A Homily for Proper 9, Year C
Lectionary Texts (Track 2)
As daring as it is for an Episcopalian like me to do, I’m going to start out this sermon letting you know that today, we’re going to have a little talk together about Evangelism.
Now, I truly understand the discomfort when we hear the “E” word, because I have experienced that discomfort myself. Evangelism has sometimes gotten a bad reputation from those who have tied it to judgement, worthiness, or an imposed desire to have people act and think “just like us.” And yet, the sharing of the Good News is the basis of our faith. Today’s Gospel’s lesson offers us a beautiful example of what true evangelism looks like. So, I’m going to ask you…especially the Episcopalians…to set aside your fears and our preconceived notions about evangelism. I’d like us instead to approach this passage with a fresh set of ears, and an open heart. There are lessons deeply embedded in the Gospel we just heard that have helped me recreate the meaning of Evangelism in my own life and, I believe, help all of us become a living and thriving Church in the world today.
Let’s start with a bit of a prelude: the portion of Luke we read today comes after Jesus’ original charge to his closest followers, the twelve disciples. In the 9th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the twelve are literally sent off, ἀπέστειλεν (from which we derive the terms both “postal” and “apostle”). The twelve are given a specific charge: to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal They are charged to act on Jesus’ behalf with the same set of instructions: take nothing with you, stay where you are welcomed, shake the dust off your feet when you’re not. They went forth to heal the sick and to evangelize, to share the Good News. In the passage we read today in Chapter 10, Jesus reaches out again to a larger group: the seventy (or depending on the translation, the “72”). Jesus gathers them with a prayer, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus sends out this group before him to the places Jesus intends to go. The seventy are not just “sent out”…they are sent out ahead, πρὸ προσώπου, literally “before the face” in the same usage that John the Baptist was described as the one sent to make the way for Jesus. They were, in a word, sent out to be the face of Jesus for the world.
Being the face of Jesus for the world. That is a whole new take on evangelism.
Jesus goes on to offer traveling mercies for those he sends. There is wisdom in these instructions that is worthy of our reflection, too, as followers of Christ in this world. Like any good professor is trained to do, I’ve distilled these into six key points for your consideration:
Share the journey; don’t go it alone. Jesus isn’t worried about a workforce supply issue when he talks about laborers for his harvest; he realizes what it truly takes to yield a harvest. He begins with prayer, and advises them to continue in the company of each other. When Jesus sends his followers out in pairs, it tangibly demonstrates that we are stronger when the journey is shared. This also means that everything that is accomplished on the journey is shared, both joys and sorrows; successes and failures. It is never about me or you…it is always about us.
Leave your baggage at home. We become weighted down by the things we feel we must bring with us. While the Gospel speaks of the material possessions often carried at that time, these still represent the material cares which can preoccupy us, and draw us away from the mission: money, possessions, self-protection. When we insist on carrying all our own baggage, not only are we weighted down but we cling to a false sense of security by thinking we must supply all that we need. This is also true when we insist on carrying our emotional baggage. We always end up lacking the one thing Jesus names as our true possession: Peace.
And thus begins the next set of instructions about what to share and how to receive:
Peace is what we are given; peace is what we give. The instruction is to convey peace, which implies we have peace. If even one person receives peace, the gift is shared with the whole household. This isn’t a magic formula: this is how peace works. Peace flourishes when it is shared; Peace given freely releases the love of Christ to transform a weary world. Peace was and is Christ’s gift to us and it will keep spreading to others as often as we share it.
Relate rather than retaliate. Jesus reminds those he sends not to bounce around from place to place but to remain steadfast, to foster the kind of relationships where we are mutually nourished, cared for and compensated for our efforts in ways which are fair and just. The economy of God isn’t like the economy of this world. This instruction from Jesus is really an invocation of justice; the in-breaking of the reign of Christ into business as usual in the world. In accepting what we need, in giving freely of what we have, in realizing that we can participate rather than retaliate: we are doing the work we are called to do and participating in God’s working in the world. The rest falls away, shaken off like dust.
And once we relate rather than retaliate, we are free to step into the next iteration of call:
Offer hope and healing. This is the heart of what we are called to do. It is the fundamental call of each and every follower of Christ. We aren’t asked to convict, convince or convert. We are instructed to offer the hope and healing of Christ; this is the face of Christ that we show to the world. A quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi conveys the essence of this instruction very well: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.”
And finally, the instruction in which lies our own hope, and the foundation of our faith:
Acknowledge the nearness of God in all things, in all situations, and to all people. The nearness of God is not dependent upon how we are received, or even in how we ourselves receive the Good News. Christ is near; Christ reigns in all things. This is true when we are welcomed and embraced with open arms, or when we are rejected and brush the dust off our feet and go on our way. God’s presence is not dependent upon anything we do, or even anything that others do. In all people, in all responses, in all situations the instruction is the same: remind those we meet that God is near. We are, after all, the face of Christ. And when we are steadfast in our recognition of God with us, then God is made known in our very being.
This story of evangelism isn’t about what we do to convince others or even about what we accomplish in commanding the forces of evil in this world to back down. These things will happen because God has this, and God is with us. Jesus reminds those he sends about that which is truly important: knowing where and to whom we belong. We belong to God.
This, my friends, is what it truly means to be an evangelist, to be the “first face” of Christ and to share the Good News with a hurting world. Our charge today is to live fully into this call: go forth and be the face of Christ: together, without burden, in peace, with justice and always with the knowledge that God is near; indeed so near that we can know God’s very presence in our hearts, in our words, and in each other.