Sermon 10-22-17 – The “E word”

Scripture: Acts 1:8, Romans 10:14-15

“The E word”

Throw out some words that you associate with evangelism…

Now think for just a few seconds about someone who showed you or told you about the love of God….

aWhat are some of the words that come to mind when you think about THAT person?

There’s a big gap there.

And yet the biblical example of “evangelism” connects not with the ugliness and the forceful, judgmental soap box nonsense we associate with evangelism.

Evangelism in the bible is all about bringing GOOD NEWS.

About bringing PEACE.

In the text from Romans, the Apostle Paul, who we’re pretty sure wrote this one, quotes the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Isaiah, when he says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

That’s an odd saying, isn’t it?

How beautiful are the FEET of those who bring good news?

Remember, we’re talking about a desert culture where people wore sandals a lot of the time.

No one had pretty feet.

So what in the world is Paul talking about?

Well, the text, which comes from Isaiah 52, describes the glorious day when the people who have been sent to exile are told they can return home.

See, in 597 BCE, after several revolts and political maneuvers, Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonians.

And by destroyed, I mean left in complete ruin.

Thousands of people were sent into exile, and the temple in Jerusalem was knocked to the ground.

And those were who were NOT asked to leave, those people who were NOT associated with the government or who were not educated, they too faced extraordinary suffering, because there were fires throughtout the city, and thousands of people lost their lives when Babylon invaded.

And then for almost 60 years, for about 3 generations, the people of Judah, the educated people, anyway, the rulers and the merchants and the people who had had some kind of privilege in Jerusalem – all of them were kicked out of the city and forced to live in Babylon or in other places.

They became homeless overnight.

As a result, they faced extraordinary physical hardships.

Hunger. Poverty. A lack of safety. No shelter.

People had to leave their businesses if they had them. They had to leave their homes. In many cases, their homes were burnt to the ground when Jerusalem was destroyed.

Babylon was like a hurricane or a forest fire.

People lost everything.

And in addition to losing physical property, they lost people they loved.

People who were caught up in the fighting. Innocent people. Children. Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Brothers and sisters.

And to add insult to injury, they also lost their place of worship.

And at the time, there was a belief that God literally lived in the temple in Jerusalem.

God was attached to the land and to the place, to Jerusalem.

So when the Babylonians destroyed the temple, God’s house, God too became homeless.

And there was doubt about whether God could still even EXIST outside of Jerusalem.

God, the God of Israel, was conquered.

So in addition to physical and emotional hardship, there was spiritual hardship.

So when the Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and permitted the exiled Judeans to return to Judah, to return to Jerusalem, and begin reconstructing their temple, it was a GLORIOUS day.

And that time, that proclamation that the Jewish people could return to Jerusalem is what what Isaiah 52 is all about. And it’s what Paul is quoting in Romans 10.

Isaiah 52 reads:

How beautiful on the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings good news

Who announces PEACE

Who brings good news of good things,

Who announces salvation.

Who says to Jerusalem, “God reigns.”

Paul is quoting a text about returning HOME.

About returning HOME from EXILE.

THAT’s what Paul says evangelism looks like.

Evangelism, which comes from the Greek word, euangelizo. evan-geh-LEE-so

How beautiful are the feet of those who PROCLAIM, who EVANGELIZE peace. of those who EVANGELIZE good news.

And EVANGELIZE, in this context, is directly tied to the proclamation that the people of Israel can return home.

It’s not about telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t convert. It’s not about saving souls for Jesus.

Its’ about telling people they can return home.

That they can worship where they want to worship.

That they HAVE a home.

It may not be a physical shelter. A house they own.

But it’s a place where they belong.

How many of us, at one point in our lives, were told we were not welcome?

In a group?

At work?

In a neighborhood?

In a family maybe?

Maybe in the church?

And how many of us, even though we were TOLD we were welcome in a group or a family or a church maybe, even though we were TOLD we were welcome, we didn’t actually feel welcome there?

—-

I remember when i was as teenager, I was a bit of an ugly duckling.

And on my first youth trip, even though we talked all about Jesus’ love all the time, I felt like an outcast.

The kids in my youth group made fun of me. And when they weren’t making fun of me, they were ignoring me.

And it hurt.

And then at this big gathering of youth, where we were all going to work repairing houses, some kids from another youth group invited me to their Bible study.

Okay, to be fair, I was 14 at the time, and it wasn’t just any kids, it was two really cute boys.

So of course, I went.

And I had had a particularly rough day with my own youth group, and I was on the verge of tears when I went, and this youth group, this other group, embraced me like I was one their own.

Including the cute boys.

And I asked them, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

And one of them simply said, “Why wouldn’t we be? God loves you. And we love you too. You’re welcome here with us any time.”

That moment was a breakthrough for me.

Because I had felt so small, so low, and in the midst of my 14-year-old sadness about how unloved I was, someone told me, “you’re welcome here.”

It wasn’t anything big.

it didn’t take a lot of effort.

And yet, I think that youth group probably changed my understanding of the church forever.

In today’s text, when Paul encourages the Roman Christians to “evangelize,” what he’s encouraging them to do is to tell people they are welcome. That they’re free to come home. That they HAVE a home in community. And not just tell them actually, to SHOW them, through our actions, that they are welcome.

He’s not telling them to preach hellfire and damnation.

He’s not even telling them to speak explicitly about Jesus, although certainly, Jesus was someone who exemplified what Paul is talking about.

Jesus told people who others considered outcasts that they were honored and welcome and loved in God’s beloved community.

The good news Paul is telling the Roman church is that no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are welcome here.

Now, for some of us, this message won’t land as hard as it will for others.

For many of us, those of us with privilege in particular, welcome is something experience most of the places we go.

For many of us, we don’t have to worry about store clerks following us around and treating us with suspicion on account of the color of our skin.

As a clergy person, I know I have unique privilege – I’m able to enter hospital rooms, for example, and even the ICU, when others aren’t.

As a white woman, I’m also not seen as a threat. When I’m walking my dog at night, people don’t cross the street afraid I might attack them.

As a US citizen, I have the privilege to vote for elected representatives. I also have the freedom to worship openly as a Christian.

I’m also married to a man, so I don’t have to worry regularly about whether or not my marriage will be honored by state agencies or whether businesses or religious groups will recognize my relationship as valid.

For those of us with privilege, and we all have privilege in one place or another in our lives, for those of us with privilege, it is PARTICULARLY important that we take Paul’s message to heart.

It’s PARTICULARLY important that WE evangelize.

That WE express God’s radical message that exiles are welcome home. That outsiders have a home in community.

I know evangelism is a loaded word. And… what if we reclaimed it?

Today, I say let’s do it. I, Pastor Sarah, progressive Christian minister, am imploring you, members and friends of Church of the Good Shepherd, Christians and otherwise, to EVANGELIZE.

To stand on the mountaintop and proclaim that all are welcome.

That ALL people belong.

And let’s not just proclaim with words, but with our actions as well.

In our families or workplaces where there’s that one difficult person who doesn’t quite belong or fit in or get along with others – evangelism is about welcoming that person into relationship.

In our nation, where there are people who are displaced and homeless due to natural disasters or other circustances – evangelism is about both sheltering people AND working to for solutions like more affordable housing and healthcare so that people ARE able to return home.

In our church, where there are people who are hurting due to grief or illness or spiritual alienation, evangelism is about holding them in prayer, offering hugs and meals and a listening ear, and staying the course with people who are in different places on their journey.

The vision of Church of the Good Shepherd, the place we want to go, the vision we yearn for is to be an inclusive community that shares divine love as a path to justice and peace in the world.

The vision of Church of the Good Shepherd, the place we want to go, the vision we yearn for is to be an inclusive community that shares divine love as a path to justice and peace in the world.

Sounds a little like evangelism to me.

I know the word evangelism is loaded, and it’s full of baggage that we can’t unload in a day.

And…let’s not toss out the heart of what it means.

Which is to proclaim PEACE and proclaim HOPE to people who have been living in exile of one kind or another, to proclaim the JOY of new life to people who have been living with physical, emotional, and spiritual hardship.

My challenge to us this week is to seek out someone, just one person, and evangelize. In this way. To evangelize to one person by taking an action or saying something that lets them know they are loved and they are welcome in our lives. It might be as simple as offering a hug. Or going to the UCC disaster relief website and donating money to help people displaced by natural disasters. Or it might mean reaching out to someone who’s experiencing grief or alienation and letting them know that we love them. Or it may be something as grand as reaching out to someone who we haven’t found the courage to forgive yet and finding that courage from the Holy Spirit to say, “We forgive you.”

May we all find the power and courage to evangelize this week. And may we all experience God’s welcome as we offer welcome to those who need it most.