Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Sending out the Twelve|Herod and John the Baptist|Feeding the 5,000
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear about King Herod, also known as Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was the Tetrarch (ruler) of Galilee in the time of John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus of Nazareth. King Herod’s father was “Herod the Great” who was the earlier ruler of Judea, and the one whom scripture tells us was responsible for the “massacre of the innocents” after the birth of Jesus. Herod Antipas was the Judean ruler we hear about today, who divorced his first wife Phasaelis, so that he could marry Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. This is the same Herod whom Pontius Pilate sent Jesus for trial. This is the same Herod who prodded Jesus to do a miracle for him, mocked him and then, sent him back to Pilate for final trial and crucifixion. Herod was the one who had John the Baptist beheaded, because John pointed out the immorality of his marriage to Herodias.
Herod Antipas was a mess of a man who was carrying around the guilt of his father’s murderous crime against so many innocent children, the guilt of a murder he himself orchestrated, and the guilt of a divorce and remarriage based on deceit. Herod was someone who desperately needed some of these demons exercised, who needed healing for his misuse of power and influence, and Herod needed to experience reconciliation with his family, his brother, and his spouse. Herod needed to experience GOOD NEWS found only in Jesus!
The story of the Death of John the Baptist we heard about this morning is wedged between the story of Jesus sending out the twelve (two by two) to go out and “proclaim that all should repent,” and the story of the “feeding of the Five Thousand” in which, Jesus told the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” In the first story Jesus sends out his disciples to proclaim Good News, and in the second story, he commanded them to feed those who were hungry, to serve those in need. The story of John’s death embedded in the story of the ruler Herod Antipas is intriguing. It is a narrative about power, influence, and culture, and the story of a man who desperately needed to experience Jesus’ healing. Those stories are right there between Jesus sending his disciples out to heal, and Jesus teaching his disciples to care for those in need. Jesus always sends us out into the world to proclaim Good News and to BE Good News.
We must share the Good News we have experienced
For some reason, we 21st century Christians have a hard time being witnesses of the Good News of God in Christ. We tend to shy away from our mission call to be “Evangelists.” You may be sitting there right now with arms crossed saying to yourself, “Fr. Eric, I am NOT, nor will I ever be an evangelist.” My Friends, if you follow Jesus, then you are by virtue of your baptism, an evangelist. In the Baptismal Covenant (p. 305 BCP), one of the promises we make at our baptism, at confirmation, and when we renew those promises at every feast day appropriate for baptism, we Episcopalians proclaim our ministry as Evangelists.
In the Baptismal covenant, the Officiant asks the congregation, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” In response, we all say, “I will with God’s help.” At baptism, we are sent to go out into the world as bearers of Good News. We also see glimpses of that same mission call in other parts of our liturgy. Check out the post communion prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 366, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Finally, listen to how we the Deacon sends us out into the world at the very end of each and every service, “Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” It is subtle, but if you really listen to the dismissal, you can clearly hear that we are being sent out into the world with a purpose. Listen, if we are going to take up the banner of calling ourselves followers of the one who brought the Good News of reconciliation, love, mercy, and grace into this world (Jesus Christ), then we need to go out there and be that Good News, both by word and through the example of our lives.
New Leadership is challenging us to be Evangelists
The Right Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop-Elect of the Episcopal Church is stirring us up to get back to basics, to go out into the world and share the Good News and as he puts it, to join the “Jesus Movement.” In his sermon at the closing Eucharist at General Convention, Bishop Curry said, “I talk of the Jesus movement, of evangelism, of making disciples and our witness through public service and public advocacy. That can sound like rhetoric that has no actual consequence, but let me assure you … we are talking about the church moving forth, taking evangelism seriously – in the Episcopal way but taking them for real because there is good news to share. There really is. Personal service and public witness and advocacy is what we do; that’s the Jesus movement.”2
Bishop Curry goes on to challenge us, and he gives us some specifics about how we can join the movement. He says, “Put Jesus up front. Put sharing that good news in front. Put forming our people as followers of Jesus – as disciples for real – at the front of it. And then put inspiring and enabling them to serve in their personal lives, and for us to witness in the public square in the front. That’s the church; that’s the movement. I know full well that movements can float off into the air if they are not incarnated in reality.”2
We must incarnate the grace we have received, and live it out so that others can look to us and say, “There is something going on in those Episcopalian’s lives, and I want to be a part of that!” Bishop Curry shared why now, more than ever, we have to recapture the evangelistic spirit again in our church. He said, “The gospel hasn’t changed. Jesus is still the same. We need to learn and discover new ways of carrying out and sharing that good news of Jesus. In this day, in this time, the church can no longer wait for its congregation to come to it. That change of directionality on the part of the church, church-wide, will have impact for reaching people who are not automatically coming to our doors.”3
Folks, the world has changed and people are NOT flocking to churches like they used to do. Pew Research recently reported that the number of people in the United States unaffiliated with any church group has increased from 8% in 1998 to 22.8% in 2015, and just three years ago it was only 19.6%. Folks, we can no longer just wait and expect people to show up at our doors. We must once again, with intention, share the Good News of God in Christ in a world that desperately needs to hear Good News and moreover, to SEE it in action.
Evangelism is easier than you might think.
EVANGELISM IS NOT overt proselytizing. If you think evangelism requires you to grab some gospel tracts, a bullhorn, and stand on the local street corner, then you have the wrong idea about evangelism. Madeleine L’Engle, a well-known American writer and strong Episcopalian once stated, “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
When I has a very young child, a wonderful woman name Pearl, whom I called Mamaw Bales, helped care for me and my siblings, while my parents worked in our family business. She taught us how to recite the alphabet even before we started school. She read to us. She bandaged on our scraped knees when we fell. She disciplined us gently when we made mistakes. She was the first person who shared stories to us about Jesus, but the most important thing she did, was she showed us Jesus by how she loved us. She showed me a light so lovely that I wanted with all my heart to know the source.
So, let me ask you a question with which, you might ponder, “How did you arrive in that seat you are sitting in today?” Initially, who shared that compelling light with you? Was it your parents, who long ago brought you to church and instilled a sense of connection to God? Is it now, your spouse who shows you Jesus through her/his love for you? Maybe you received a little glint of that light, through something you saw a friend do that looked a lot like something Jesus would do. Maybe it is that friend’s incredible faith, or maybe it is this community of Good Shepherd that drew you, to search a little deeper for the source; Jesus. The fact is that someone showed you the way, long before you started following the Way of Jesus, and we have a responsibility to do the same for others.
“Being an evangelist is really simple, but we have to be intentional about doing it.” As a matter of fact, we can look to our liturgy once again for some really simple guidance about going out into the world and proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, into a world that knows less about Jesus Christ than it did just 20 years ago. Right before we all gather around the Lord’s Table to receive Christ in bread and wine, right before we are fed with heavenly food and sent out into the world to take Christ in us, to the world, the priest often quotes Jesus’ words from the Gospel according to Matthew. She or he invites us to the Lord’s table with these words, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
My sisters and brothers, we are the only evangelists our Lord has, and we are the only icons of Good News through which, people can see Jesus. Friends, we can do this Jesus movement thing. We can do this evangelism thing by simply, being an example of Christ to our friends, to our family, and to everyone with whom we come in contact. Its simple, Go out into the world and let your light shine. Go out and BE bearers of God’s Good News today.