Our gospel lesson from Mark this morning allows us to ask that question. For many people the idea of evangelism can be threatening. However, this does not need to be the case. Jesus and the disciples demonstrate how both mission and evangelism can be carried out in harmony with one another.
Text: Mark 6: 1-13
Walk the Talk
Welcome back! Welcome back from the mission field.
I am not sure if you realize it or not but as a congregation we have just completed a four day mission project. Four days serving God, doing God’s work with one another. Working in our community to make a difference.
Now, some of you might be wondering what I am talking about. Perhaps you are wondering if all the sun from the past few days has addled my brain. Maybe a few of you are sitting there and you have that embarrassed feeling for me. You know what I mean. You are thinking, Neil it was the Waterfront Festival, all we did was sell some hot dogs.
Of course you are correct. It was the Waterfront Festival and we did sell a few hot dogs. We spent four days participating in the largest festival our community runs all year. Yes, the event is a fundraiser for St. Andrew’s. A fundraiser which allows us to continue to worship, to participate in the Soup Kitchen program, offer a safe place for the AA and the Girl Guides to meet. A place where the word of God is spoken. A place where prayer occurs and where study of God’s word is encouraged.
Yes, it was a fundraiser. However, for four days we were a Christian presence during the Waterfront Festival. Our presence, our willingness to go out beyond our own doors is the church at work. It is the church engaged in mission.
I will share something else with you. Over the past four days we did not just do mission. We also did evangelism. I know, we did the ‘E’ word. Yes, over the past four days while we were at the Waterfront Festival we not only engaged in mission, but we also did Evangelism. Again our presence at the festival is testimony that God is at work in Cobourg.
A few times during the festival a few of us went out into the crowd by the band shell and we handed out Frisbee’s that were branded as St. Andrew’s. We gave those Frisbee’s to kids, we shared who we were and we hoped that they enjoyed the festival. Friends, that’s evangelism. That is going out and sharing who we are as a Christian community.
Many people thing that mission is one thing and evangelism is another. Most of the time we avoid evangelism like the plague. It is scary! However, over the past few days we managed to do both. It was subtle, it was low-key but it was there. Over the past few days we not only did the word, we also spoke the word.
A powerful illustration of doing and speaking the word was offered by Hugh Thompson when he received a honourary degree from Emery University. As is often the case the students took this time to chat amongst themselves as they did not know who the honorary recipients were. In fact there was only one occasion during this part of the ceremonies where they listened. It was when Hugh Thompson was speaking. Thompson was probably the least educated person in the room. He did not finish college, choosing instead to enlist in the Army where he became a helicopter pilot.
On March 16, 1968 he was flying a routine patrol over Vietnam when he happened to fly over the village of Mai Lai just as American troops were slaughtering dozens of unarmed villagers – old men, women and children. Thomspon set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining civilians. He ordered his tail-gunner to train the helicopter guns on the American soldiers, and he ordered the gunmen to stop killing the villagers. His actions that day saved the lives of dozens of people and he was almost court-martialed for his efforts. It was thirty years before the Army awarded him the Soldier’s Medal.
As he stood at the microphone during that commencement ceremony, the rowdy student group grew still. And then Thompson talked about his faith. Simple words. Speaking of what his parents taught him as a child Thompson said, “They taught me, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The students were amazed at these words of Jesus, words from Sunday school, words from worship, words of Christian testimony. They leapt to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.
The students were amazed. The people who heard Jesus were amazed by what he taught. Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.
Thompson’s words carried weight because he was a man who had obviously ‘walked the talk’.
When he said ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ it wasn’t an empty platitude or a piece of wisdom that had been handed down from one generation to another. It had meaning, and it had that meaning because Thompson had lived it out.
So what does it mean to talk the talk and walk the walk? It is an interesting juxtaposition.
You see there are times when it is really easy to raise some money for a mission, but then we get asked what our faith in Jesus means to us and we get stuck.
And sometimes we can talk about why it is right to raise the money for a mission, but then we get asked to go out and serve in the mission field and we get stuck.
Our gospel reading has a little bit of all of this in it. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth. People are amazed by what he teaches, amazed at his wisdom. They ask where did Jesus, our Jesus, get such wisdom, such knowledge. Then they begin to question how he knows such things and how he could do such things. They took offense at him.
And Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Amazed that they could not accept that one of their own could do such things, that they couldn’t see the truth of the matter. They could neither talk the talk nor walk the walk. They were lost; their lack of faith was a rejection of Jesus.
So Jesus went out and calling the disciples he sent them out two by two. They taught repentance and healed the sick. They walked the talk.
Often we have a false sense between mission and evangelism. We see it as an either/or situation and this simply isn’t the case. As we see demonstrated Jesus sent the disciples out to teach and to heal. He asked them to do mission and evangelism. So it is not either/or, it is both.
What is interesting is that Mark uses Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth to setup the mission of the disciples. This is actually the third time that Jesus had tasted a glimpse of failure in his ministry. In Mark 3:21, his own family labeled him crazy and tried to restrain him. In Mark 3:31, his mother and brothers and sisters try again to remove him from his teaching ministry. And we have today’s lessons where in his home town, Jesus meets with out and out rejection. Mark’s inclusion of what is really a very embarrassing moment in Jesus’ ministry is to prepare the disciples for what might be a mixed reaction. Jesus tells the disciples “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake of the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” However, just as Jesus continued to heal the sick in Nazareth even while surrounded by unbelief the disciples are also encouraged to persist in the world for Jesus’ sake.
Of course the lesson for the disciples is also a lesson for us today. That even in the face of rejection, the anxiety of embarrassment we are still to go out and talk about Jesus. We are to go out and live lives that serve as an example of Jesus.
It isn’t always easy. It doesn’t always work. Because we are human, we are flawed and our own broken and sinful nature means we are going to make mistakes. We aren’t always going to get it right. Sometimes we have more in common with the people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus than we do with Jesus himself or the disciples. But we strive to always do the work of Jesus, we wish to see God in all things.
Talking about our faith can be scary. We don’t want to be judged, we don’t want to be seen as pushy. We also recognize that we no longer live in a society that identifies as Christian. It is a risk to speak out as a Christian or to identify yourself as a Christian. When we do so we open ourselves to all sorts of comments and issues.
What we find is that people are less interested in our relationship with God and more interested in why the church holds a particular position on homosexuality, war, poverty, Israel, Palestine, why churches don’t pay taxes. The list goes on. What is frustrating about these questions is that church to church, Christian to Christian the answer to those questions is slightly different. God talk outside of the church is hard.
Friends, we have it within us the power to change the conversation. We can talk the talk and walk the walk. We have the power to change the conversation. To bring the focus back to God. When we are challenged on a stereotype about the church, we can put the focus on God.
What Mark’s gospel lesson for today does is remind us that we don’t need degrees in theology or polished words to talk about God. All we need is the desire to speak about God from our heart. To share how our relationship with God has impacted our lives.
Words spoken from your heart, words of truth are never something to be ashamed of. For the last four days we have demonstrated to the community of Cobourg that God is very much at work. That God is very much a part of this community. Let’s continue to share through words and deeds the love that God has for all people. Amen.