Sunday, July 4, 2021
Tell me about Jesus
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
July 4, 2021
A woman was working as a cashier at a Christian bookstore. A Jewish man came in and asked for information about Jesus. The woman said, “Well come right this way.” She led him to a huge display of books about Jesus. The Jewish man shook his head and said, “No I don’t want books. I want you to tell me about Jesus.” She was speechless. How many of us would be speechless at that question?i
Tell me about Jesus. The gospel today falls into two sections and both sections help answer this question. The first is about the challenge that Jesus faces in his own town. Who is this Jesus that he thinks he can tell us what to do? This is just Mary’s boy and he’s only a carpenter anyway. They know the person, the human Jesus, and cannot grasp that he could be anything more than a carpenter.
The second though is what I want to focus on. The second portion is the story of Jesus sending out his 12 disciples, two by two to heal the sick and spread the word. The focus is on the spreading the news of Christ to a world that for the most part has never heard of him. In fact, his life as a person was not yet over, there is no miraculous resurrection to tell about. So, they are sent out to do and to teach. These two actions are inextricably linked together. They are expected to do both. This brings up an interesting and all too common contemporary problem.
I mentioned last week that trying to explain Jesus to a Moslem was a challenge. Talking about Jesus with non-Christians is a challenge because no other religion makes the kind of claim we do about Jesus. Even more true today is that many do not know anything about Jesus Christ.
In the video the Wednesday theology lunch group watched Richard Rohr said, “When we speak of Jesus Christ we are proclaiming two very different things.” We speak of Jesus the person, the one today’s gospel is talking about and we are speaking of Christ. Christ is a cosmic figure who we say, was and is and is to come. Christ is what the prologue of John speaks of in the famous prologue. This aspect of Jesus was not known during his lifetime and that’s important to remember.
I was listening to a podcast in the Way of Love series by the national church. The person being interviewed was making the point that we have to start at such a basic level. She was the chaplain at one of the Episcopal High Schools and it might have been here in Houston. She was showing her class the movie Jesus Christ Superstar around Easter time. One of her students missed the last part of the movie because she was out at a Lacrosse game. She came in the next day and wanted to know how it ended. Now the chaplain thought she meant the movie, but she said, “No, what happened to Jesus.” It turns out that she didn’t know the whole resurrection story. This was a senior in a religious high school and she didn’t know the Easter story.
You see we can’t assume people know what we are talking about in today’s world. There are many in the under 40 generation who have never been in a church. That is true of many in my generation who did not grow up going to church or left early some like me even before we reached our teens. A total ignorance of basic Christianity is not as uncommon as you think. Sadly, much of the impression the unchurched have of the church is a very negative view of a bunch of hypocritical bigots. That’s what we see in the media and hear about in politics. They do not hear a message of love coming from much of the church and that’s a problem.
So the second part of our gospel where he sends the disciples out two by two is relevant to us today. The focus is on the spreading the news of Christ to a world that for the most part has never heard of Jesus. Remember his life as a person was not yet over, there is no miraculous resurrection to tell about. So they are sent out to do and to teach. These two actions are inextricably linked together. They are expected to do both. This brings up an interesting and all too common contemporary problem.
Let’s go back to the story I told at the beginning of my sermon. What would you say to someone who came up and asked “Tell me about Jesus.” What would you say. Take a moment and turn to the person next to you and tell them what you would say.
Now I’m not as interested in what you said as I am in how that felt. Give me a word that describes what that felt like to you.
The first problem we have in going out and talking about Jesus is we have an image of the guy on the street corner yelling “Have you been saved.” Or the Jehovah’s Witness at our door on a Saturday morning. You know when you peek out the front window and see them coming up the walk and pretend not to be home.
I was at an evangelism conference in Cleveland Ohio at my old church St. Paul’s in Cleveland Heights. There were about 600 Episcopalians from all over the country attending, which by itself is remarkable when you think how uncomfortable we are as a church talking evangelism. Bishop Curry was there and gave several presentations and sermons. He said the biggest problem we have as a church is we do not talk about our faith. We don’t tend to talk about our faith or our faith journey with people within our own parishes so how in the world are we going to do what the disciples did and talk to total strangers?
There is a difference about saying what you believe to inform and understand rather than to coerce. Sharing our faith can be a gift to another person. When offered in love the person can accept or reject and we must accept their decision. However, we must be prepared to say something about what we believe. Helping to give words is the purpose of many of my sermons, our Adult Formation classes and other offerings. Many complain that conservative Christians can quote chapter and verse. Well they can because they have taken the time to study the material. How can we spread the good news that we know in our hearts if we will not talk about it amongst ourselves. How can we spread the good news if we have not thought about what to say. This process of gaining confidence is at the heart of what our Christian Formation program for all ages should be about.
Evangelism simply means speaking the good news. You don’t need polished words or phrases. You do not need to be able to quote chapter and verse. You do need to be able to articulate your faith in your own words. Articulate what you believe in words that are sincere, from the heart and do not be ashamed to speak what you believe.
Our challenge today is many of the people who walk in our door fall into one of three categories. The first is the person you would expect. They come from a church background and have moved to a new city and are looking for what they know. One thing that has changed in that world is that people are not necessarily loyal to any one denomination and tend the church shop to find one that fits there theological beliefs. The next is ones who have never been to church or haven’t been in a very long time but know there is something they want, maybe for their children so they come as a family. The other are people who have been wounded by a church and they are willing to risk, maybe because of a crisis, one more time that maybe, just maybe they can find a church that will love them as they are.
As we move forward as a parish into this crazy new world we need to welcome everyone, just as they are. Invite them to join us in our mutual journey of growing in the love of God and connect them to a parish that will love and support every member. Invite Welcome Connect is an evangelism program that you had started on under Fr. Chris. Jennifer found his notes on Thursday and the program he laid out is a good one. I intend to set it back in motion. Now that will involve making some changes, but there is nothing there you hadn’t already started on. I’m already involved in the Welcome Roundtable program of the diocese and that program is returning this fall, in fact St. Paul’s is hosting the first in person meeting since the pandemic. So if you want to get involved let me know for I will need lots of help.
This is an exciting and challenging time for us and I hope you will join me as Episcopal evangelists and that’s not an oxymoron.