SERMON 7/11/21 Pentecost 7B St. Paul’s Cathedral, OKC, OK
Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
To Tell the Truth
In the late 20th century, there was a popular game show called “To Tell the Truth.” In this popular television series three contestants all claimed to be the same person, and the focus of the game was to try and convince a panel of celebrities that they were truly who they claimed to be. Two contestants were imposters and only one was telling the truth. The panel would ask each contestant several questions, and try to guess which one was the real mystery guest. After a lengthy interrogation by each panelist, the host would the questioning, and boldly declare, “will the real mystery guest, please stand up.”
Each contestant would act like they were going to stand up, and then the real person would rise from their chair, stand proudly, and claim their true identity. It was just a game show, but I wonder if “To Tell the Truth” could somehow serve as an example of how we face the challenges of claiming our true identity as Christians today, by telling the truth about the Gospel, and speaking truth to power.
To tell the truth today requires we Christians to have courage, but it may come with some consequences. To “stand up” and tell the truth of God’s life-changing grace we have experienced as individuals has been for some reason a daunting task for Episcopalians. However, I believe now is our moment to shine. I believe that after nearly a year and a half of the isolation of a Global Pandemic, people are so hungry for community that we stand on the precipice of an opportunity for growth and revitalization. I believe People are seeking in church community, a middle way, big tent, “all are welcome” way of following Jesus, and that is just who we are as the Episcopal Church. However, great social media, billboards on the road, and television commercials just will not work. We must tell our story as individuals. We must invite others to the table. We must be willing to “tell the truth” of God’s love both corporately and as individuals.
For 9:00 … Shepherds – Truth Telling
In today’s gospel reading, the shepherds were visited by an angel who declared, “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” Now, what is interesting about this story is that the shepherds after hearing this message given just for them, did not return to the fields and sheep and hold on to it. They had to see the promise in action, and so they went to Bethlehem to experience the promise and good news of the Savior in the manger. When they had experienced first-hand the savior in their lives, they did not just sit in awe and or go back to the sheep. They returned to their village, their occupations, and their friends and they shared the good news with others. I wonder, maybe those shepherds were really some of the first evangelists. Wait, Canon Eric are you telling us that we have to be evangelists like those shepherds? Not exactly, but we have to share good news as our authentic selves and be bold about it.
We 21st century Christians (especially we Episcopalians) wrestle with our evangelism mission to “tell the truth: of the Gospel, to claim our true identity as followers of Jesus, and share Good News. Taking our part in Jesus’ Great Commission may not cost us our lives like it did some early followers, but it may cause us to lose a few friends, or it may cause us to suffer rejection.
Claiming Jesus may require us to take a stand on issues that the world finds distasteful, and in the process, it will cause us to be transformed, changed, and renewed in the image of Christ. When we are changed, and we begin to live the way of Jesus, the way of mercy, grace, peace, reconciliation and love, then truth abounds, and Good News is shared. Our world surely needs the truth of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, reconciliation, and peace and that is the reality, on which, we all can rely. But we must tell the story.
What is truth?
What does it mean to tell the truth as disciples of Jesus? Sometimes truth telling is simply when we help our sisters and brothers that stray from the path of grace, and we lovingly offer some straight talk with them, even if the truth hurts. Sometimes we truth telling is simply speaking truth to power and standing for justice and equality for all. Sometimes we truth telling is simply claiming the truth of our identity as followers of Jesus, even if it costs us friends. Truth telling comes with consequences just like it did for John the Baptist, and just like it did for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Following Jesus is costly, because it requires us to leave our old selves behind, in order to find our new identity in Christ.
The early Christians understood this concept and their claim was simple, “Jesus is Lord!” This simple statement meant that following Jesus was how they lived their lives every day. They claimed that Jesus’ ministry, his life, his love would lead, guide, and directs their lives. We Christians today must do the same, claiming Jesus as Lord of our lives. We Episcopalians at General Convention over the past two weeks, spent some time dying to our old selves and then, boldly claiming, “Jesus is Lord” in ways that I have not seen before. Here are a few examples.
Evangelism and Mission Go hand-in-hand
We Episcopalians stand against hunger right here in our own neighborhood. I read on your website about one of your ministries here at the Cathedral, “Mobile Meals” where “every week, volunteers meet in the Cathedral kitchen to prepare meals for those who are home-bound and who are shut-ins, and then deliver them throughout Oklahoma City. Mobile Meals has been a treasured and meaningful part of the Cathedral outreach mission since 1979.”
Next, I read on your website about how your “New Hope” ministry stands for justice and love by breaking “the cycle of generational incarceration through hope and opportunities for children of prisoners, many of whom become the first in their families to complete high school. St. Paul’s outreach in this area is at Mark Twain Elementary School in Oklahoma City. This ministry offers hope that all young people need and deserve support and guidance from caring adults including ongoing, secure relationships with guardians and parents in addition to positive relationships with teachers, mentors and neighbors. It promises a safe place for young clients are physically and emotionally safe. It teaches that living life with a healthy body, a healthy mind and healthful habits is a result of regular health care, good nutrition, exercise, health education and healthy role models. It embraces that young people need and deserve intellectual development, motivation and marketable skills to equip them for work and lifelong learning.
St Paul’s with outstretched arms loves your neighbors and shares God’s amazing grace in other ways as well. Last month, you opened your doors and sponsored a COVID 19 vaccine clinic right here, providing another venue for your neighbors to become vaccinated. Last month, you stood up and supported the diversity of all people, and participated in the OKC Pride parade. You support Whirlwind Mission, Palomer Family Justice Center, and Hope for the Future. You are out there sharing good news, being good news, and telling the truth of God’s love and doing it effectively. However, we must take our part as individual evangelists as well. We have a God-given mission as evangelists, bearers of Good News, people who have experienced God’s grace first-hand, and then must tell it to others.
Evangelism and Mission
Evangelism today is a lot like the old “To Tell the Truth”Game show played out in your local neighborhood. You are one of the contestants and your co-workers, friends and family are the celebrity panelists. You stand up and claim, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” The panelists (your friends, family, and co-workers) do not ask you questions about your theology, church history, scripture, doctrine, or even liturgy.
The panelists only watch “how has your faith changed how you serve others just like Jesus did,” “how has your faith changed how you face tragedy, joys, and challenges,” and “how has Jesus’ love brought healing, reconciliation, and mercy to you.” They listen and watch to see the evidence of who you are and whose you are.
Every day we Christians have friends, neighbors, and family members who I really believe are truly captivated by the “Way of Jesus,” the way of love, peace, grace, and mercy, but need to see it in action. You do know that for those same people, you may be the only gospel many of them will ever read. These folks hear our claim that Jesus is Lord, but they are looking for our actions to match our words.
Evangelism for Episcopalians
We Christians today are afraid of this word evangelism because it is misunderstood. Evangelism is not a call to stand on the corner of our streets with bullhorns and Gospel tracts yelling, “Jesus saves.” That is definitely not evangelism for Episcopalians and besides, it is not an effective way to share good news today. Evangelism is a call to “tell the truth” of Jesus’ love, by claiming our identity as followers of the way of Jesus in the way we live without pretense, but with intention and authenticity. There are many ways to be an evangelist without being a proselytizer.
My dear sisters and brothers, as evangelists, we are the stained-glass windows through which, the light of Christ shines, so others may see Jesus Christ shining brightly in each of us. Our culture stands in wonder and asks, “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and love one another?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and tell the truth of how Jesus Christ has transformed their lives?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and care for the least, lost, and lonely?” Religious skeptics of the world are not so much interested in our wonderful history, middle way doctrine, amazing tradition, and some of the things we hold so dear, but they are very interested in whether we like Jesus, make our actions speak louder than our words.
So what will you do the next time you have a cup of coffee with a friend who may be a religious skeptic? What will you do when God puts in your that difficult person with whom, you are called to love? What will you do when someone asks you, “Why are you so joyful, why do you care for others so much, or why do you go to church?’ This moment is your evangelism moment, and it will be your opportunity “to tell the truth” about God’s grace, reconciliation, mercy, peace and love.
This is your opportunity to be living advertisements of the Good News and the bearers of God’s love. So when the opportunity to tell your story of God’s grace in your life comes, and surely it will. When the opportunity to love your neighbor comes and surely it will. When the opportunity to take a stand for justice, dignity, and love of others comes and surely it will, I pray “will the real disciples of Jesus Christ, please stand up?”
(1) Thomas, Rodney. “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus.” Restoration Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, pp. 155-166
(2) Campbell, Charles L. “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 28, no. 2, Lent, pp. 10-18.
(3) Baker, Kevin. “Capital T.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 14, 11 July 2006, p. 20.