Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sermon, Proper 6A, Matthew 9:35 - 10:23

Pop quiz: the topic of last week's sermon was . . . what?

The correct answer would be, "Invitation."

Jesus invited Mathew to follow him. He invites all people to be a part of the kingdom of God. We also invite people to join us on our journey. And we also invite people to participate in the kingdom of God.

Invitation is another word for evangelism. And, like it or not, we are evangelists. Unfortunately, that word, evangelist, has been hijacked by people on TV with slicked-back hair, thousand-dollar suits, gold gilt sets and elaborate stage productions. It is time for us to take back that word. It is time for us to see ourselves as disciples of Christ and evangelists for the kingdom.

One of the doctrines of Christianity is that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Jesus' vision and mission was to spread the good news of the kingdom; but there was no way that Jesus the man could spread the good news to all the people in the area by himself. So he did what all great leaders do, he delegated.

He saw the crowds and had compassion on them and sent out the twelve. He sent out his disciples as evangelists and gave them the authority to accomplish his mission. After tell them where to go, the first mandate he gives them is to proclaim the good news. They don't have to perform great miracles; they can, but they don't have to. But what they must do is proclaim and offer visible acts of compassion.

They are not to beat people over the head with their Scoffield Reference Bibles, but are to invite them to listen. If people won't listen, so be it. But that is their choice. And people can't choose if they aren't invited.

He also tells them that it won't be easy. They are being sent out like sheep into a pack of wolves. They will be beaten, persecuted, tried and convicted. Part of that is because the good news of the kingdom of heaven isn't a popular theme with the world. The world doesn't want to hear that it needs a Savior.

The other part of that is the simple fact that it's not easy to evangelize in your home town. The people who know us best are usually the same people we have trouble inviting to church or talking to about the kingdom of God. Because of that familiarity, we are sometimes afraid of their reaction.

But evangelism is more than inviting people to church or proclaiming the good news. That is the first step, as our mission statement and Jesus' mandate today confirm. Evangelism, however, also requires visible acts of compassion. On a large scale, it's why we help fund the medical mission trip to Belize, or why we collect money for ERD work after natural disasters. On a diocesan level, it's why we collect quilts for Grace Camp and offer scholarships to Camp Marshall. And on the parish level, it's why we participate in the food bank, host travelers and collect money for the discretionary account, among other things.

Evangelism encompasses the acts of invitation, proclamation, and compassion. Evangelism is carried out by disciples on behalf of Jesus with delegated authority. Evangelism is the act of reflecting Jesus' compassion for others.

I want to touch on that "delegated authority" bit for a minute. Note that the disciples were given the authority to do everything Jesus has done. They are given authority to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. Pretty powerful stuff. These acts, in their day, were visible acts of compassion. As disciples, we are also given authority to do everything Jesus does. What visible acts of compassion are we called to perform?

Also note who was given the authority to do all these things: Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, and the rest -- including Judas Iscariot. All twelve disciples were given authority by Jesus to do his works. What does that tell us? It tells us that even those people we think reprehensible have the ability to do good for Christ.

We call ourselves Christians. We claim to follow Jesus. If we truly believe that, then we should see ourselves as disciples -- as disciples called to be evangelists where we proclaim the kingdom of God and have the authority to perform visible acts of compassion on behalf of Christ to a sin-sick and hurting world.

Evangelism isn't easy, particularly in our home towns. But nobody said being a disciple was going to be easy, least of all Jesus.

We have been commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the good news and to offer visible acts of compassion. Our task it to make that not just a vision for a better future, but to make it a present reality.


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