Tag Archives: evangelism

Why Churches Need to Stop Being Good Hosts

Mark 6:1-13

He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. (Read the whole passage)

This story is one of the most uncomfortable for Christians to hear, even among some of the very difficult parts of Jesus’ story that we tell. More uncomfortable than death, than conflict, than sin. We don’t like this story because it doesn’t reflect how we experience the good news and church for the most part.

The first half of the reading sets the stage for our discomfort. Jesus goes to his hometown and is ridiculed and his message isn’t even heard by those he is trying to reach.

And with that rejection in mind comes the really scary part. Jesus sends out the disciples to meet people, to be welcomed by them and to reach them with the good news. To be evangelists.

And if we are honest about our feelings with this story, the images of well dressed mormon missionaries and Jehevoh’s Witnesses knocking on our doors come to mind. People who make us uncomfortable when they come to us… and now we are supposed to imagine becoming just like them. Jesus wants us to go our door knocking so that we can enforce our religious views on others who probably aren’t interested in religious conversation? Doesn’t Jesus remember the part right before where his own friends and family reject him as a preacher? Shouldn’t they be the most supportive?

For a lot of Christians, the prospect of going out in the community, into the world conjures up feelings of hesitation, disdain, discomfort, uncertainty.

And it is not surprising that we feel that way given our recent history. 

For the last 50 years or more, Christianity hasn’t needed to do local evangelism. Evangelists and missionaries were people we sent to far away lands. To the tribes of Africa, to the heathens of the middle east, to mysterious peoples of Asia. And even still when we did to large scale evangelism at home, it was in the form of residential schools with the intention of taking the savage out of the Indian.

For a long time, the evangelism that most christians and most local churches have done is to welcome people who are already Christians into our established communities. People who have recently moved into town, people who have immigrated from other Christian countries, people from other churches, usually of the same denomination.

And yet in the past few years, the world changed. Most people stopped being Christian. Many people began drifting away from church. And today, most young adults have almost no experience of church at all because their parents stopped going when they were young adults.

And yet we as local churches and church leaders kept operating like all we needed to do was to be ready to welcome existing Christians into our communities. We are well structured to receive Lutherans looking for a Lutheran church with a Lutheran Sunday School, Lutheran Choir, Lutheran confirmation program, Lutheran church council, Lutheran bible study and other Lutheran programs. When all the Lutherans looking for an established church come to town, we will be ready. 

Yet, we all know that isn’t going to happen.

So it is n wonder that the idea of being sent out to spread the gospel is uncomfortable for us. We have been trained and structured to be ready and waiting here for people to come to us.

And again, it is no wonder that this story of Jesus sending out the disciples is scary for us. Because when we really think about ir, Jesus sends the disciples out to be guests – not hosts – to those that they are reaching. Yet, the only way most churches try to reach those in need of the gospel is by being host.

As the disciples are sent out by Jesus, they are sent to be beloved guests. They are sent to meet people in their territory. To meet people in their comfort zones, on their turf. They are sent to be guests receiving and accepting the hospitality of others. That is what the whole dust on the feet thing is about. A good host in that culture would wash the feet of guests. And so dust still on the feet would be a sign that the disciples  had not been received with proper hospitality.

Being a beloved guest is not easy. To enter into the space of another. To go with humility. To give up control and to meet the other on their terms. It is a relational act. Unlike churches where hospitality is often the set up to ask visitors to join the congregation, to sing in the choir, to teach Sunday School, to serve on a committee… as a beloved guest, hospitality is something received.

The disciples receive hospitality and in exchange offer good news. They offer the good news of relationship, the good news of God’s great love for us, the good news of Jesus Christ – God come to us in flesh.

As difficult as this story is for us, as uncomfortable as we are with the idea of being sent out… we are asked to consider a few things. 

What would hospitality without an agenda look like for us in the church? What would our hospitality look like if rather than hoping for another warm body with a pulse to join our ranks, that se looked upon guests as people sent to us with a message of God’s love?

A what would it look like for us to be beloved guests sent to receive the hospitality of others? Sent to offer the good news as thanks and gratitude for the welcome and generosity we receive?

Jesus is calling us to radically new and different ways of being people of faith. It is one that we haven’t been prepared for, kind of like the disciples who are sent without much to take on their journey. Jesus is calling us to a new way of being disciples but also to an old way.

Jesus is calling us to reach out to the people around us, the people outside of our comfort zone, outside of the community that gathers under this roof, to reach out in relationship with the good news.

And yes, being a guest, a beloved guest, is scary. It will mean we are not in control, it will mean we don’t get to operate on our terms, instead will have to abide by the terms of those whom we are tying to reach. And we will not feel ready or prepared for this task.

But just as the disciples discover as they preach transformation of mind and soul to those that they meet, we too will discover that Jesus is enough. That the good news is sufficient. That God’s love and forgiveness for sinners like us is enough. That God’s new life for people dead and re-born in baptism like us is enough. That God’s welcome and hospitality this table with bread and wine given us for us enough. These things are enough to allow us to be beloved guests sent to reach the world. They are enough to allow us to receive the beloved guests sent to us with messages of God’s love.

Jesus is calling us into a new yet familiar world. One that resembles the world of the disciples more than it resembles our recent past. And the reception we receive might be rejection. And we might have to shake off the dust of our feet… and yes this is not something we are used to and it puts us outside of our comfort zone.

But even scarier will be when we are received with hospitality and welcome. Even scarier will be when hospitality is extended. Like the visitor who comes to us searching for something more, searching for the presence of God among us, we too will find the presence of God among those who receive us. Just as we are washed and fed by God here, we will be able to faithfully name that the washing and feeding we receive at the hands of others is God’s presence out in the world.

Evangelism, going to the world, forming relationship with those who don’t know yet of God’s love for the world is daunting and scary… maybe one of the scariest things we will consider as Christians. But it is also where Jesus is sending us. And the good news is, as we go out, Jesus will be all we need.

Amen.

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‘Course Jesus isn’t safe. But he’s good.

It has been a while since my last post, but I am hoping to get back into posting after a few weeks of holidays. Welcome to 2015 on The Millennial Pastor. In the meantime, here is my sermon from today. See you around. 

Mark1:14-20

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”… (read the whole reading here).

Sermon

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.

Today, we pick up the story just 14 verses into the Gospel of Mark. In the last two weeks we have heard the story of Jesus’ Baptism, and last week Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel. Today, he continues the call to Andrew and Simon, to James and John sons of Zebedee.

As this story comes 3 weeks after Epiphany, it seems to continue with the Epiphany theme. Epiphany tells the second half of the Christmas story. At Christmas, Christ is revealed to us as the child born in a manger – Christ revealed in flesh. On Epiphany Jesus is revealed to the Wisemen come to meet the Messiah born in Bethlehem – Christ revealed as the Son of God. Today, as Jesus calls these new disciples, he seems to be continuing his Epiphany journey, revealing himself as the Son of God.

But before Jesus calls these fishermen to follow him, he does something else interesting. He preaches his first sermon. The first words that Jesus speaks in the gospel of Mark are:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The Kingdom of God has come near.

That sounds simple enough to our modern Christian ear.

But for the Jews that Jesus was preaching to, it was radical. And it was radical because the Kingdom of God was something that didn’t feel near. God was NOT close by. God was far away. God was too righteous, too holy, too big and powerful, to come near to sinful human beings. That was the whole point of the temple of Jerusalem. God lived in the centre, in the holy of holies, and people needed to be purified in order to come near to, to access God. God was dangerous, unsafe. Being in the presence of God would make anyone of us drop dead. The annual tradition of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, was based on this idea. Some poor priest was send to the Ark of the Covenant at the centre of the temple to purify it of the sin of the people that had accumulated over the year. The priest was sent with a rope tied around his foot, in case he dropped dead being in God’s presence, so that his body could be pulled out.

This holy and righteous God was unsafe and dangerous, being near to God was not necessarily something to be sought out.

And yet Jesus comes preaching, “The Kingdom of God has come near.”

Jesus preaches a radical and dangerous message. One that upset the way the people understood their world, one that made their world unsafe. One with God near by.

eye-of-aslan“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”

“ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.”

Most of don’t worry about dropping dead when we come forward for communion, or when we walk behind the Altar. Yet, like the Ancient Hebrews, we too feel far away from God in our own way.

For the Ancient Hebrews, it was that God was too big, too righteous, too holy for human beings.

But for us, it is that we are too unrighteous, too small, too unholy for God.

As a pastor, one of the most common concerns that pastors hear from church people and non-church people alike is about not being good enough. We might not think that God is too good, but we often think we are too bad, too sinful, too flawed for God. So many of us sit in the pews and wonder if God would listen to our prayers. We wonder if God cares about someone like us and all the things we have done in our life. We believe that we have done things that are unforgiveable.

For many Lutherans, it is why we prefer pastors to pray, just incase God ignores a sinner like me. It part of why we hesitate to have communion more than 4 times a year, just incase it becomes corrupt by having regular contact with us. It is why we wait for children to be confirmed before they commune, in case they aren’t good enough.

But most of all, we worry that the selves we present to the world, the selves that we hide – our flaws and imperfections, our history and our baggage, the selves that cover up our shame and weakness… we worry that God sees our true selves. The naked, vulnerable, shameful versions of our selves.

And so while we might not be frightened of dropping dead in front of God, God is just as unsafe for us. For us it is not dropping dead, but dying of shame. Of being vulnerable and exposed in front of God.

This God. This God who is bringing the Kingdom near in a wild and untamed kind of way, is unsafe.

And still Jesus preaches his message.

“The Kingdom of God is near to you.”

And for the people of Ancient Israel, the wild, untamed, unsafe Jesus of Mark, declaring that the Kingdom is near is also declaring a world changing, life altering message. The Kingdom of God is near, not hidden away in the holy of holies of the temple. The King is near, the King who is too holy, too righteous for sinful humanity is coming near anyway. The King doesn’t care about holy or unholy, clean or unclean, this King wants to be with the people.

And so while the Kingdom coming near might have been unsafe, it might have resulted in death, it was also radical, transformational, it was incredible. The great king wanted to be near to humans, to you, to me. This is a King who cares about and is concerned with people. One who breaks the rules of clean and unclean, breaks the rules of lawful and unlawful, of righteous and unrighteous.

It is no wonder the disciples just drop their nets and follow. They were experiencing the presence of God like never before. Maybe they didn’t know in their heads just who Jesus really was, but in their hearts they must have been seized by nearness of God.

6a00d8341ec10c53ef00e54f60744f8834-800wi“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.”

“ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Course he isn’t safe. 

But he’s good. 

He’s the King, I tell you. 

Here is the thing about being safe. It is safe to God stay in the holy of holies, to keep God at distance. And it is safe to keep God contained in neat and cozy Sunday morning church services.

But this morning, God isn’t safe.

Jesus is not preaching a safe sermon. Jesus is preaching a dangerous sermon.

The Kingdom of God has come near.

The Kingdom is near and we are left exposed, sins and all.

The Kingdom is near and God can see our shame and weakness.

The Kingdom is near and we cannot hide our true selves.

And so we come together, come to this place to meet the King who has come near to us. And we confess our sins, we reveal our need for love and forgiveness. We openly admit that we do not have life figured out, that we need God’s Word of eternal life. We declare that we are the hungry masses, that we need to fed by God’s body and blood.

And Jesus comes near to us.

Untamed, wild, unsafe, lion-like Jesus comes near.

And our lives, our worlds are changed.

Jesus comes near and changes us. Transforms us.

Jesus comes near and forgives us.

Jesus comes near and speaks a word of life to us.

Jesus comes near and feeds us with the Body of Christ.

Today, we hear Jesus’ first sermon. We hear Jesus revealed again and again to us. Revealed in flesh, revealed as the son of god, revealed as coming near. Today, we hear an unsafe sermon, one that threatens to knock us dead, or least to make us die of shame.

‘Course he isn’t safe.

But Jesus is Good.

Jesus is the King I tell you.

And this unsafe, untamed God might just make us die, but also shows us untamed and wild New Life.

Amen.