Sunday, November 18, 2007

Get Outta Here! (Matthew 28:16-20)

In a way, the disciples had it easy.

Oh, sure they lived in a world without modern sanitation, nutrition and health care, and they were often persecuted for their faith. Arrested, beaten, tortured and sometimes killed – obviously we’re better off than they were in many ways, and I don’t want to trade places with any of them for any longer than it would take to see Jesus heal one sick person.

But in one way, they had it over us. They hadn’t yet gotten this weird idea that “church” was a place you go to, like we have. Yes, believers met in the synagogues to hear the scripture read and they went to the Temple to pray, if they lived in Jerusalem or nearby.

They didn’t have churches yet, though. They didn’t have these buildings they went to and made members at, so they didn’t have to take that extra step that we do – the extra step of going out from our place of worship to bring people into what we call the body of Christ.

When Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world, he spoke literally. They were to journey to different parts of the world they knew and proclaim the gospel. They didn’t have to worry about the distinction between proclaiming the gospel in church and proclaiming it everywhere else, because they didn’t yet have a line between church and “everywhere else.” Everywhere was everywhere else.

If we lived then and I shared the gospel with you and you accepted it, what happened next? Well, we might meet with some other believers for dinner and praise God while we did. We might read some scripture together, if either of us could read.

But we didn’t have a place where we went every week and compartmentalized our faith and set it aside from the rest of our lives. Lots of people worked in their homes, so they didn’t even divide home from work, let alone divide a “work week” from a “weekend.”

So when they thought about sharing the gospel – and I’m not na├»ve enough to think they were all saints who thought about nothing else – the only people they could think of to share it with were the people they met every day. The people they worked with or worked for, the people they dealt with or sold stuff to or bought stuff from or knew down the street…you get the picture.

We’re called to share the gospel with the same groups of people, but we’ve given ourselves a different place from where we “go into all the world.” Of course we can share the gospel today, and of course what I’ve called our “extra step” doesn’t prevent that.

Unless, of course, we forget that it’s there. Which I am guilty of pretty much most of the time.

Instead of taking the gospel into the world around me, the world of waiters and store clerks and checkout workers and everybody else I deal with regularly, I have made the church my world, so to speak. I may see the same young person at the bookstore three or four times a week and speak with them pleasantly, but what do I know about his or her faith or place of worship? Bupkis, that’s what.

I don’t mean the kind of in-your-face pushiness that asks every random stranger, “IF YOU DIED TONIGHT, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU’D SPEND ETERNITY?” Try that tactic and get introduced to some nice young men and women in crisp blue uniforms. As well as get banned from many businesses and homes, all without actually bringing the gospel message to the person whose life you have just frightened out of them.

What I do mean is to look at the people we do know, even if it’s not very well, who we encounter nearly every day, and start to wonder about them as people. Begin to pray about them and for them, and start to speak with them often enough and sincerely enough that the chance may come for you to ask them about their church or invite them to yours.

It starts, though, with the wondering – does this person go to church? Would this person want to go to my church? Those are questions we can’t answer until we get to know a little bit more about them and their own faith and beliefs.

We trip ourselves up by thinking we need to be deep friends with people before we ask them about faith stuff. We don’t, not really. We need to be friendly. We need to be polite. We need to back off if a person isn’t interested, but maintain the friendliness and consideration we’ve been showing up until now. We need to know what we’re talking about – which is definitely one thing we’re supposed to need the church for.

But above all else, we need to go. Out there. Because that’s where they are, waiting to hear the good news we have to share with them.

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