Someone asked me last Sunday how our liturgical Bible readings are
chosen each week, particularly the Gospel readings. The question deserves
a fuller answer than time permitted when it was asked.
We follow what is called the Revised Common Lectionary created by a
joint international commission, representing main line churches including
the Episcopal Church. It is a schedule of readings on a three year cycle,
each year from the Old and New Testaments, and featuring one of the
three Gospels on Matthew, Mark and Luke. John's Gospel is sprinkled
throughout the three years. This current year we are, for the most part,
reading each Sunday a selection from Matthew's Gospel. These four Gospel
writers have contributed significantly to the Christian message. In
fact, when we say that the mission of the Church is to celebrate and
preach the Gospel, that Gospel is essentially derived from the writings
of these four Gospel writers. They each paint a portrait of Jesus, who
is the central figure of the Gospel, without which we would not know
Him as we do. They are similar portraits, though they do differ. Yet
together we do learn an amazing amount about Jesus, the Son of God,
the Saviour of the world.
But what about them, the four evangelists? We actually know very little
about each of them, how they were chosen, and how they got to write
their Gospels. For example, because this year's Gospel readings are
taken from Mathew, let's profile him.
We actually know very little about Matthew, other than that he was one
of the twelve, and that he was a tax collector. But knowing he was a
tax collector is all important, for his job has significantly shaped
Now I make no insinuations about people who work for the I.R.S. today.
But tax collecting in biblical times was a very shady occupation in
which lots of innocent people got ripped off by these heartless,dishonest
birds, and Matthew had to be as heartless and dishonest as others in
order to survive.
How does such a shady character get to be chosen as one of the twelve
apostles, and how does he gwet to write a gospel? He refers to only
two incidents involving him which tell us the little we know. In one
of them, which will be read as next Sunday's reading, Jesus confronts
him in his office, and extends an invitation to join him. "Follow
me" Jesus said. And Matthew did just that. We can only conjecture
that they had in fact met before. Matthew surprisingly and eagerly accepted.
And he wanted to share this new calling with others. He had an irrepressible
urge to be not only a follower but an evangelist for Jesus as well.
And he had quite a unique strategy for that evangelism.
He records another brief incident revealing this unique strategy. It
was to invite to his home for supper his old cronies, other tax collectors,
along with some other outcasts with whom he had also an obvious association,
and he would invite Jesus as well to meet his friends. Then he just
let the rest happen as it would. Smart guy ! We can assume that was
a pretty effective e4vangelism strategy the, as it has to be today.
We all must have some personal experiences supporting its effectiveness.
I had a parishioner once whom I had prepared for Confirmation as an
adult. He was sort of a Matthew character. He belonged to a poker club,
not much better, but I suppose no worse than a bunch of tax collectors.
Each year, following his own Confirmation, be brought one or two of
the Poker Club to the adult Confirmation Class. He did it each year
until all four members of the class had been Confirmed. Since he attended
every year himself, he could have led the class, probably better than
You see the uniqueness of Matthew's strategy, and of my poker playing
parishioner was that they used what they had and who they were for the
purposes of God. In our culture it's the same strategy used by reformed
alcoholics. It's the strategy of using even human weakness to bring
strength to those even weaker that we; to bring the darkness of our
own lives to bring light to those who live in darkness.
We talk so much about the need for more effective evangelism in the
Church today. But it's an uncomfortable subject for many Episcopalians,
It conjures up images of either the dogmatic, know it all approach,
or of the syrupy, pretty face on television, selling religion like detergent
soap. Is that what evangelism is? I think not. Or it conjures up images
of the door to door pamphlet pusher who catches us at home on those
Sunday mornings when we're not in Church. Is that what evangelism is?
I think not.
When Jesus invited us to follow Him, what does it mean? For many of
us the response to the Call "Follow me", is "Who me?".
Well the, what is evangelism? Evangelism is not a last ditch effort
for the Church to survive. It is not an act of rape in which we rob
the other person of a choice. Rather, evangelism is an invitation. Its
like a proposal of marriage. Evangelism is the art, the genuine art
of beguiling, of charming, of luring people into a relationship with
God, and on a pilgrimage with the Church to God's Kingdom.
Think along with me with that analogy. No one loves another against
his or her will. At some point we are caught in our longing for union
with the other, and we are beguiled into response. God is wonderfully
described as the Hound of Heaven, as the Divine Lover. I love that analogy,
and it is all by itself so beautifully suggestive of what evangelism
is. The relationship of Christians to the world is so well described
by the word lover. We are to be to the world as lovers, not as salespersons.
That's my understanding of our role in the engaging and challenging
endeavour we call evangelism. We are to be present to people in their
yearning for a richer, fuller life. Above all we are to be ourselves,