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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"The Good News about the Good News"

A young woman considering her options

Canon Whitney Rice, from the Diocese of Missouri made an insightful observation.

 

“Here’s a statement you’ve never heard before in your life: ‘Those Episcopalians sure are great evangelists!’

 

“Why is that?”  -- she asks – “Most Episcopalians’ concept of evangelism is very negative, based on either money-grubbing televangelists or experiences of being confronted with ‘bible-thumpers’ (…).  Many Episcopalians view evangelism as aggressive, intrusive, exploitative, coercive, scary, self-interested, and based on fear, guilt and shame.

 

And yet, as our gospel tells us, Jesus was an evangelist.  So, today, as we just heard, Jesus went about evangelizing, preaching the good news of God’s favor.  And, for sure Jesus was not aggressive, intrusive, exploitative, coercive, scary, or self-interested.  His message was never based on fear, guilt and shame. 

 

So, perhaps, rather than react to what others do – or don’t – we should rather focus on the model of what it truly means to be an evangelist.  In other words, “Evangelism according to Jesus”.

 

Now, being evangelists is not an opt-in option.  In fact, as baptized Christians we have our marching orders.

 

Our Lord’s last commando to his disciples – a command that reaches all the way to our days, even here at St. David’s, Jesus said, “Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples.  And baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19).  Or as according to John, Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, I’m sending you!” (John 20:21).

 

So, today, appropriately, our theme is, “Speak up!”

 

But before we dig in into how we can honor our calling, let me stress that not everything is lost in the Episcopal church!

 

For it could be said that even if we are not Roman Catholics, the Episcopal church follows almost to a “t” St. Francis’ teaching to his disciples, “Go and preach at all times.  And, if necessary, use words.”

 

Compared – and I know that we shouldn’t compare – but just looking to other Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church’s strength is outreach.  From schools to hospitals to shelters to well-pumps to vaccination to rural health, the Episcopal Church is actively present.

 

Episcopal Relief and Development annually gives away in grants over ten million dollars.  Every year, the Episcopal Church Woman give over five million in grants for human needs.  Trinity Church Wall Street annually gives fourteen million.  And if we add all the hundreds and thousands of dollars given away by dioceses and churches large and small, and individual donations the amount is staggering. 

 

So, if we look at our gospel, we can say with humility and, at the same time with a sense of “holy pride”, that the Episcopal Church knows how to deal with the demons of the world.  From alleviating hunger, malnutrition, to helping with public health, education, and sanitation all the way to helping out when Nature’s destructive forces unleash destruction, the good news of a loving God is preached. Thanks be to God!

 

Which in a certain way disproves Canon Rice’s assertion.  Like St Francis said, the Episcopal Church works hard to make real and tangible God’s love in the world.  However, we are somehow shy about using words.  But, for sure, the Episcopal Church preaches the good news from a good God.

 

Now, let’s be honest.  Using words is not as easy as it may appear at first glance!  Like the Miranda warning, “Whatever we say can be used and will be used against us.”  For in the best of circumstances, our best-intentioned words may be taken the wrong way.  If it happened to Jesus, who are we to claim an exemption?

 

Further, the good news cannot be condensed into a cookie-cutter approach.  And, for sure, we all have different gifts, abilities, and personalities.  Some of us are outgoing and extroverts, while others are more reserved and thoughtful.  And, as I said earlier, digging a well, building a hospital, and offering shelter after an earthquake or hurricane in the name of God is as good news as giving a sermon or handing out Bibles.

 

But evangelism is not an either/or option.  There is room and opportunity for both word and action.  So, today, let us focus on words.

 

However, in writing to the church in Corinth, Paul does not mince words in recalling that the work of sharing the good news has to do with our motivation.  On the one hand, the order is there.  And we do what we have to do, or we do not. 

 

Sharing the Gospel requires the same spirit which inspired Jesus.

 

Or as St Paul writes, “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever.  I didn’t take on their way of life.  I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.  I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into(...)” a loving relationship with God. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22, The Message).

 

So, how can we share God’s love with a world that is hungry for compassion not judgement?  How can we share the Good News without fear-mongering and guilt trips? 

 

For inspiration and guidance, let us see what Jesus did.

 

First, our Lord’s attitude towards the society of his time was one of compassion and heartbreak.  “When he saw the crowds, he was deeply moved with compassion for them, because they were troubled and helpless, like orphaned kittens”, (Matthew 9:36).

 

And how did the disciples saw the crowds?  Their reaction said it all, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?”  (Luke 9:54).

 

So, let me suggest that our first motivation to reach out in love to others must be deep-felt compassion rather that the desire to set others right – or else!  Even when they are set in their self-destructive ways. 

 

Therefore, at the heart of evangelism there is the call to conversion.  But, never mind the others.  Conversion of our own hearts.  Because, as St Paul rightly asserted, “There is not a single good apple.  None.  Zilch.  Zero.”  (Romans 3:9).

 

Second, let us recall that Jesus invited his disciples to journey with him.  Not to a destination, but to walk along, and to learn from Him.  In other words, Jesus invited his disciples to gain intimacy with God’s ways.  It is a journey with Jesus.

 

So, our invitation to others should be not so much to join us for worship and for potluck – because there is no better potluck than ours.  Rather, we should reach out in love to others knowing that we ourselves are very much a work in process. 

 

For the Christian faith is above all a journey of discovery – of ourselves and what makes us tick.  As it is a journey of discovery to find out what melts God’s heart with unquenchable love – His desire to see us returning where we belong. 

 

In other words, evangelism is not to invite others to make them like us, but it is to invite others to join us in becoming all that God intends for us.  For as crazy as it may sound, we need them as much as they need us.  For as St Paul writes, “For we are one body… and members of each other.” (1 Corinthians 12).

 

Finally, for as much as we love our church, let us remember that the goal of proclaiming the good news of freedom and release is to help others discover the richness of God’s grace, the depths of God’s love, and to rekindle hope when the days are dark and gloomy.  Which, by the way, it is what Jesus did.

 

Today, as ever, Jesus is leading the way.  Let us pray we may follow him in word and in deed, so that together, “Speaking the truth in love, we may grow in every way more and more like Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15) to the honor of God and for the salvation of the world.  Amen.

 

Fr. Gustavo

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