Evangelism of Presence – July 7, 2019

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Track 2)

In God’s most Holy Name, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  AMEN.

One of the things I was struck by on my pilgrimage last month was distances.  From one place to another.  From Nazareth to Nablus.  From Jerusalem to Jericho.  In miles those distances are relatively few.  Except.  Except that in the first century travel was mostly by foot over dusty, rocky roads or even foot paths, often hilly.  Keep this in mind as we read these lessons as Jesus heads to Jerusalem. Getting from one place to another was often a daunting task, and took several days.

It is into this landscape that Jesus sends out his 70 friends and disciples this morning; in chapter 9 Jesus sent out the 12; now he’s following up with 70, to go to villages he intended to go. And he sends them with specific instructions.  The number 70 implies all of humanity; Luke is making clear that Jesus’ message was for all persons.

Luke never names these 70 people, and we never hear of them again.  Like many others before them, they too left families and home to spread the message of Jesus about the Kingdom of God.  And who underwrote this mission team?  Luke tells us that there were prominent women who left their husbands and families and financed and traveled with the itinerant evangelists.[1] Luke names them in chapter 8: Mary, from whom seven demons had come out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward, and Susanna; and many others….

In last week’s Gospel we heard that discipleship requires major commitment, today we hear that same message. The disciples were to travel lightly, no purse or bag or extra shoes, maybe a tooth brush and a change of underwear. They weren’t to dawdle along the way; they were to stay with the first person who offered them hospitality and never complain about the food, even if it was awful. They were to rely on the hospitality of the people they were sent to serve.  They weren’t to give their host a bad rating on Yelp even if the Airbnb was unsatisfactory.

They were to travel in pairs, for support and encouragement. They were to be peaceable in their interactions, that is offering the Shalom of God. And their job description was to proclaim “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” That God loves everyone, of every tribe and race and nation, of every gender and sexuality and occupation, and that in God’s Kingdom there were no outsiders.

So how were they to live out this message, to prove it to their hearers? By curing the sick and sharing their peace, their groundedness.  Evangelization in Jesus’ style was and is a ministry of presence; the way his missionaries are with others is their first and strongest proclamation of the kingdom of God coming to life. They do good, in all places and all circumstances. Eventually, after people have been hooked by the joy of their way of life, they invite them to be followers of Jesus.

And to those inclined to retribution, Jesus instructed the disciples, “Whatever town does not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’”

This kind of missionary Gospel makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  Beginning with me.  I’m not into ringing doorbells, even with a partner, and inviting people to church.  I’m not good at standing on the Green, even with a partner, and speaking to all who come by about Jesus.  What I can do, however, is pay attention.  To every person I meet, to give each person my undivided attention.  I can listen to those who need to talk.

There are a lot of people in this world who don’t have anyone to listen to them, who are carrying burdens, pain, griefs. Sometimes they’re people we know, and sometimes they’re strangers. The ministry of presence and listening without judgment is a gift, a missionary action that all of us can give. It can provide healing as well. And I don’t need a partner to do this.

Sr. Mary McGlone tells of a Romanian friend of hers who experienced this type of evangelism.  This woman entered religious life when participating in church was illegal; celebrating the liturgy could get you arrested, and secret communities of monks and nuns who operated underground constantly risked imprisonment.

This woman had been working in a factory where some other young women workers attracted her attention simply by some intangible quality of their presence. As she got to know them and asked what made them different, they admitted that they were believers. One day, they invited her to pray with them at their apartment. Time went on and trust grew. They eventually admitted that they belonged to a secret religious congregation and invited her to join them. Being lambs among wolves, they had learned to evangelize by presence and only much later by formal invitations to discipleship.[2] And McGlone’s friend joined.

When Jesus’ disciples returned, they were filled with joy. As they described the wonders they witnessed, Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning,” for he recognizes in their triumph the anticipation of the ultimate victory of the kingdom.[3] Through them Satan is dethroned, the kingdom comes and the good news gets proclaimed. He sees how evil has enslaved humans, particularly through corrupting systems of economics and political arrangements, and is saying he has come to make a different, better world.

Jesus needs us.  The Church needs us.  The world needs us to accept our role as those who are sent. The corporate, official name for the for the Episcopal Church as a national organization is The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.  In other words, we are all supposed to be missionaries, at home or abroad.

The world needs the message we disciples have to share, that God’s love is for everyone.  God knows that there are thousands of alienated, hurt, marginalized people all around us who are eager, even longing to hear words of healing and comfort and consolation. And each of us, as the beneficiaries of that love and comfort, are called to speak of God’s boundless love from our own experience.  To respond to all whom we meet out of generosity and kindness.  To see in every person the face of Jesus.  To stand for justice and peace in our community, the nation and the world.  This is our calling and commissioning today and every day:  to reach out, to see in every face Jesus’ own.

The good news is that we never do it alone.  We have one another, and we have Christ himself.

[1]  Daniel Clendenin, “Go!”, Journey with Jesus, July 1, 2013.

[2] Mary M. McGlone, Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Imagine, July 7, 2019.

[3] Bartlett, David L.. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) . Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

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