July 07, 2019

Proper 9 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

I’ve been here just over a year now, and there are still a lot of cultural things that I’m still…let’s say ‘acclimating’ too.  I think one that still continues to catch me off guard is the ever present question when meeting someone for the first time, “and do you have a church home?”  Now of course I only get asked that if I’m not in collar, and most often it’s been by the kindly Baptists knocking on my apartment door while they canvas the complex.  I used to wonder why it was only the Baptists came to my door until I found out my neighbor told the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I was a priest with a theological degree.  Needless to say they don’t ever come upstairs to knock on my door.  But that question about church home…  Well, where I’m from that’s about as rude as asking who you voted for in the last election.  It’s just not something you talk about in polite company.  I mean, that’s assuming I go to church at all.  While that question, asked so boldly, yet innocently, still makes me pause, maybe there’s something we polite Anglicans can learn from an interaction like that.

Sometimes I wonder how we reconcile the things Jesus tells us to do with the way we end up living our lives anyway.  I realize that there are nearly two thousand years between then and now, and that Christianity itself has gone through many cultural changes.  The most impactful in the West, of course, is the shift into Imperial religion once Rome decided to co-opt the faith.  In the Gospel reading today, it seems clear, once again, that Jesus is instructing his followers in their work.  Go out in pairs, don’t take a sack to accumulate any wealth, don’t take any extra clothing or food.  Rely on the hospitality of others to survive.  Violate the purity laws around food if you have to because you might be served something to eat you would think is unclean.  Don’t try to improve your situation by moving from house to house.  And do all of this because you are going out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here.  Cure the sick.  Cast out demons, and don’t think better of yourself for doing this.  It’s God working through you.

Jesus doesn’t really make it clear whether or not I can take my cell phone.  I might need it…you know for emails or something.  And…maybe this doesn’t all really apply in the same way anymore because look how dangerous the world is out there.  Talking religion isn’t really appropriate either if you’re being country club polite.  “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.”  Or maybe it’s not supposed to be easy or comfortable to follow Jesus, but he does provide instruction on how to do it.  Saint Francis of Assisi took these words very deeply to heart, and founded a religious order based in what became known as a mendicant lifestyle.  Not owning any property, wandering from village to village, relying on the hospitality of others, and above all else proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Even by the time St. Francis was an old man, the community he founded had setup houses, established themselves, and looked very different than what he had planned.

At least as far as living in this country very few people choose to live in the way Jesus sends out these seventy.  I certainly don’t.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an Episcopal clergyperson living this way.  So I won’t stand up here and tell you that if you don’t abide by this to the letter, you have failed.  It would be wrong of pretty much anyone to proclaim that.  Our task with scripture is to find ways this can affect our lives in the here and now, because whether we like it or not, context still matters a great deal. 

Jesus is calling his followers to go out and evangelize.  I realize that there are fewer words in the Episcopal lexicon that incite more fear and loathing, but I’m not saying that we all need to evangelize in the same ways.  There is a saying, “A Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.”  Now usually this quote is attributed to Martin Luther, though there is no evidence he actually said it.  It is often used to dictate a Protestant work ethic that God delights in hard work.  But what if we hear that phrase again in the context of evangelism?  Is it a great act of evangelism to put little crosses on those shoes or to care about the quality of the work you do for others?  Evangelism can be as aggressive as showing up on people’s doorsteps, but it can be as simple as offering a smile and a ‘good morning’ to those whom other people will pass by without even a glance.

Evangelism is all about carrying the message of the Risen Christ to a world that needs to know there is something better.  There is so much darkness, suffering, blatant evil chipping away at the hope of good people.  And Christ answers, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”  Jesus sent out the seventy to the places he intended to go.  This comes while Jesus has already turned toward Jerusalem.  He knows that the end is near in his ministry, and it is just the beginning for his followers.  He is sending them out to the places that he doesn’t have the time to get to before he has to go up to the cross and fulfill the Law once and for all. 

So how do you evangelize in your life?  I’m not going to tell you to hit the road, leave everything behind, and start knocking on doors.  In this part of the state, showing up uninvited in some places will get you shot.  But there are ways each of us can step outside of our comfort zone and begin to proclaim the good news a little more than we did yesterday.  So what if everyone around here already knows who Jesus is?  Do they know that they are saved by God’s love?  Do they know that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world?  Like the ripples that continue out from a small pebble thrown into the lake, the effects we can have on someone’s life just by sharing our faith with them can grow quite large.  Jesus calls us into the world to proclaim the Good News.  We are the laborers in that great harvest he speaks of, and every day presents new opportunities to step out onto the field.