I saw a website the other day that asked people to rate how “relevant” their “Worship Leader” is. The site was aimed at the big ‘E’ Evangelical crowd, the groups who gather in huge buildings with stages and laser light shows. The Worship Leader is the guy (it’s almost always a guy) who is the lead singer in the house band, the guy who whips the crowd up, maybe sometimes he talks to the youth or releases an album with outrageous cover art. Well, apparently these worship leader guys gravitate toward a certain style: designer jeans, ironic t-shirts, spiked, frosted hair, and always with the overly specific facial hair. Very relevant, very up to date, very in-line with our culture, at least that part of our culture aimed at 13 year old girls. All of this effort to be relevant, all this effort to be an appealing part of the prevailing culture, we Episcopalians are guilty of it too. And none of it seems to square with what Jesus said in today’s Gospel lesson.
“Go your way,” Jesus told the seventy men He sent out as evangelists. “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.” Seems a little strange, doesn’t it, a little ill-conceived, for Jesus to send out his best guys empty handed. Carry no purse: don’t bring any more money than you already have on you. No bag: no change of clothes. No sandals: yes, you have to walk everywhere, but don’t bring a backup pair of shoes with you. Greet no one on the road: don’t stop to trade or hang out with any random people you see on the way, the Gospel is too urgent. It’s an oddly specific set of rules, but the Good Shepherd knew how to take care of His lambs. Carry nothing with you that will get in the way of your own salvation and the salvation of others, Jesus seemed to be saying. Carry nothing with you that will distract, distort, or date the gospel you bring. For the salvation of many depends on you.
We often assume evangelizing is getting people to come to church, and it is. But it should concern us a little today that Jesus did not instruct the Seventy to build a building and stay put. Jesus didn’t tell them to set up shop or to hang signs, He didn’t give them seed money to take out ads in the Trentonian. Rather, Jesus sent them out: don’t expect people to come to you, but rather go to them. Jesus didn’t instruct them to build a building; He instructed them to build a Church.
Go your way: I send you out as lambs among wolves. A big scandal in the Church today is that we think if we look like the wolves, the wolves will want to be like us. In other words, if I did my best to look like I just stepped out of that Twilight movie, but just happen to be a committed, sincere Christian, every tween girl in Bordentown would be rushing into Christ Church; the more the Church looks like the world, the more the world might be enticed to check out the Church. The Church becomes one option among many, barely discernible from the other options.
Now, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with doing your hair up like a teen vampire or dressing up like a Jonas Brother. But I do think there is something wrong with thinking that any of that will make the Gospel something that it isn’t already. “We have to make the Gospel relevant,” is the common refrain, as if God could ever be irrelevant. As if salvation from eternal death could ever be irrelevant. As if a life wrapped up in the life of Jesus could ever be irrelevant. That doesn’t mean every one will see it that way. Christians should expect to be sheep amongst wolves; we should expect a share of hostility, opposition, rejection. We should expect to be challenged, to be uncomfortable, to be ill at ease. But still we are to go out there, despite all that — not stay in, not wait for people to come to us.
More and more, we aim to direct our resources, our time and effort and money and talents, out there, beyond our doors. We are out there for the homeless of Trenton with HomeFront; we are out there each Fall with backpacks full of supplies for Bordentown kids who can’t afford their school stuff; we are out there for our men and women in the military every chance we get with prayers and supplies; we are out there every year for our firefighters and EMS at the blessing of the firetrucks; we are out there for the elderly and infirm at the Clare Estates every Valentine’s Day, and that’s just a handful of the ways the people of Christ Church risk hostility and rejection for the Gospel. More and more we are aiming to go out there, out to the people who need to hear the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The question we measure ourselves by is: “If this church doesn’t exist, who will miss it besides us?”
The Lord has appointed us all to go out there, into the world, to those who forgot Him and those who never knew Him, to tell people the best and most relevant news anyone has ever heard, that Jesus is Lord. Now go your way.