Go On Your Way: Evangelism In Our Day And Age II
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.” I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. – Luke 10:1-12
So this story was part of Lisa’s morning devotion today. After reading it, we sat and talked about the passage. She said to me, “Do we even know how to do evangelism today?” That brought me up short, not least because it is spot on. No, I realized. We really don’t. We confuse apologetics with evangelism, as if somehow we are going to argue people in to believing the Good News. We celebrate mission work, both foreign and domestic, yet once again confuse or conflate mission and evangelism. So far from our historic roots; grown far too complacent over too many decades pursuing and achieving social acceptability, we in the United Methodist Church find ourselves in the peculiar position both of recognizing and celebrating our evangelical roots all the while unsure of what “evangelism” really is.
The Gospels are filled with descriptions of evangelism. The story of the sending of the 70 – or is it 72? – is one of the best. After some prefatory comments, Jesus just says, “Go on your way.” He lets them know their way will not be easy; saying they are lambs sent among wolves is a pretty vivid image of lethal danger. All the same, Jesus only advice is to offer peace. They are to accept the gifts offered them. They are to declare that the Kingdom has come near them. In towns that reject them, they wipe the dust from that town from their sandals – surely a sign of disrespect, perhaps even insult – and say, again, “The Kingdom has come near to you.” Those sent carry nothing, not even food. Their whole life is now in God’s hands.
How could it be more simple, more plain? We who wring our hands in worry over how we might reach our world forget the simple instruction manual offered by Jesus: Go on your way.
The previous post addressed matters of context, the reality of our world and the reality of what it is to be a Christian offering Good News to this world. This post moves beyond the meta-answers to the question, “How do we meet people where they are?” and gets to the heart of the matter: We just do it. We go out to the world, recognizing both the congeniality of the world in many respects to aspects of the Christian message, yet never forgetting Jesus’ warning that we are lambs sent among wolves. We neither celebrate our victories nor moan about our failures. Rather, we rejoice that the Kingdom has been brought near. We don’t concern ourselves with details of method. We go out. We offer peace. We hear people’s stories. We comfort those who mourn, acknowledge the meek as those who shall triumph, declare peacemakers as children of God. We proclaim the Good News. We tell our story of a man who went around and told people that God loved them; we tell our story of what it’s like to realize this is a present reality in our lives. We tell our story of what it’s like to struggle, living as those who know we are loved and yet always wanting and willing to rebel. We tell our story of God’s persistence. We offer no judgments. We do not condemn. With those who hear and wish to become a part of our larger story, we rejoice. With those who do not, we nod and move on, reminding them not only that this has been an opportunity to begin one’s real life now; we also remind them that God is more annoying than the most persistent three-year-old, and refuses to take “No” for an answer.
Evangelizing in our day and age is no different than it was in any other day. The society and culture are both far more congenial yet never quite to be trusted; really spreading the Good News, really listening, really telling our stories always risks far more than rejection. To act as if ours is an age in which evangelism has become somehow less tenable than at other times is to forget that the first rule of evangelism we set out by Jesus: Go on your way. Share the Good News. If you want details, I suppose one could read on in Scripture, reading the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well; read Acts and the sermons of St. Peter and St Paul. You could read the Epistles. It’s all there – right there. There’s no process, no plan, no need to prepare oneself beforehand except perhaps to disabuse oneself of all-too-common delusions. We are just to be on our way.