Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on Mark 6:7-13


by Reverend Ref

Today I want to talk about that dirty little word that is rarely mentioned in polite Episcopal circles. That word is evangelism. And it's no wonder, what with televangelists, people accosting you on street corners, cars decorated with In case of rapture, this vehicle will be vacant bumper stickers and the like.

The best example of bad evangelism I ever heard was from a comedian named Mike Warnke. He tells a story of this drug-addicted thief who gets off the bus. As the bus is pulling away, an over-zealous evangelist jumps out and screams, "REPENNNNNTTTTTT!!!!" At which point, the victim keels over dead. He finds himself at the pearly gates and St. Peter looks at the book, doesn't see the guy's name, and asks, "What are you doing here?"

The guy says, "Some Christian scared the hell out of me."

That is not effective evangelism. But then again, neither is simply painting the doors red or putting up a sign with our service hours and expecting people to show up. Evangelism takes work, determination, intentionality, and compassion.

Evangelism is also required of us. Jesus sent out the twelve to basically do what he had been doing. He didn't ask for volunteers. He didn't send only the extroverts. He sent out his twelve disciples -- all of them: Peter, James, John, Andrew . . . and yes, even Judas. They were all sent. We are sent. All of us.

It's important to remember that evangelism is not what I mentioned earlier. It's not gaudy furniture and big hair on TV. It's not scaring the hell out of people. It's not coercion. It's invitation. It's an invitation to join the family, to share a meal, to participate in an ongoing discussion about this thing called Christianity.

Evangelism is a different thing these days. Anymore, Christianity is well-known in the world, and people are generally well-educated. People are able to make decisions about why to accept or reject Christianity in a whole different way than before. Sometimes those decisions are well thought out. I had a professor in seminary who came to Christianity through his own thought process and experiences. Sometimes those decisions are purely emotional. How many people, for instance, have left the church or the religion because of the abuse suffered at the hands of clergy?

Evangelism today is not the evangelism of the past. We don't baptize people by sword point, as Constantine did. "Be baptized or die; either way you're going to meet God," should not be part of our repertoire. Neither should we see evangelism as part and parcel of empiricism: "I claim this land for the Queen and God." And I'm not sure the "turn or burn" scare tactics are all that effective either. But then again, maybe that's why I was never very good at sales.

Evangelism today should be like . . . hold on . . . the evangelism of the gospel. First, as followers of Christ, we need to understand that we are sent out. We can't simply sit in our pews being comfortable, we need to go work in the field.

Second, as another preacher with whom I am acquainted said in his sermon today, we need to be humble. The disciples took nothing with them: no bread, no bags and no money. We need to leave our baggage behind and simply invite people to the banquet.

Third, and I said this earlier, it's about invitation, not coercion. Jesus says, "If they don't accept you, shake the dust off your feet and leave." He didn't say to stand and argue with them. He didn't say to condemn them to hell. Spread the gospel, sow the seeds, and then let God go to work.

Finally, do it with compassion. Don't threaten them with an eternity in hell. Don't look for reasons why they are bad people and back it up with selected biblical texts. Don't bash them over the head with a Scofield reference bible and hope for conversion through osmosis. Rather, use compassion. Meet them where they are. Use your hands for healing, not beating.

All of what I have said is fine and good, but there's something else you need to know about evangelism, and this is probably the most important thing of all. Yes, evangelism is required. It's invitation. It is compassionate. It is an exercise in humility. But it can only be accomplished if you know why you are here.

Why do you come to church? Why do you call yourself a Christian? Why do you think this religion is any different, or better, than any other religion? Yes, we need to be evangelists; but we need to understand why we are here in the first place. That doesn't mean we have all the answers, but it does mean that this is something more than, "Because I've always gone to church."

We need to know what draws us, what excites us, what comforts us. And when we know that, we will be ready to invite people to join us.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

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