Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Julian Mizelle, OHC
Proper 9 B – Sunday, July 8, 2012
II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
II Corinthians 12:2-10
Preaching the “Gospel?”
“A time is coming,” said the desert dweller St. Antony, “when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”
St. Antony didn’t fit the mold for his time and certainly didn’t grow into the expected vocation of his day. He was an uneducated Copt born in 251 AD into a Christian family of peasant farmers. When he was eighteen, his parents died, leaving him to care for his younger sister. Six months later he heard the gospel reading of Matthew 19:21: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Antony put his sister into the care of nuns, sold all of his possessions, turned away from the corrupt and decadent society of the time and went to live a life of solitude, prayer and fasting in the Egyptian desert. Athanasius, who knew Antony personally and wrote the story of his life, tells us that people thought he was mad.
I was well into my own process of discernment for a vocation to monastic life when I decided I needed to let my parents know what was on my mind. Circumstances didn’t allow for a face to face visit so it was by telephone that I first broke the news to them. “Mom, there is a monastic order that I have gotten to know and I feel God’s call to be a part of them. I have begun the process to join them and become a Benedictine monk.” Silence... “Mom, are you still there...?” “When did you become a Roman Catholic she exclaimed!” I realized I had a LOT to fill her in on. Some months later when I was well into the process of selling everything I owned I noticed a change in attitude about my new vocation. So I asked her about it. And her answer knocked me back. She said, “I was waiting to know if you were really serious about this. And now I know you are.” In the beginning she too thought I was mad.
Jesus’s family thought He was mad. They tried to take custody of him. “He’s lost His senses,” they said. John writes that his brothers didn’t believe Him. The villagers said he was insane and demon-possessed. Boyhood friends in Nazareth tried to kill him. The religious experts said he was a glutton and drunkard who partied with sinners. Many of his closest supporters stopped following Him. And after only 3 short years of ministry, political pundits complained that he told people not to pay their taxes. Then He was executed.
In this week’s gospel, those who knew Him best “took offense at him”—literally, “they were scandalized.” He then sent out His twelve disciples in pairs, two by two, to village after village warning them in advance about what they could expect. These parallel stories are about rejection and missions. It is a story about vocation and evangelization. It is a story about knowing ones purpose and turning it into outreach. It is the natural evolution on the spiritual journey of what happens when you are in touch with your true self. You have to share it with others. If it is by turning within that we discover our real self, it is only by turning without that we that we live into the full meaning of our discovery. It is why real transformation will not only heal us, it will heal the world. What I am talking about is the “gospel.”
“Gospel!” What a messy word in our society. Just try telling a co-worker when you’re gathered around the water cooler that you would like to share the gospel with them and see what kind of reaction you get. During this past month I made another one of my mini research polls. I asked several of my brothers plus a few of our guest to define the word “gospel” for me. No one had an instant answer. When they did answer everyone went in vastly different directions of thought. The only thing that was consistent in my polling is stating what the gospel is in a clear, concise, and succinct way is not easy. When I started my research on defining the word “gospel” I too was in the same muddied waters.
But this was not always so. There was a time in my life that I could have told you instantly what the gospel is. The plan of salvation expressed in four spiritual laws. I was taught to recite them like they were a magic formula. They boil down to you are a sinner, Jesus died for your sins, pray the sinners prayer and you will go to heaven. N. T. Wright tells us that when the non-churched are asked what the word “gospel” means the common reply is it is about how to know God and how to go to heaven when you die. Is this the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? It actually isn’t. One need only read the Benedictus and Magnificat to know that these early proclamations of the gospel had little to do with after-life management and everything to do with God’s Kingdom in the here and now. In fact, all four gospelers are not so much telling us how to go to heaven, they are telling us how heaven has come to us.
My point is to not debate my evangelical childhood but to emphasize the post reformation hijacking of the good news of Jesus Christ into the plan of salvation. After the Reformation the gospel gradually was redefined into a plan of personal salvation. And today, the western Church is mired in what I call a salvation culture instead of a gospel culture. Some would ask, “what’s the difference?” The difference is vast. The gospel is so much larger than personal salvation. To equate them as equal is to see only a small portion of the whole.
When we adopt a salvation culture we believe that we can cure poverty by getting everyone born again. Want to put an end to homelessness? Get them born again. Want to bring Haiti out of poverty? Get everyone to pray the sinners pray and poverty will end. Want to fix the drug epidemic? Want to break someone’s addiction? Want to (fill in the blank)...just get them saved. There are a lot of well meaning Christians who think this way. They geniunely believe by getting everyone to become born again all the problems of the world will be solved. I wish it was that simplistic. But that is not the gospel. That is not the good news.
When I did my polling seeking to learn how people define what the gospel is there was one answer that stood out. The answer was clear and to the point: the gospel is about Incarnation. The answer was brilliant. Because it equates the gospel to the Immanuel principle: Immanuel means God-With-Us. God has become man and God is with us in our poverty, God is with us in our brokenness, God is with us in every detail and aspect of our humanity. When we adopt a gospel culture we work to create the Kingdom of God in the world of today. The culture of the gospel takes the secular wisdom of todays world and turns it into the sacred folly of God’s kingdom.
We need look no further than today’s lection to see that Jesus empowered his disciples and sent them out to do the work of the Kingdom. For Jesus, mission, evangelism, and outreach was to go out and change the systems that keep people in poverty, in their brokenness, and in their woundedness. For Jesus, “gospel” meant to go out and enact the Kingdom of God in the here and now.
In a gospel culture no one has to decide between buying food or buying medicine. In a gospel culture everyone gets health care. In a gospel culture we do not profitize someone’s health. In a gospel culture all relationships are recognized as sacred because all relationships are understood as a gift from God. It is also understood that our relationships with others teach us about our relationship with God. In a gospel culture life is lived in balance with nature and is always sustainable. In a gospel culture mercy and justice are the politics of the day. In a gospel culture we live the Beattitudes. In a gospel culture we live as if the Kingdom of God is already here—because it actually is. In a gospel culture we live as if we can bring Christ into the world, because we can.
Jesus sent His disciples out two by two with a mandate for mission, a mandate for evangelism, a mandate to enact the Kingdom of God. When they later returned to Jesus they were exuberant with what they saw happening. They were experiencing what happens when heaven comes to earth.
This is the call of the “gospel.” That we enact the Kingdom of God on earth “as it is in Heaven.” Two by two we are called to go into hospitals and prisons. And two by two we will go. Two by two we will build schools to bring education to the poorest of the poor. Two by two we work for health care for all, fair pay, marriage equality, immigration justice, and mercy for all. Two by two we will go into our voting booths and into our prayer closets. Two by two we will enact God’s politics on earth as it is in heaven. Two by two we will pray and turn within to the Kingdom of God within. And two by two we will turn without to stand with the hurting, the broken, the downtrodden, and the outcast. We will stand with all humanity just as God stands with us in our humanity.
Along the way there will be people who will tell us we are mad because we are not like them. And then we will know we are living the “gospel.”