you can – for no other purpose than to help them notice, and hopefully embrace some of that love too. That sounds remarkably Jesus-y to me! And that’s what evangelism is. Sharing how your life has been positively impacted by your faith.
Jesus sends his followers out to help people notice Presence, and to help people the best they can. His instructions were to go and build relationships, and share their warmed hearts and changed lives with people. And he says, in a stupendous translation by Peterson, who wrote The Message bible – “You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment.” My friends – YOU are the equipment. Your life is the message. Your noticing of Presence is the good news! Share it. Help. Them. Notice. Too.
The disciples’ 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 the disciples. He says that not everybody is going to be warm to your warmed heart. The NRSV bible says it kind of harshly with the ‘shake the dust off your sandals’ bit – but the Message says it beautifully:
Matthew 10:13-14 If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.
Love never coerces or forces.
Love can only love.
I always joke about how evangelism is a grandparent showing pictures of a new grandkid. But Grandma doesn’t force you to look at her pictures! She’d be sad if you didn’t look, but she won’t force you. If only Christians had been more like Grandma over the centuries perhaps today’s sermon would have been a lot different – or not needed at all. But it is – desperately needed. Not because ‘if don’t evangelize the church will die’. Remember, that’s advertising. We need to evangelize because…
When (we) look out at the world today, at our neighbourhoods, at our families, our hearts break. So confused and aimless (so many) are, suffering under the weight of the world, bled dry by the ways of the world, exhausted and harassed and helpless, like sheep with no shepherd.
The world needs us to love them, and to help them see that God’s Presence, God’s Kingdom, really is all around us, and between us, and within us. All of us. Them too. Like the song says (with a tiny edit),
What the world needs now is love, (love), love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, (love), love
Not just for some, but for everyone
(by Hal David and Burt Bacharach)
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Let’s be those workers. Let’s be those lovers. It’s time for us to follow Jesus’ teaching, and live the E-Word con moto, with motion.
YOU are the equipment. You are the message. You are Christ’s hands and heart. So go forth, and love.