Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Mk. 1:29-39[1]

Sometime in the last Century, mainline Protestant Christians decided they were too “sophisticated” to simply try to convert others to their faith. Like many others, we Presbyterians decided that the best way to “evangelize” was by doing good deeds—letting our light shine as we worked for justice and wholeness around the world.[2] While I certainly agree that working for peace and justice is an essential aspect of our calling as Christians, I would also insist that evangelism is also.[3]

Unfortunately, there are weighty obstacles to the prospect of speaking about our faith. There is a definite “spiritual” and “supernatural” dimension to the gospel. It would seem to me that we are at best embarrassed by it. “Evangelism” also has a bit of an arrogant implication, as if we’re claiming that we have the only truth. It seems to imply that “I’m in, you’re out”; it carries implications of religious hucksters using shame, guilt and fear to manipulate people. For these and other reasons, mainline Protestant Christians like us basically stopped speaking about our faith. To this day, I think you’d have to say that Presbyterians are known more for their “good works” than for their “faith.” I’m not at all certain that’s a good thing.

By comparison, our Gospel lesson for today presents Jesus as making the exact opposite choice. He intentionally left a “thriving” ministry of healing in Capernaum. In fact, Peter and the others “hunted him down”—most likely because they wanted him to come back with them and astound more of the crowds.[4] Maybe they could even rent a stadium to get more people in!

But Jesus responded in a very strange way. He said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (Mk. 1:38). In effect, instead of staying in Capernaum where he already had a receptive audience, he chose to leave the crowds behind to preach his gospel message elsewhere![5] It makes me wonder what we’re missing about the importance of proclaiming the gospel message.

It would seem that Jesus viewed proclamation of the good news as something so vital that he would leave behind crowds clamoring for healing. Why would he do that? Perhaps it is because Jesus saw himself as the messenger of “the gospel of God” (Mk. 1:14), the good news that the healing and liberating kingdom of God is present and working to restore all those who are struggling in this world.[6] In our day, that doesn’t count for much. We place a value on actions rather than words.

But the words Jesus was speaking were no ordinary words. It would seem that he viewed the gospel message as “the word which frees captives and brings the nations to peace.”[7] The preaching of the gospel was his primary means of launching God’s kingdom of freedom and compassionate justice for all!

Contrary to what we might think, it is the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God that actually creates the freedom and healing that are the hallmarks of that kingdom.[8] It is in the speaking of the word, the proclaiming of the good news, the preaching of the gospel, that the hopes for freedom, new life, compassionate justice, and peace begin to take hold in this world.[9]

If that is true, it means that we have an important task to fulfill. The good news has not been fully proclaimed. There are many who have no idea that God is interested in their welfare, that God is working to set all things right and to renew and restore all the brokenness in this world, that God intends to set us all free from everything that binds us. As was true in Jesus’ day, so also in ours, God establishes the kingdom of compassionate justice and loving freedom among us to the extent that we obey the Spirit’s call to speak the gospel message.[10]

This doesn’t mean we should abandon all our efforts for social justice. What it means is that we should carry them out with a view toward following Jesus’ lead in making the good news of the kingdom of God the focus of all that we do. There are no formulas for speaking this word; it can be as simple as telling someone about reading The Shack and about how it depicts God as being “especially fond” of everyone. For me it is a matter of putting on my business card the verse, “Now I am making everything new.” It’s not a matter of returning to simplistic assumptions and pure proselytism; it’s not about using shame, guilt and fear to manipulate people. It’s a matter of simply confessing our convictions, our experiences, and our understandings—with generous helpings of humility. It may seem entirely foolish to think that such a thing could have any impact on those around us. But the truth is that one of the most powerful things we can to do to effect the freedom and peace of God’s kingdom is to simply speak out of our experience of living the Christian faith.

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/8/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Cf. William J. Abraham, “A Theology of Evangelism : The Heart of the Matter” Interpretation 48 no 2 (April 1994) 120: “Evangelism has been reduced to forms of social action among liberals and to manipulative schemes of conversion among conservatives.”

[3] Indeed, Karl Barth, in Church Dogmatics 4.3.2, 576, says that confessing our faith is our raison d’etre!

[4] David E. Garland, Mark NIVApplication Commentary, 73.

[5] Garland, Mark, 74, says, “Jesus will not be distracted from his divine purpose, even by success.”

[6] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 217: “the messianic messenger of good tidings … will speak ‘the word’ which, in the power of God’s Spirit, will open up the new era and the new creation.” Cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 104-105, 107-108; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, 69.

[7] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 217.

[8] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 216.

[9] Cf. Moltmann, Church in the Power, 220; cf. also ibid., 77: the gospel “is not a statement about some remote future; it is the dawn of that future in the word.”

[10] Moltmann, Church in the Power, 190-91.

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