7 Pentecost, Year C
The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6:1-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Brace yourselves: I am about to use a four-letter word. Well, not quite, it actually has ten letters, but in my experience, with most Episcopalians, this word might as well be a four-letter word. And I might even get a little bit less pushback for using an actual four-letter curse word than the one I am about to use.
Okay, are you ready? Are you well-braced? Here it is: EVANGELISM.
I know, I know. It's terrible. It conjures up all kinds of images. A unseemly pushiness. People on the street corner passing out tracts. Tent revivals with a traveling preacher. Questions about whether or not you are "saved" and fear mongering tactics about burning in the fires of hell. It is often tinged with a bit of imperialism or colonialism. And, it often comes hand-in-hand with a particular political agenda.
Here's the thing about the word though: it does not actually mean any of those things. It has been co-opted, and given all of that baggage. Evangelism is simply a Greek word that means "to bring good news."
In our Gospel today, Jesus sends out seventy followers ahead of him in pairs. They are sent to bring good news: the kingdom of God has come near. They are also told to heal the sick as a sign of the presence of the reign of God in their lives. This Gospel passage follows on several others in the preceding chapters in which Jesus directs both the twelve main disciples and other followers to go proclaim this Good News to others. They are sent to be evangelists.
Like the seventy, we are sent to proclaim the Good News, to bring Good News, to do some evangelism. In our baptism, and whenever we renew our baptismal covenant, we promise, with God's help, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. By our baptism, we are evangelists. We are sent into the world to share the Good News.
I bet that makes a lot of us a bit uncomfortable, and some of us very uncomfortable. Talking about evangelism, let alone doing evangelism, is not the polite and proper Episcopal thing to do. We don't do that. But why not? If it is good news, why not share it? If we have found ourselves strengthened, renewed, nourished, uplifted, transformed, loved, forgiven, healed, why not share that with others? If it is good for us, why not share it, in case it is good for someone else?
While we may bristle at the idea of evangelism, I bet many of us here are already evangelists: evangelists for that favorite restaurant, new smartphone app, TV show, movie, politician, recipe, or exercise routine. We rave about the newest tool or device that has made our lives easier. Companies have turned us into excellent evangelists for products, for stuff, for consumption. I just bought a new lawnmower that included five little cards specifically designed to hand out to my friends, each with a reason why this lawnmower is such good news. We tell our friends, we rate on Yelp, we check-in on Facebook. We evangelize about all kinds of things that we found to be good news in our lives, because we are excited to share this good thing, good place, good news with others.
And what Christ offers us is good news. It is actually much better news than the rest of the stuff we are evangelizing about. The kingdom of God is near. The kingdom of God is near us, about us, within us. A life, a world, filled with grace and love and forgiveness and mercy is within grasp. A life in which we are nursed and comforted by a loving God as we hear in Isaiah. A life in which we are transformed, we are a new creation, as Paul announces in Galatians. A hope-filled life embracing resurrection instead of death. That is good news indeed. So why not share this Good News?
Going back to the promises made in baptism, and the promises we reaffirm at every baptism, we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. By word and example. If you're anything like me, you usually see the "by example" part as your escape clause to this commitment. "Phew," you think, "I don't actually have to tell anyone about this God thing, I can just show it by my example." And it is true: how we live our life is as much a proclamation as the words we say. Living a life of love, of grace, of kindness, of justice, of forgiveness, of mercy can speak volumes and help transform the world. In the Gospel today, Jesus tells his followers to not just speak the Good News of the coming of God's kingdom, but to live it by healing the sick. They are to bring the kingdom of God close to the people in concrete ways. They are to proclaim by example. There is an old apocryphal saying, supposedly uttered by St. Francis, that we should "Preach always; use words only when necessary."
And yet, sometimes it is necessary, there still is that nagging other half of the promise, and of Christ's call to us that we hear in the Gospel, that asks us to occasionally use some words, to share God's story, to share our story, the story of the hope and grace and mercy and love that we have found in God.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, I encourage you to find a way, it doesn't need to be today or even this week, just at some point in the nearish future, to try and live into this call from Christ to share the Good News of the kingdom of God, the reign of God's love and grace. You don't need to stand on a street corner and pass out tracts or go to a foreign country. You don't need to be pushy and you certainly don't need to adopt all of the cultural baggage that has been attached to the E-word. Simply, I encourage you to share the Good News by your life, your example, and every once in a while, as you a able, as the situation arises, to share it with some words, with your story and the way that your story is found in God's greater story of love for us all. Amen.