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St Paul's ChurchSermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost – July 19, 2009

In the name of the God who calls each of us into discipleship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two weeks ago in our Gospel lesson we read that Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to heal the sick and proclaim the good news of his kingdom. Today we pick up where that lesson left off, finding the disciples coming back with news of their accomplishments. Who knows just how long they were out there, but by the end of their mission and upon their return, when they saw Jesus in the distance, they probably broke into a sprint to reach him, much like that son who ran into his father’s wide open arms, after being away too long, eager to tell all that they had seen and heard and done.

Jesus welcomes them, enthusiastically, sees that they’re exhausted, and invites them away for some R&R. And then because the need was so great, there were so many people needing healing and comfort, as Mark tells us, the plan for some time away didn’t last long. Perhaps some would note that Jesus didn’t model good self-care for the disciples, or suggest that we all need times of rest and Sabbath to get our batteries recharged, but I would like to focus on something else, something that came out of General Convention this week.

This morning’s Gospel is a story about ordinary people, rank amateurs who are called out by Jesus himself. The disciples find their little lives caught up in a grand miracle and many are thereby fed. It is not an unusual story in scripture. In fact, the remarkable thing is that stories of amateurs called forth by God to act their parts on the stage called salvation are not remarkable at all. This is the way that this God works. And all of us ordinary folk, lay and ordained, are called onto the same stage, into the same discipleship that Jesus’ friends were, which is the mission of sharing the good news of Jesus, of proclaiming the Gospel, wherever in life we find ourselves. And before you stop listening, before you think I’ve gone off my rocker totally, I am asking each of us, you and me, to be evangelists, to proclaim by our words and deeds the good news of God in Christ.

At one of the General Convention Eucharists this week, Brian McClaren, an internationally known speaker, writer and innovative thinker about the Christian faith, preached about evangelism, and our uncomfortable relationship with the concept. After all, Episcopalians have been known for a long time as “God’s frozen chosen.” Or, as Garrison Keillor says, “we believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud. And we like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.” We’re made fun of for our excessive calm, our extraordinarily good manners and our insistence upon always serving Jell-O in the appropriate liturgical color.

Knowing all this, McClaren still called the Convention to pay special attention to evangelism. Which is what Jesus’ disciples were doing when he sent them off by twos to carry out his mission. Please know I’m not talking about standing on a soapbox and preaching out here on the Green. And I’m not suggesting anyone leave home and go to a foreign country. If this is what we imagine evangelism to be, it’s no wonder we cringe at the thought.

But I’ll tell you what McClaren said: “If only fundamentalists evangelize in America, what predictions can you make about the future of the American religious landscape? If Christian moderates and progressives seldom if ever share their faith with love and enthusiasm, what will their future be?”

Now if that isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. Think about it. “If only fundamentalists evangelize in America, what predictions can you make about the future of the American religious landscape? If Christian moderates and progressives seldom if ever share their faith with love and enthusiasm, what will their future be?”

McClaren went on to say that evangelism and reconciliation went hand in hand. Quoting St. Paul, he reminds that each of us, and our communities, must be spiritually and socially reconciled to be taken seriously as evangelists. In other words we must live what we profess, we must live in love with all.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need some reconciliation in his/her life. I have a number of places/people where/whom I have offended, had words with, intentionally excluded from my life. I know these are situations I have to work on to be a faithful follower of Jesus. And I would guess there are similar situations in your life too. And as we are reconciled to one another, so we become more authentic disciples. And our community reflects it as well.

We pride ourselves on being an open, welcoming, inclusive community. And we are. But as Fr. Lang regularly reminds us, we are not here for ourselves alone, but for those who are not yet here. And that’s where evangelism comes in.

The theme of General Convention was ubuntu, the practice of compassion, caring, sharing, listening to the other, of seeing ourselves in the other and the other in ourselves. Earlier I suggested that ubuntu was necessary not only for the Convention but for all of us, all the time. I believe ubuntu was what Jesus’ disciples were engaged in. I believe ubuntu is part of evangelism.

When we engage with everyone whom we meet with ubuntu we see every person not as an other, but as “intelligent and earnest” persons “engaging with Jesus in mutually respectful conversation, and at the center… we see Jesus ask a simple powerful question: what are you seeking? In this way, evangelism …means… asking good questions, helping people think about what they’re really seeking in life… and inviting people to come and see… to join us on a journey of faith and mission…,” said McClaren.

Most of us don’t/can’t walk up to a person we just met and engage them in such conversation. It takes building a level of trust with them and developing our own confidence. And even with a level of trust it sometimes takes awhile. At a parish where I’ve served, one of the persons who received confirmation did so because a colleague had evangelized him. The friend first invited, then over a period of time, begged, pleaded, cajoled, and perhaps even harassed this person to come to the Easter Vigil. The young man resisted for some time before giving in, perhaps just to get his friend off his back. And once he attended the Great Vigil of Easter, he was “hooked.” He began attending church regularly, was baptized the following year, and a couple of years later was confirmed.

At St. Paul’s we’re already engaged in evangelism, through various means including our radical welcome and hospitality, the bookstore, newspapers, our website. However we are still called into personal discipleship and evangelism, just as Jesus’ first followers. To offer to others the same welcome, comfort and healing we’ve found here.

We’re ordinary folk, as the disciples were, invited into the same kind of extraordinary discipleship. This is the way God works. Whatever Jesus wants to do in the world, he chooses to do it through amateurs, through you and me. And with his help, we’ll come back with the same exciting report that the disciples did! Amen.

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