this blog post is the seventh in a series of eight blog posts about the Way of Love.
For more information about the Way of Love check out www.episcopalchurch.org
turn. learn. pray. worship. bless. go. rest.
With an open heart and ready to listen.
The practice of “going” in the Way of Love is, to me, both the easiest and the most difficult practice of them all.
To “go” in the Christian tradition has been long understood as exercising the practice of evangelism; the Great Commission in Matthew is the offering of Jesus’ final words to his disciples as he ascends heavenward:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mt. 28: 16-20
This is not the first time, of course, that the disciples have been told to “go” by Jesus:
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. Mk. 6: 7-13 (also in Mt. 10:5-14, and Lk 9: 1-6, and see Lk 10: 1-12 for the sending of the 70)
Jesus is pretty clear in the Great Commission what he expects as an outcome (baptism/conversion) but in the other sendings- of the 12 and, later, the 70- it is less clear; those who are sent are asked to heal in Jesus’ name, but there is not a complete catechetical course that Jesus tucks in their bags. In fact, they don’t even take bags at all. Just themselves.
I like that.
We have a “thing” about evangelism in the Episcopal Church. We nervously titter and call it “the ‘E’ word” and say that we’re no good at it, and we talk about how difficult it is for us until the cows come home …without, often, giving it a shot. We have visions of door knocking and cold calling. We have images of televangelists in our heads and the great fervor with which their messages are delivered. We have memories of historical missionary events in which entire cultures were subsumed by our colonial efforts that, while bringing the faith to faraway places, (and education and healthcare) did little to “respect the dignity of every human being.” (BCP pg. 305) And so, we are a little bit wary of evangelism.
Jesus asks us to share the gift of our faith. That’s at the heart of evangelism. The word “evangelism” derives from the Greek word euangelizō, which means “to announce good news.” But for squeamish Episcopalians, let me suggest another approach: How about just “going” and witnessing to Jesus’ great love by being love? Leave the Bible-thumping at home and use the God-given gift of who you are to bring the love of Christ to the world.
I have been working at this in the past couple of months through the Bishop Out Of The Box initiative simply “going” to different places as a witness to God’s love- on the riverfront in Harrisburg, the Bloomsburg Fair, Downtown Williamsport, and, (next up,) Lancaster City and Linglestown. At the core of this project is just stepping out- out of the pews, out of the church, and, yes, out of our comfort zones- to be icons of God’s love. In this project we have had amazing conversations with people who are broken, hurting, confused, angry, sad, joyful, curious, and passionate. By simply asking one lead question: “Would you like me to offer a prayer for you?” a latch is opened into a great body of human need and, by the grace of God, defenses come down and we have been able to connect on a deep level. There’s no sales pitch, no pressure, and no deal to close- just one human person receiving the prayer needs of another and offering it to God. As in Jesus’ model, we don’t do this alone; a group of three or four or five of us have headed out on these prayer walks and give each other strength as we “go” into places that are new. That’s one way to do it. Please come and join us if you’d like to give it a try. You can find the schedule here: (www.diocesecpa.org)
When I was a kid, I learned that old hand rhyme “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people…” I am sure that you know it. The Church, gathered, is a powerful thing. In the Church we receive strength upon strength through the sacraments, through the gathering of community and by being, in fellowship, the Body of Christ, complete, through each other. There is another way to play that hand rhyme game, however. If you lace your fingers on top of your hands, and say the verse, “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and… where are the people?…” you can see, in your hands, a vision of the church “sent.” Traditional ecclesiology calls this the dichotomy of the Church “Gathered” and the Church “Scattered.” My hope is that before we “scatter,” even in the good work of evangelism, that we do it with the strength that comes from having been “gathered.”
It’s not an either/or, it is a bringing forth, from strength to strength, sharing the gifts of God’s grace.
Go with an open heart and ready to listen.
The world is waiting.