Monday, July 8, 2019


I am a new Rockies fan,
but I still remember my teams of old.
One Saturday afternoon, back before the Braves
had ever been to a World Series,
and the pennant race was tight,
I was sitting on the couch in my Georgia den
         watching the game.

Pitcher John Scmoltz, as usual, had a rough start
         then settled down to pitch several innings
                  of good ball.
At the bottom of the 7th, the Mets led 5 to 3.
There was one out.

Our best hitter, Chipper Jones,
         doubled to right center.
The rookie slugger, Andruw Jones came to bat.
Ball one. Ball two.
Then a long foul – I mean into the seats just outside 
foul line – a long foul made the count 2 and 1.
The pitcher was sweating.
My doorbell rang.
It was two earnest young men come to share their faith.
At that moment, I knew more than I wanted
         about their faith. 
I gently said no thank you. 
But their persistence matched their sincerity.
That experience darkened my view of evangelism

Today’s Gospel lesson might call to mind
 that kind of intrusive opinion-pushing.
But the 70 apostles had quite a different project.
Jesus didn’t give them pamphlets to distribute.
They didn’t ask people to join their Church.

No, Jesus sent them bless people with peace,
to alleviate their suffering, and then say,
         That was the Kingdom of God.
         That mercy you just felt,
                  that’s what God is about.

This wasn’t a pesky little proselytizing project.
It was the decisive turning point in the gospel story.
 Sending out the 70 marks the birth of Christian mission,
         our mission – St. Aidan’s mission, yours and mine.
We need a mission to truly live, 
as surely as we need air to breathe.

A mission has both substance and process.
The substance of the Christian mission is mercy.
It’s people mediating Christ’s love to other people. 
The 5 Marks of Mission adopted
         by the Anglian Communion and The Episcopal Church
                  is our job description.
Mark 3 is: respond to human need by loving service.
Mark 4 is: transform unjust structures of sociey,
         challenge violence . . . , and work for peace
         and reconciliation. 

 The Episcopal Church, in keeping with that mission,
acts through Episcopal Relief and Development, to 
 eradicate extreme poverty,
         provide universal primary education,
         and end maternal and child malnutrition
We have made miraculous progress already.
Whenever we succeed -- or even try -- 
the Kingdom of God is near. 

The Kingdom comes globally when we help Malawi farmers
diversify their crops to feed their village.
The Kingdom comes locally 
when a Eucharistic Visitor shares communion
in a home.
Whenever justice and mercy happen,
         the Kingdom of God is near.
That’s the substance.

Jesus taught us the process when he passed the torch.
By sending the 70, he changed his community gathered around a minister
         into a ministering community.
Anything they did, he could have done better.
But it was more important for them to do it.
Up to then, Jesus was the hero meeting their needs.
They liked that, but it didn’t make them grow.
They were just bumbling sidekicks.
Jesus wanted something better for them.
He wants something better for us.

So Jesus passed the torch to the 70 then and to us today.
He gives us the job to heal the broken world
         and announce the Kingdom of God.
That process is the key to the mission.
We need the mission like people in Yemen need food.

When the apostles came back amazed 
at what they had seen,
Jesus laughed, slapped them on the back,
and said, I saw Satan fall from the sky.
That’s spiritual talk for You guys rocked.

Indigent, illiterate fishermen shot Satan down
         with acts of mercy.
Those nobodies became somebodies
         when Jesus entrusted them 
with the work of the Kingdom.
He entrusts us with that work today.
But maybe we wonder: 
is that the Church’s business?
Shouldn’t we stick to religion
         leaving justice and mercy to the government? 
         They do it so well.
Aren’t we supposed to be preaching Christ?

Maybe. But consider this:
Christianity spread over a lot of ground
         the first 150 years but our numbers stayed low.
During the reign of Marcus Aurelius
         a new persecution began.

But three years later, soldiers returning from a distant war
         brought home a disease that became a pandemic.
It was killing 2,000 people a day in Rome. 
Ultimately, it killed half the city’s population. 

It’s called Galen’s Plague after the Emperor’s
         court physician who studied it 
         and developed some treatments.
But mostly he figured out how to avoid it.
Get out of the city.

If you’ve got a villa in Tuscany
         or around Lake Como, get there pronto.
In no time flat, Rome was empty except for the dying
         and the unburied dead.
There was no one left to care for them.
Rome was empty except for the dead, the dying,
         and the Christians
         who had an odd notion God would protect them,    
and if they died, they’d be in heaven.

So, while everyone else fled, the Christians stayed 
to nurse the sick and bury the dead.
And the world took notice.

Christianity remained illegal, but before long,
          a third of the Roman Empire claimed
Jesus Christ as Lord.

Whether St. Francis said it or not,
         there is wisdom to the adage,
         Preach the gospel at all times.
         Use words if necessary. 
Or as Blessed Teddy Roosevelt said,
         People won’t care how much you know
         until they know how much you care.

There’s a suffering world beyond our walls.
There’s malnutrition, contaminated water, human trafficking,
         racism, and every manner of soul-crushing hardship.

Jesus sends into that broken bleeding world, 
         as he sent the apostles, 
         with a blessing of peace and the grace to heal.
He invites us, for our own sake as well as the sake of others,
 to spread his grace and mercy,  
         then just name where it came from.
That was the Kingdom of God.