The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Second Sunday of Easter
April 12, 2015
In the past two weeks, I have proofread eleven worship bulletins, written and preached five sermons, and welcomed over three hundred people for worship on Easter. Not to mention the emotional and personal aspect of Holy Week. Like you, I cried on Maundy Thursday, I felt empty on Good Friday, and then overjoyed at Easter. And then, on the Monday after Easter, I slept. Easter was over.
And what a sad commentary that is. I spent a whole week talking about Jesus dying on the cross, and then spent just one day on the resurrection. We are all so exhausted from the emotional trauma of Jesus’ crucifixion, that we have hardly anything left in the tank for the resurrection. And I know the feeling, the strange feeling we get the week after Easter. Everybody came to church and put on their best seersucker. We were all smiles and joy and Easter egg hunts. But then we went back to our common lives. Easter happened, but nothing seems to have changed. Clearly, I had another sermon to write. More worship bulletins to proofread. And all the committee meetings that I had put off, came back onto my calendar with a wicked vengeance. So we’re stuck asking ourselves, “now what?” Easter has supposedly changed the whole world, but it doesn’t seem like it. So, now what?
That’s the same question the disciples were asking themselves on Easter afternoon. They have heard reports that Jesus has been risen from the dead, but they do not know what it all means. They have locked themselves in their room out of fear. The disciples look around at each other and they ask themselves, “so now what?”
And then Jesus shows up again. Jesus always seems to show up when we need him most.
Jesus answers their “now what” question. Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then Jesus breathes on them, a sort of sign of what it means to send forth.
Jesus does the same to us. Jesus sends us forth. Just as the Father has sent the Son, so now the Son sends us. Now that we live on this side of Easter, on this side of the resurrection, we are sent into the world to proclaim the risen Lord. This is the next step. That is the “now what” of Easter. Going into the world.
So yes, Episcopalians, I am preaching on – get ready for it – evangelism. The dreaded “e” word. It’s like every time we want to talk about evangelism, we say e,e,e,e – “eucharist!” But evangelism – sharing the good news of the risen Jesus Christ – is the whole point of Easter. Evangelism is the “now what” of Easter. As the Father has sent the Son, so the Son sends us.
If our lives have truly been transformed by the resurrection of Jesus, then we have to share that news. If we sit alone in our church, and talk about how great Easter was – then we really don’t mean it. If the resurrection is great for you, then it must be great for everybody. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said, the Church which ceases to be missionary will not be, and cannot rightly expect to be, spiritual. The church that does not evangelize, is a church that is not spiritual. I would take it one level further. The individual Christian who is not an evangelist, will not have a spiritual life.
But, let me be clear, evangelism is not standing on a street corner and yelling at strangers. Evangelism is about your own journey to know Jesus. Sharing the good news starts with living it yourself, and sharing it with those whom you love. And evangelism is not about propping up the church. Evangelism is not about getting more people in the pews or more people into our ministries for the sake of more people in our pews. If evangelism is just about getting more people into church, then we’ve already signed our death certificate. I mean that. This is not about making sure the church makes it for another generation. This is not about our survival as a church or a denomination. Those concerns are about us. Those are selfish concerns.
Evangelism is proclaiming – in everything we do and say – that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord. So yes, evangelism is inviting people to church. If they show up to church, great! If they don’t show up to church, let the Holy Spirit take care of that. Our job is not to drag people into the pews. Our job is to be so excited, so enthralled about Easter, that we can’t help but embody the good news in every aspect of our lives.
It is impossible to exaggerate the greatness of this calling to evangelism. The health of the world depends on it. This world desperately needs to know that it is loved by God. This world desperately needs to know that there is a God who has conquered death, that there is a God who created it and loves it as his own. Just read a newspaper. It’s blatantly obvious that this world needs Jesus. In our schools where children are bullied to the point of suicide, somebody needs to talk about God’s grace. In our prisons where small-time criminals are only hardened to be even worse, somebody needs to talk about God’s mercy. In nursing homes and hospitals, where people are sick and forgotten, somebody needs to talk about the love of Jesus. And, as apostles, that is our duty. There is no way around it. The Church, and the individual Christian, must be missionary.
I know some of us will say, “well, I’m just better behind the scenes.” Or, “well, I would rather do something for the Church than actually talk about Jesus.” And that’s true. The average Episcopalian invites somebody to church once every thirty-seven years. And you’ve heard that old line, “preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Let me go on the record as saying that that line is a total cop out. Some people attribute that to St. Francis, but I seriously doubt he ever said that. I don’t buy it for a second. And neither should you. Each of us need to open our mouths, and let our lips actually talk about Jesus. Because that’s what this world needs to hear.
And I know the other cop outs. “I don’t believe enough.” “I haven’t even read the Bible.” “But that’s what all my fundamentalist and Baptist friends do and it weirds me out.” It weirds us out, because we are surprised that somebody has the courage to speak their faith. We’re like doubting Thomas. We want to believe so desperately, we want to know that Jesus is Lord and God. We want to live like we mean it, but we’re just not sure.
So Jesus shows up again, when Thomas needs him most. And what Jesus did for the other apostles, he does for Thomas. Jesus sends forth Thomas. Legend has it that Thomas made his way to India talking about Jesus, over four thousand miles away from Jerusalem. There he is killed for his faith.
Thomas goes from not believing that Jesus is risen, to dying for him. So when you tell yourself that you can never be a missionary, you’re just putting yourself in a box. You’re putting the Holy Spirit in a box. If Thomas can do it, so can you. Anything less than that is just denying yourself a relationship with Jesus.
And I’m not talking like a Baptist or an evangelical. I’m talking like an Episcopalian. Evangelism is at the heart of what it means to be an Episcopalian. At our baptism, and at our confirmation, each of us made a promise to be evangelists. You can look it up. It’s on page 305 of the Book of Common Prayer. We each made a promise, that with God’s help, we will proclaim by example and word the good news of God in Christ.
And I get it, Thomas’ story is awfully daunting. But you probably don’t need to go to India to talk about Jesus. Your mission field is probably much closer to home. And I promise you, there are people in your mission field desperate for the good news. There are prisoners that need mentoring. There are nursing homes full of people that need the good news brought to them. There are students that need fatherly guidance and wisdom. There are restaurants, and coffee shops that are full – right now, as we speak – full of people who have yet to hear how wonderful and beautiful and merciful God is.
The truth of the matter is that Easter is not over. Easter is not a one day event. Easter continues all the way to Pentecost. For those of you who don’t keep up with the church calendar, that means it’s Easter until Memorial Day Weekend. The lilies are dying, you’ve eaten all your Peeps, but in the Church, it’s still most definitely Easter. In Lent, we took up disciplines of penitence and fasting. That’s great. Moving on. Easter is fifty days long, and my challenge for you during these fifty days of Easter, is to find your mission field. To think about where Jesus is sending you to share the good news. And once you get there, open your lips. Use your mouth to say that Jesus Christ is Lord. As the Father has sent Jesus, Jesus sends you.