A pastor gave a message on evangelism and one family thought they had better do something to witness to Jesus. So they invited their neighbors to dinner the following Friday night. When it came to the meal, the believers were keen to show their neighbors that they upheld Christian standards in their home. So the mother asked her 5-year-old son to say grace. Little Johnny was a bit shy. “I don’t know what to say.” There was an awkward pause, followed by a reassuring smile from the boy’s mother. “Well darling,” she said, “Just say what Daddy said at breakfast this morning.” Obediently, the boy repeated, “Oh God, we’ve got those bad people coming to dinner tonight.” That’s probably not a good way to share the good news of Jesus and a good reason to be cautious as you listen to this sermon.
We often cringe when we hear the word evangelism. It has so many negative connotations. Evangelists are usually hard working, dedicated and well meaning individuals. And yet our minds often turn to examples of people who do evangelism in a way that we don’t appreciate. So, for example, our minds may turn to television evangelists that we think are disingenuous when they ask for money from their followers. I think of Jesse Duplantis, a televangelist. It was reported in the Washington post that Duplantis has asked for donations of $54 million from his flock so that he can purchase a Falcon 7X private plane that will allow him to fly non stop throughout the world. This plane would be the fourth one in his fleet of private aircraft. I know that I am not supposed to be judgmental, but that seems excessive to me.
You might think about people who go door to door seeking to evangelize people. Most of these people do their best but perhaps we do not want someone to convert us in this way. Your thoughts might turn to someone who stands in the streets and cries out that we need to repent and return to the Lord. Or you may even think of the European powers who colonized many countries and sent missionaries to convert the people to their religion. Despite these examples of evangelism, you and I are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I am sure I make some of you nervous when I talk about it. But, evangelism does not have to be such a difficult task. Much of it has to do with simply behaving like Christians and sharing the story of Jesus.
Today’s gospel lesson is about evangelism. There may be some clues about how we might approach the subject. Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and tried to help the people but had little success. The people who knew him when he was a child were unable to understand how he could be so wise and so powerful. He was a carpenter and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon. So they rejected him and his teachings.
Then, Jesus directed his apostles to go out and evangelize others in the world. Their job was difficult for he sent them out without food or money. They were totally reliant on the charity of those they met for their survival. Perhaps Jesus thought their lack of wealth and their need for food and a place to stay would help them share the gospel. They came to visit people just as they were. That may be the key to how evangelism really works. I say we just need to be who we are. It might be as simply as giving a stuffed animal to someone in hospice or helping a non-profit in need.
Jesus sent his disciples out with a partner. Having a partner must have given them someone to talk with on the journey, someone who could provide encouragement when it seemed like things weren’t working and someone who might be able to say things to others in a way that the first person may not. So much good can come from partnerships. Perhaps it is a good idea for us to consider partners in our evangelism efforts.
I believe that Jesus was humble in all of his ministries. He met people were they were. Often he answered their questions and responded to their needs. Paul wrote that God had given him a thorn, a reminder that God was in charge and that he should not be too proud. In all that we do, let us be humble.
Jesus sought to heal people. Let us try to heal people as well. Jesus told us to love one another. When the Christian Church first started to form, many people decided to join. In his book The Early Church, Henry Chadwick writes, “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”
When Jesus went to Nazareth, he was rejected. When Jesus sent out his apostles, he told them to be prepared for rejection. Shake the dust off your feet he said and move on. If you invite someone to join us please do not worry if they say no.
Are there things we might avoid in our evangelism efforts? A religious writer and public speaker named Tony Kris begins his evangelism talks by asking folks to list the lies that Christians tell when trying to evangelize. People quickly come up with examples. Let me give you two. Kris would say “We lie when we don't acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith”. Kris offers his own doubts, “Where did evil come from? Why did God put this whole human story into motion when it has caused so much pain?”
A second is “We lie when we pretend that the Bible doesn't say some really nasty things when in fact it does”. In Psalm 137 there is a verse that says "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”. I usually try to skip over that verse. Tony would say we need to own the whole Bible not just the parts we like.
Our presiding bishop continually asks us to focus on the love of Jesus. On Tuesday, a few of us gathered to watch Bishop Michael Curry discuss ways to use the sermon at the Royal Wedding in our daily life. That Royal wedding sermon was about the message of love. He spoke about God’s love for us and the love of Jesus who gave himself as a sacrifice for us.
Bishop Curry often speaks about the Jesus Movement. He would say that we should share the story of Jesus with others. The story is not about the church as an institution, it is about the love of Jesus and the actions and teachings of Jesus. Our job is to live our lives as much like Jesus as we can. We are at our best when Jesus is at the center of our lives.
In his sermon at the beginning of the General Convention on Thursday, Bishop Curry continued this encouragement. He mentioned that for centuries monastics have used a guide called a rule of life to help them follow Jesus. Curry suggested that we identify our path as a rule of love. He hopes that we would pick up our own rule of love and use it to practice our faith.
I would suggest that evangelism is not so much about what we say but how we act. It is not about going to other people and telling them that they need to change. Instead, we should think about evangelism as an invitation to join a community that is seeking to follow Jesus. Come and see we might say. I wasn’t told that the Episcopal Church is the best way to be a Christian. My invitation was not judgmental. An invitation is about joining a community that admits everyone is sinful, all of us are trying to find our way. We ask people to join us along our journey. We say that we follow Jesus in the Episcopal way, understanding that there may be other ways. We speak of the love that Jesus has for us and the love that he offers to all.
Evangelism for me is about being yourself, not trying to be or do what others might do. Evangelism starts and ends with being centered in Jesus and to contemplate what Jesus did and what Jesus taught us. Evangelism is sharing how the love of God has affected our lives. Only then can our invitation to another be sincere and helpful. Amen.
The latest issue to divide our nation is that of immigration. The feelings about this issue run deep on both sides. Some people are worried for their safety, they are concerned about dangerous gang members entering the country and they are worried about the amount of drugs that cross into the United States. Many of these people wish that everyone followed the laws of the United States and that no one would enter the country illegally. On the other hand there are people who wish that we cared for the stranger, people who worry about children and their safety and wish that we could help the people of Central America who are facing danger and hardship. I have visited several Central American countries. I have been a tourist in Mexico and Costa Rica where I saw many people living in great poverty but I never felt close to them. I have visited Honduras twice as part of a mission to the children and staff of El Hogar, the Episcopal school which this congregation has supported. In Honduras, I experienced poverty up close and personal. I visited the home of a lady who struggled to make ends meet. She made tortillas over a wood fire outside of her one room house. I know that parents make painful choices when they send their children to El Hogar because they will no longer have children to sell their goods on the street. We were told to be very careful because the streets were not safe. We learned that one former student had been killed because he joined a gang and was gunned down by the opposing gang. We went to El Salvador with one of our seminary professors who had family members living there. I once again experienced the harsh realities of poverty in that country, especially among the native people. I became aware of the number of gangs who threaten folks with either helping the gang or loosing their life. Many of the people crossing our borders are here because the alternative is death if they return to their homeland and don’t comply with the gangs. I also came to understand the beauty and the happiness, the hope, the gentleness and the loving kindness of so many people who live in those two countries. Given my own experience, I would say that the vast majority of people living in Central America are faithful Christians. They are humble and hard working and they wish to live safe and healthy lives just as we do. Everyone here is welcome to their own opinion. I myself would prefer a more friendly position on immigration. I am OK with closing our borders to illegal immigration but I would wish that we would allow people to file for asylum because I think they are legitimately in danger and deserve the chance to find safety. I support citizenship for dreamers. I don’t agree with separating immigrant families. But I am not here to change anyone’s mind. Whichever side of this controversy you support is fine for me. My responsibility is to speak about scripture and to speak about what Jesus taught us. So, we study scripture to find God in our life today to see if scripture fits our current issue. This week, scripture speaks specifically to the compassion of God. By extension, I believe we are called to have compassion for others. Scripture speaks to God’s gift of life and I think we too are called to give the gift of life. As a church community, we perform many outreach functions, seeking to help our neighbors in need. There is plenty to do for people living right here in this neighborhood. Many need food, clothing, and shelter. If you decided that your calling is just for those in Arizona right now, that is fine because there is so much to do. Still, I think by his word and his example, Jesus reached out with compassion to people who were outside of his Jewish community and people who had been shunned from society. The reading from Lamentations says it clearly, “Although God causes grief, God will have compassion according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love; for God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” Yes, God has compassion for us. In the gospel, Jesus had compassion for Jairus. After all, Jairus interrupted the teachings of Jesus and Jesus allowed that. Jesus went immediately to heal his daughter. It is one example of Jesus’ compassion. Jesus also had compassion for the woman. The woman was an outcast, she was depressed from her constant bleeding. She was poor from paying the doctors, and she was afraid that she might be noticed and forced to leave the crowd. According to Mosaic laws, the woman was not supposed to interact with other people. Her bleeding made her ritually impure. But she took a chance. She had faith that just touching Jesus’s clothing would make a difference. When the woman touched Jesus, healing occurred instantly. Jesus knew that someone had been healed because the energy flowed from him. When they spoke, he had compassion. He didn’t say, you cannot touch me. Rather he said, “your faith has made you well.” I say we wish to be touched by Jesus, to be held by Jesus. Touching is an important word for us today because we have been told that the immigrant children who have been taken from their parents were well cared for but the workers were not allowed to touch them. I understand that there may be a concern about whether the children will be harmed by any of the workers. But touching is important for children. Touching changes us. The woman’s story has special meaning to me because of my nose bleeds. I sure want to be touched by Jesus and healed. I also want to focus on the message of life that comes to us today. In Wisdom, we are told that God did not make death but rather God created us in God’s own image. God wanted us for life. Jesus gave the gift of life as well. He gave the woman a new life, free from bleeding and free from her life as an outcast. And he gave the young girl a renewed life, life from death, life with her family and life to grow into God’s love. In doing so, he overcame the laughter of those who believed that he could not bring her back. He showed the nay sayers that God can do anything. He confirmed that we should have faith and ask God for what we need. All of us have times when we struggle and need God’s help. All of us have had difficult times of sickness or poverty or loneliness. We have lost loved ones. Jesus is the one who brings us back to life. How do compassion and life giving fit into the immigration story? Well, whether we wish for open or closed borders, we can still have compassion. Let us have compassion on the children and parents who are separated from one another. Let us have compassion on those who seek asylum from dangerous living conditions. Let us have compassion on those who have walked thousands of miles to find a new life. Compassion doesn’t mean we let people do whatever they want. Rather it means trying to find a way to care for these people even if we turn them away. At the very end of the 2nd Corinthians passage, we are reminded that both the rich and the poor have something to give. Paul believed that people should have sufficient wealth not only to satisfy their own needs but also to share the excess with others who should reciprocate. I have read that the poor are more generous than the rich. In Honduras, I heard stories about poor people giving food and clothing to those even poorer. We sat with a child who saved some of his lunch for his brother. Perhaps when we show compassion to others by sharing what we have, we will receive something of value in return. I am trying to find a way that I can be more helpful in this immigration challenge rather than just sitting back and judging the work of others. I hope that you will do the same. I hope that we can find a way as a country to use compassion and life giving in a way that helps us find solutions to the complex issues of immigration. I would hope that we would find a way to deal with immigration by being strong and caring at the same time. I hope we can find a way to deal with this issue in such a way that we find safety and health for all. May God bless us on this difficult task. Amen.
This past week, I had three personal interactions with people dealing with depression. And in the public space, we heard about two people who committed suicide. The first was Kate Spade. She and her husband started a business that changed the look of women’s fashion. My daughter prefers Kate Spade purses and carries the latest Kate Spade handbag with her everywhere she goes. Kate Spade was only 55 years old when she died. She left behind a daughter who is thirteen years old and other family members. Anthony Bourdain was the host of a popular television series called Parts Unknown. It was certainly about finding unusual kinds of foods and international cuisine but I think it was really about meeting people, learning about cultures. He helped us connect with people we don’t know. Anthony Bourdain leaves behind a family including a daughter. By all of our normal measures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were successful. Both had lots of money, they were famous people, they lived a good life and they made our lives better. Most of us probably thought of them as happy people, but instead they struggled with depression and sadness. These two figures are not the only famous ones. Actor Robin Williams, Football player Junior Seau, and author Ernest Hemingway also killed themselves. Perhaps you have had a personal experience with suicide. I had an uncle who killed himself. In the last five years, I have known 3 people, all quite young who either killed themselves on purpose or accidentally overdosed on drugs. My niece’s brother-in-law died just last week from an overdose. Although I never contemplated suicide, I did have bouts of depression many years ago. Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss. Yet, I believe that it is important for us to discuss because I want to encourage those who are depressed to reach out to organizations and people that can help them. I also want all in this community to do everything we can to help those who are depressed. I encourage you to investigate suicide. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control reports that the suicide rate has increased by nearly 30 per cent since 1999. Depression is something that can be caused by a physical issue. It can also be caused by circumstances, the loss of a loved one, a physical ailment that keeps the person from living their life in a way that they consider normal, perhaps the loss of a job or a divorce. Combinations of these factor simply make depression more likely. In our church service Steve Dingle spoke about his perspectives on depression and suicide. Steve is a psychiatrist who has worked in that profession for about thirty years. Here are some things I heard from Steve during our service. The large majority of people who have tried to commit suicide have never sought treatment for depression. This makes it very difficult for professionals or others to know whom they should help. It makes it difficult to determine who is at risk. A key part of depression is loneliness. Steve would encourage us to look for people who are withdrawing from others, who may no longer feel that they are a part of society. These people may be potential candidates for suicide. Thank you, Steve. Depression may be a side effect of prescription drugs. Over 200 prescription drugs list suicide and depression as a potential side effect including painkillers, blood pressure medicine and heart medication. The potential may increase when several drugs are taken together. When depression becomes so strong that the individual reaches a point of hopelessness or loneliness it may cause that person to feel that taking their own life is the only way out of their situation. If you ever feel this way, I encourage you to reach out for help. I am not an expert on depression or suicide, but I am willing to listen and to see if there is a way that I can assist you. You may also choose to reach out to another person in our congregation and ask for their help. I encourage you to have some phone numbers available to you. The Maricopa crisis service hotline is 800-631-1314. The national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. Our faith is an important place for us to return when we are depressed. Today, we heard that we “walk by faith and not by sight”. Our faith helps us maintain our equilibrium. Faith helps us to stay focused on what we should be doing and where we are going. As a child, I was taught that suicide was a sin. One of the commandments says Thou shalt not kill. Some denominations think that suicide violates that commandment. After many years, I am not so sure. While I wish that people did not commit suicide, I understand people who are in so much pain that living offers no real alternative. We also should remember that humans are not the judge. God is the only one that can see inside of an individual, understand their motivations and determine what judgment should be applied. Our faith is there to help us when we struggle. God will help us when we are depressed. I often use an app called the Daily Office from Mission Saint Clare. It includes music along with the words and scriptural passages of that service. I find great solace in a hymn that was written many years ago which is based on the words of Psalm 86. It is often part of the Mission St. Clare office. Allow me to paraphrase: Lord I humbly turn to you. Please hear my words. Save me, O Lord for I have no help, nor hope except from you alone. Lord, please send me your relieving gladness to my soul which has so much sadness. I seek to free my soul from the bonds of this earth and fly up with eagerness to be with you. God is there for you even if no one else is. That is what I hear in this hymn. Psalm 23 is another place to turn. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You will also find great comfort in the Book of Job. God is able to make things happen in our lives. In today’s reading from Ezekiel we hear about God’s power, “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree;” If God can make high the low tree then God can lift us out of our depression and make us whole. And we should not rely too much on wealth or fame or other temptations of the earth for God can bring down the high tree. In today’s lesson from 2nd Corinthians, I find words of hope in our hopelessness. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” When we are feeling alone, let us turn to Jesus. For Jesus came to earth for everyone of us. Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Jesus wants to see us healed from ever sort of problem that we face. Jesus will encourage us to continue our journey and stand beside us as we go. And Jesus is the great healer for all that troubles us. In the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, there are several stories about healing. The centurion’s daughter was returned to life and the bleeding woman simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed. Two blind men were healed and a man who couldn’t speak was healed. Near the end of the chapter we are told “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness”. And we learn that Jesus had great compassion on all of the people. If Jesus had compassion on those he met along the road, doesn’t he also have compassion on you and me? I believe that Jesus wants us to be healed from all of our sicknesses. As a faith community, we are called to help those who are sick and suffering. Today, I remind you that we are called to care for those who are depressed or alone. I ask each of you to look out for others, to reach out to them and help us to make sure that no one is alone. I am so thankful to the ladies who are seeking to grow our ministry to those who need help. We get to know others better when we give them rides and offer companionship. We lift the spirits of others when we offer food. I hope that you will join in this ministry. Whether you add your name to this group or not, I hope that you will have compassion on others around you, that you will seek out someone who is alone or in need of a companion. I hope that you will help someone who struggles with the symptoms of depression. Whatever our situation, let us be firm in our faith, for in our faith God will give us the wisdom and strength to deal with all the things that trouble us and others. Amen.
I recently heard some older people complain about the younger generation. They said the younger generation does not work as hard as they did. The younger generation doesn’t take financial responsibility. The younger generation does not behave as they should. The younger generation relies too much on their parents. That last complaint got a lot of press recently when the parents of a 30 year old took their son to court and had him evicted from their house. The son had lived in the house for eight years as an adult and despite several efforts to get him to leave, the son was still there. A judge agreed with them and the son was forced to move out. Some would suggest that this is an example that millennials are unable to live independently. In 2001, Time Magazine wrote, “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.” I remember similar things being said about my generation when I was in college. Older people at that time complained about young men having long hair. They complained about hippies and communes. They complained about the peace movement. Complaints about the younger generation have existed forever. In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote that “(Young people) think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.” Parents frequently complain about the excuses that their children give when something goes wrong. My brother started it. He looked at me funny. It wasn’t me, it was the dog that did it. Blaming our problems on someone else or giving excuses isn’t new either. Today, I ask you to ponder times that you might have made excuses for your bad behavior, most especially I would ask you to think about times that you have made excuses for your sins, for your failure to follow God’s will. Excuses have been given since the beginning of humankind. In our first reading, Adam and Eve gave excuses to God for their behavior. The first sign from Adam of his sin is that he tried to hide from God. He told God that he was hiding because he was naked. Of course, God already knew that. God knew that Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit. But let us listen to the excuses that both Adam and Eve had for their behavior. The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Neither Adam nor Eve was responsible for what had happened. I know that people keep secrets as a way to surprise another person. But often, hiding something that we have done is a sign that we have committed a wrongdoing, we have sinned. If you ever find yourself hiding an act from someone, then you should at least question yourself, ask yourself why. Am I ashamed of what I have done? Am I concerned that the outcome would be bad if other people found out what I had done? And how about excuses. Do we ever give ourselves a free pass for our sins? We may blame another person for our own actions. Or we may blame our sins on some uncontrollable situation. Someone gave me this book titled “Get over yourself; God’s here!” By Kate Moorehead. In the introduction priest Kate reminds us of all the excuses we give. For example, some people talk about their issues. In today’s culture, it is acceptable to say, I have issues rather than to say I have done something wrong. Another word we use is mistakes. I just made a mistake as if we did something we really didn’t mean to do. If it is a sin we have committed wouldn’t it be better to say, I screwed up rather than to say I made a mistake. Mistake implies that we didn’t do it on purpose. Some people speak about an addiction as if it is something that cannot be controlled or dealt with. In my time the most famous excuse for a sin is the one Flip Wilson made popular, “The devil made me do it”. I am here to suggest that admitting we have sinned is the best first step towards dealing with that sin. I don’t care if all you do is say to yourself, I committed a sin and I was wrong. Of course, you may choose to say something to a person that you have wronged and offer an apology. In the Episcopal tradition, we confess our sins in community, jointly saying the confession each Sunday and receiving an absolution from the priest. The risk that we run when we confess our sins together is that we may not identify our specific sin to ourselves. We may just say God, I am sorry for what I have done wrong. While that is good, it may not help us to deal clearly with a sin that we have committed over and over again. By the way, you always have the option of going to a priest for a private confession. Several times, I have had people come to me for a private meeting to share a specific sin and ask for God’s forgives for that sin and to seek God’s help in changing their behavior. It really isn’t as hard as you might think. Today, I ask you to identify your sin by that name not with some excuse. Adam and Eve were punished for their sin. Not only were they banished from the Garden of Eden but they were also told they would experience pain, suffering and their work would be difficult. It would be hard for them to scratch out a living on the hard soil. It is possible that God will punish us for our sins. That may be reason enough for us to stay on the straight and narrow, to stay away from those sins that haunt us. But an even better reason for us to admit to our sins and to commit to stop those sins is the benefit of living in God’s grace. Do you remember that Adam hid from God after he had eaten from the forbidden fruit. Our sins can be something that causes us shame. It may cause us to hide from God or even to hide what we do from other people. Wouldn’t life be so much better if we find a way to live in God’s love, to live in the light instead of in the darkness? There is good news in the rest of our scripture readings for today. It is found in the forgiveness that God is always prepared to offer us. Forgiveness is found in the Psalm. The Psalmist wrote that we call out to God from the depths of our failure, from our grief at what we have done and from our wish to be reunited with God. And God responds. We say, “For there is forgiveness with you”. In another verse we hear that “for with the Lord there is mercy; With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” Not only do we know of God’s forgiveness but we have a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, the one who redeemed us from all of our sins. Isn’t that the best of reason to forgo our sins, to admit to our faults and to strive to live all of our lives in Jesus. For we know that God loves us and we know that Jesus loves us and came to redeem us for our sins. Adam was ashamed and hid from God. Both Adam and Eve tried to place the blame for their choices on someone else. As we listen to their story, we realize that not much has changed. There is a little bit of Adam and Eve in all of us. Instead of being ashamed, let us turn our faces to God and say, God I am sorry for my wrongs. God, lift me up and take me from this dark place. In the reading from Corinthians we hear that good news in another way, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” God is working in us and for us all the time. All we need is to accept God’s work in us, to let that love and grace come in. Amen.