Sunday, July 08, 2012

Teaching and Evangelism in Post-popular times.

We all know that Marks gospel moves around a lot: if it were a movie there would be quick cuts, close-ups, special effects, lots of sounds; all those miracles, all those stories, it turns out that the two words that show up most often in Marks gospel are ‘immediately’ and ‘astonished.’ If the Gospel of Mark were a Youtube video you might see a quick close-up of someone turning around to see what they never expected, their eyes opening wide, their mouth exclaiming in wonder that something very new and very wonderful is happening here.

Except not today - at least not at the start of today's gospel. For today Jesus returns to his hometown with his disciples after all these miracles, signs and wonders, and everyone in the home town is saying: “Where did he get all this, because we're pretty sure we've figured this kid out.”

Jesus says that a prophet is without honor in his own hometown and the Gospel tells us he could no deeds of power there except to lay his hands on a few sick people. So maybe the moral for the day is that not a lot happens when people think they know you too well in your own hometown. And to me that’s where the Gospel  meets us today: in a world where people think they already know Jesus and his church all too well.

In a way it is our own fault. In the last 2000 years we Christians have told our story, have done our work, proclaiming Jesus in word and deed; sometimes with great success, other times in some real disasters but mostly carrying on, with God's grace, the greatest wisdom, ethical, spiritual, politic, prophetic, religious practice and tradition in Western civilization.

In fact, in all that time, we have shared the Gospel so well in word and deed that the world – at least in the west – has become our own home town and, in a strange way, people now know us so well they no longer see us! That may be one of the things that's  particularly happened to the church in the last  - let's say- fifty years, simply because we've done our work so well.

Look at the advances; how we treat one another:  in caring for the poor and meek, in working for justice, freedom and peace, in speaking for and serving those in any kind of trouble. Yes, we might have a lot farther to go, but over the last 2000 years we have learned and shared a lot about loving our neighbors. The mission of the church has made the world a better place. So maybe, paradoxically, we've done such a good  job, now that the younger generation now tends to see our face and our faith everywhere, and at the same time, they really don’t see us anywhere; because they think they know us far too well. And that's the problem.

If we look around in almost all of the churches of the diocese, we find, for the most part very few people over 15 and under 50. We just are not interesting to them anymore. And the question I work with, pray with, live with (and I bet you do too) is what do we have to say to them, how do we speak the Good News to people who don’t even know they need to hear it?

So, if that question speaks to you, today's gospel arrives like a hand-delivered gift of God. For Jesus meets this moment in Mark’s Gospel, with people who think there’s nothing new they can hear from Him and his disciples; and if we look carefully at that lesson we can see that God tells Jesus and his disciples, and that means us, to do two simple (and not easy) things: get teaching and go talk to people.

First, Jesus goes among the villages teaching, and that’s one half of it. Teaching, and therefore learning, has to come first.  We have to learn to teach this eternal good news of Christ in a new way. In so much of our Church it seems like we are trying to speak to a 21st century world with the vocabulary of a 19th century theology and it doesn’t work that well. So we need to take time and effort to “read, mark and inwardly digest” our faith so that we can feed a famished world with the true bread of Christ in ways that can nourish anew.

I know that education is already important in this congregation, but elsewhere in the Diocese we’ve started classes and programs that are building learning skills for Christians who seriously want to teach and share their faith.

More than a half-dozen parishes in the diocese have people enrolled in the Bishop’s Certificate, a multiyear program that covers, scripture, history, theology, liturgy, pastoral care and evangelism in a comprehensive program.
Education for Ministry is another multi-year program that other Anglicans find fuels their faith and teaches them to share in new ways. Cursillo is doing great things in this area as well.

 We're also starting two new education and outreach programs this year to speak to Christians and non christians who might have overlooked the Anglican tradition. One is a book study on Marcus Borg’s “The Heart of Christianity,” which is very helpful resource  for reaching people who think they might be a bit too liberal for the Anglican Church. The other book, “Love Wins”, by a popular young evangelical named Rob Bell, works to reach out to people who fear that the Anglican church might be too liberal for them. That's why Anglicanism is often called the “Via Media,” the middle way, so in the work we’re doing, we're reaching out to meet people where they are and help them see the eternal riches  of Christ in a new way.

We’re also starting to build some gatherings on ways of getting better in the ways we each out in the larger community. This spring we’re starting a program called Pastoral Partners to offers some new skills and methods in making our ministry of caring more careful. It will take some time, mean some sacrifice and time working together, but it also means we'll be able to offer better pastoral care in our parishes, nursing homes, hospital ministry; learning and teaching ways to make a better ministry in our communities for Christ’s sake. To quote the motto of a growing contemporary English parish; God is love, we deliver!

And that take us to the other point in the Gospel today where Jesus sends the disciples out, giving them authority, telling them to proclaim that all should repent, turn around and see that the man they thought they knew so well, this Jesus, is the way to see, live and love life anew; is the grace and gift of God willing to meet us face to face, here and now, and open us all up to larger life.

This is not an easy ministry, it wasn’t then and it isn’t now. But I am convinced that this is still the good news for today. We live in a world in which the Church has done such a good job that people take us for granted, that they  no longer see who we are and what we can offer; that we’re just seen as yesterdays hope looking sadly out of date in terms of tomorrow promise.

 And we need to take that into consideration, so we just need to make sure our message can speak to the concerns, hopes, fears of the people with whom we seek to share this good news. So we need to pray, we need to study, we need to teach and we need to learn to reach people where they are so that we can show them the true hope we offer.

For we are called as disciples, to take that message of Jesus to the world, even while facing the same facts he faced in his own home town: that people felt they had nothing to learn from Him. We can live with that, and we must learn from that too; to take the chance  to tell people the good news that God’s love, God’s living life and ministry, has come to their home, is facing them face to face, and looks a lot  like someone they thought they already knew well; like an old friend or even like a member of the family. Because the simple fact is that, we are the body of  Christ, and the good news of God just might look just like you and me. That is our call, our ministry and the Gospel we share today, in the name of Christ. Amen.

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