There are two dirty words in the Episcopal vocabulary. The first is tithing. Although the church highly recommends everyone to strive to tithe, it is not a topic we wish to hear about or talk about, especially those of us who grew up in proper New England, where we learned that it was in bad taste to discuss money and politics in polite company.
The good news is, I am not planning to focus on tithing this morning, but on the other dirty word of the Episcopal Church, evangelism. If statistics are correct, the average Episcopalian invites someone to church once every 25 years. No wonder why we are among the shrinking mainline denominations. And yes, I also learned from my mother that one should not discuss religion in polite company either. In fact, I have always found it interesting how most people are more willing to discuss their latest encounter with their therapist than their latest spiritual encounter at church or how they have experienced the risen Christ in their life. The first is considered so confidential it is protected under HIPPA, the second is not.
Sadly, evangelizing, the art of sharing our experience of the Risen Christ is what we are called to do. In fact it is so central to our work as baptized people, it is included in the Baptismal Covenant, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” (p. 306) I have to admit, as Episcopalians, we are pretty good at the example part of this vow. No doubt, as a church, we have taken to heart St. Francis’ admonition to preach often but use words rarely. And we demonstrate this beautifully each Friday in how we serve our guests at the Community Market, and in the greater church as well based on our involvement with issues of social justice.
What we tend not to be good at is articulating our faith with others. We even struggle to share our faith with each other, let alone people outside the congregation. I suspect a lot of this has to do with our understanding of what evangelism is, as well as our lack of a fuller understanding of Baptism.
Sadly, many of us associate evangelism with the style of the old street preachers from years ago, with Jimmy Swaggert or Joel Olsteen who all proclaimed the prosperity Gospel and often asked if we were saved. ( No wonder why many of us good Episcopalians go running for the hills every time we hear the word evangelism.) And if our association with the Gospel preachers of yesterday doesn’t stir up fear and trembling, we somehow believe we are not qualified to talk about God.
The truth is, we are all qualified to be evangelists. As the old CBS news series proclaimed, “everyone has a story” and we all have a story to share of how Christ or God has been wonderfully part of our lives. Evangelism doesn’t require a photographic memory of the bible, or a Ph.D. in theology. All it requires is the confidence that through Baptism you have been commissioned, ordained, to share your experience of Christ with others.
Share your story with others. With your children, your grandchildren, even your friends. That’s all Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were doing when they wrote their Gospels. They were simply telling an audience who they understood and how they experienced the Risen Christ.
What are your stories? How have you experienced God in your life? These stories are powerful, they are what make our faith relevant to others. A few weeks back, I shared my friend Josh’s story of how God made it known that despite his sexuality, he was still a beloved child of God’s. Many were moved by what was simply his experience of God. Your story can and will have impact others in the same way the stories the disciples told after Christ commissioned them in the upper room.
So often we fail to hear the first part of this morning’s Gospel because our focus is quickly diverted to Thomas’ protests. This morning’s Gospel began with the Apostle’s locked away in the same room where just few days earlier they celebrated the Last Supper. As I read this passage, I often see them cowering in the corner with the doors locked, filled with grief and fear, as they wonder how long until the Roman Guard will come looking for them. I can’t imagine how relieved, excited and possibly even a little scared they were as the risen Christ some how enters through the locked doors. He greets them with “Peace/calm, I bring to you, my peace I leave with you.” Then he breathes on them. This is the breath of the Holy Spirit, the breath of new hope and new life and then he sends them out to continue his work of reconciliation in the world.
This story is not that different in theme from the Easter stories of Mathew and Mark when the angel tells the women that Jesus is not to be found in the tomb, but has gone on before them to Galilee. This place, this space, is our upper room, it is where we come to find the peace of God. This is where we come each week to be fed by Christ, and to receive the breath of God. Like the Apostles, it is easy for us to want to simply lock the doors, to huddle in fear of the world, and be afraid to make the Risen Christ known. Like Peter by the Temple, we are often afraid to admit that we are Galileans, followers of Christ. However, we too have to go and find Christ in Galilee, and share the message.
In the thirteenth chapter of Bishop Curry’s book, Crazy Christians, he challenges his audience to “Go and find out where their Galilee is.” He declares that Galilee is both a physical place in Israel, and for us, it is just around the corner. It is that place where each of us is called to proclaim the Gospel. Where is your Galilee? Is it at work? Is it in your neighborhood? Or, is it here, at St. Peters, on Friday afternoons? Wherever Galilee is for you, go there, for this is where you will find the Risen Christ. This is where the breath of God sends you. This is where you have been called to live out your baptism, to be an evangelist, to proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ through word and example.