Evangelism and Feeding the 5000 - Sermon for 8/3/14

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Sermon delivered to Emanuel Lutheran Church in Modesto
August 3, 2014 - Eighth Sunday in Pentecost

"Evangelism and Feeding the 5000" - Text from Matthew 14:13-21




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Greetings to you, my family in Christ, sisters and brothers, saints and sinners. Children of God.

I'm coming to you this Sunday after having spent a day after having returned from a four day mission redeveloper training in Minneapolis, so I may be a bit jet-lagged. Although, to be honest with you, it helped me with getting up early this morning so I could get over here in time for service.

Now if you're not familiar with what the ELCA defines as a mission redeveloper, let me give you some bit of insight about it. As you may be aware, and I am not sure that there are many of us who haven't become aware of it, church attendance for mainline churches has dropped tremendously over the last couple of decades. And at the same time ELCA, "Evangelical Lutheran Church of America" has been reevaluating its mission.

One of the jokes that I have heard over the last few years has been about "Welcome to the ELCA, where the E is silent". Now, the fact that the E stands for "Evangelical" may come as a surprise to some people, because by their understanding of the word, Lutherans are the furthest thing from "evangelical" that they can think of. But the very simple fact is that the church that Martin Luther and his contemporaries set up was always intended to be known as well as the "evangelical" church, and the fact that we continue to include the "e" in our name, that we are "evangelical Lutherans" is in fact no accident of history.

But "evangelism" is not something that Lutherans, or many mainline Christians, for that matter, are very comfortable talking about. I think that our culture at large has been redefining "evangelical" as a style of Christianity with a considerably different piety than that which we Lutherans are used to, and tend to forget the root meaning of the word, as that of messengers of the good news no matter what the context.

In fact, it is a calling of all of us Christians, to do that, be messengers of the gospel, but another confusion in society has been that in order to proclaim the good news means to go door to door with brochures and literature and ask people to make a promise to God then and there, or to stand up on a street corner and yell at passersby that they are destined for a fiery afterlife unless they repent right then and there.

But evangelism, at least the way I understand it, and the way our church body as a whole understands it does not have anything to do with yelling at people and telling them that they are going to suffer eternal torment in hell unless they decide then and there that they will ask Jesus to forgive them their sins...just in case a meteor were to suddenly come out of the sky and strike them dead beforehand. That doesn't sound like good news to me, my sisters and brothers, does it to you?

Part of bringing the good news to the world at large is to do the work that Christ calls us to do, which involves the heart of the gospel, the great commandment, to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the evangelist does that while letting the world know that the reason they do it is because of what they have been promised. The love of God, the grace of God, the forgiveness that each of us has.

And so, my sisters and brothers, when we talk about mission development and redevelopment, we're not just talking about planting churches making sure churches grow, we're talking specifically about evangelism, bringing the good news of Christ come here, to those that need to hear the message.

Because there are so many people out there who are struggling, who are hungry for that grace that God has promised us. There are people who have been unfairly impacted by the traditional church, maybe because of their sexuality or perhaps their gender identity, even people who are marginalized because of pathological behavior behavior or even political beliefs. For such people the church has come to be a place that has lost touch with reality, or as a place that is against everything: Anti birth control, antigay, antisex, anti-people, and for those people who hear such a message of opposition, if the church is against everything, how can it be for them? And while that may not be the message that the majority of Christians desire in the world at large, if the loudest voices are the ones who give such a reputation for the followers of Jesus Christ, particularly those tha are typically associated with the evangelical mantle, it becomes an even more difficult place to engage in true evangelism.

And so, before we talk about today's Gospel, my sisters and brothers, I want to take a look at this passage from Isaiah that we read in our first reading. Because as familiar as some of us are with this text, indeed, there's a somewhat well-known hymn that is nearly word for word of the text, what you may not know about it is that it was written in a time that the children of Israel were at the end of the Babylonian exile, and were preparing to reenter the land of milk and honey. This whole chapter of Isaiah speaks about reconciliation, about welcoming people back from a wilderness. Those who have found themselves "exiled" from Christian community, marginalized by a style of Christian behavior and outlook that is neither encouraging of making disciples nor of sharing the good news.

But "come to the water" is good news! "You that have no money, come to the feast!" is an invitation for the poor in spirit, the fallen, the unloved, by all means, this banquet is laid out for all of them. Even as far back as the babylonian exile, in the prophet Isaiah, we are discovering that God is a God of grace who provides sustenance to all of his beloved children.

Isaiah goes on: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" Go out into the world, engage in the activities to which God is calling us, you cannot make your church a more invite place by changing it around on the inside, it is the people who have to change. God has commanded us over and over to provide for the hungry and see to the well-being of the stranger. This is the feast that will satisfy us, the engagement of work in the community to better people's lives!

God made a covenant with David, the king of Israel, but now Jesus Christ is the heavenly king. He is the one who leads us, the people of God. He is the one making the way for us to live with him in fearlessness and comfort. We must be prepared to engage with nations we do not know and nations who do not know us. Not only the people who have been exiled from our church doors, but those who have never graced the doors of a church. Not only the de-churched but also the unchurched! We must be prepared to treat the Atheist, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Wiccan as our brothers and sisters. A church community has to have common meals with these people, inviting them to our own feasts in our church doors.

And without expecting them to be like us, not expecting them to come to our church service, we have to be prepared to invite them to join us with celebration and other events. The Lord our God has provided us with good food, and a warm place to share our fellow humankind, it is our call to avail others of that place, even if there is no hope that they will be a full and participating part of our own church community.

As we saw in our Gospel, even Jesus wanted to retreat into a place of solitude, but the crowds found him and he healed and felt the hunger in the crowd. The disciples were living in a place of scarcity, that they looked at their limited resources of five loaves and 2 fish and said, there is nothing we can do with these people! Send them away to find others. But here is the miracle of miracles. Somehow, when they began to pass the loaves and fish among the crowds, not only were there enough to go around, enough to feed the crowds, but there were fish and loaves left over! The resources that the disciples took with them were multiplied over and over again, and the needs of the crowd were not only met, the entire group was satisfied, their hunger sated, the gospel fulfilled.

This is a wonderful gift that we have been given, fellow Christians. The Lord has entrusted us with this great feast to share with not only ourselves, for it is a great joy that we engage in this feast with each other, but also to those around us, whether or not they will eventually fill out our church doors. Even as we find the grace of our Lord here at worship, and throughout the week, so we find the grace of our lord in the hearts of those whom he wish to send us out into the world to enrich and grow.

My sisters and brothers, God loves you. Our Lord Jesus Christ has rescued us from death and the grave and made a place beside him in heaven. He has become the light of the world and he has given us that light to reflect in the world around us. We are not only called to shine that light on others, showing the way of the Lord through the commandments he has given us, but in doing so, being the witness to the Lord come near by bearing out his love, we glorify his name and magnify him here on earth.

This, my sisters and brothers is the good news of God comes near, the God who makes a home for us in the kingdom of heaven and invites us, all of us, to his glorious feast to come.

Amen.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on August 3, 2014 4:57 PM.

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