Dear St. Luke family:
A number of years ago, I preached a sermon entitled, “The ‘E’ Word.” The “E” word was “evangelism.” Many of us in mainline Protestant churches cringe at that word. We imagine televangelists, fundamentalists, and bad hairdos. Jimmy and Tammy Faye Baker. Pat Robertson. Or corny bumper stickers, like “Honk if you love Jesus.” Many of us are a little embarrassed by these images – maybe even more than a little. That’s why I called it the “E” word.
Evangelism does have a tarnished past. We know there have been times when evangelism was the excuse for forcing the ways of one group of people onto another group. Conquistadors, Manifest Destiny, all shapes and sizes of imperialism and colonialism have been cozy with Christian evangelism. We’ve also seen evangelism used to promote intolerance. How many of you have had a frustrating conversation with a well-meaning Christian, perhaps someone with pamphlets at your front door, who tried to convince you that even though you say you’re a Christian, you’re not their brand of Christian, and so, well, you’re just not Christian enough?
Then we encounter a passage like this Sunday’s passage, Mark 6:1-13, in which Jesus sends the disciples out to carry on his teaching and healing ministry. Repeatedly, the New Testament confirms that we and all Christians are “sent.” Jesus prays to God in John 17:18, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). In the “Great Commission” at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” (Matthew 28:18-20). We are sent by a sending God, the God who sent Jesus and who sent the Holy Spirit; the Jesus who sends us.
Okay, we’re sent. Where, and to do what? In the 21st century, in Northern California, we take a dim view of the kind of faith that insists, “My way or the highway.” There are many paths to God. But Matthew’s Gospel gives us a clue about what being “sent” might mean. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. Let your light shine” (Matthew 5:14-16). I love that image. It always takes me back to childhood and the little song we learned in Sunday school: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.”
This Sunday, we’ll explore what being “sent” might look like for Presbyterians, in Marin County, in 2021.
Grace and peace,