Show others this kingdom of love

Mary Copping, 7 July 2019

Isaiah 66: 10–14; Luke 10: 1–11, 16–20

In our gospel reading we’re told of Jesus sending out 70 people, in pairs, with the message, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’. They were to go out, like lambs among wolves, to speak of all that they knew of Jesus and had seen him doing. They’d seen people being healed, they’d seen water turned into wine, they’d seen thousands being fed from five loaves and two fishes, they’d seen Jesus stopping to speak to and touch leprosy sufferers and many other marginalised people – and over all these things they had seen the love that Jesus had for everyone. This was now their mission: to tell others about what they’d seen of the kingdom of God and, even more, to show others this kingdom of love.

We often get confused about the meaning of mission and evangelism – perhaps happier with doing mission than we are with evangelising, with its echoes of people on street corners waving a Bible in the air and shouting at people. I was in London the other day and saw such a woman, looking so angry, with a Bible in her hand and shouting at all those who passed by. I stopped and asked her where the love of God was in this (I had my clerical collar on, which she noticed, and I think that saved me). She said, ‘This is the love of God; these people are all going to hell unless I tell them. No soft words, just warnings.’ There was no answer to that, so I went on my way and left her to her angry shouting, wondering who would be saved by this!!

The dictionary definition of evangelism is, ‘The commitment to or act of publicly preaching (ministry) of the gospel with the intention of spreading the message and teachings of Jesus Christ’.

The dictionary definition of mission is, ‘The vocation or calling of a religious organisation, especially a Christian one, to go out into the world and spread its faith’.

The late John Stott, Anglican priest and theologian, described his understanding of mission as a partnership of evangelism (telling people about Jesus) and social action, showing the love of God.

There is a profound interest in spiritual questions among the people we meet in our everyday lives – our neighbours, friends, those who say they have some sort of belief but do not go to church regularly either because they’ve had bad experiences of church or because they see it as irrelevant, or they go to the car boot sale on Sundays. Indeed, the field is ready for harvest, and the Lord of the harvest wants you and me – every one of us – out in the field. God wants us to take advantage of the countless opportunities around us to show God’s love, to bring help to others around us, and when asked, to talk about our faith.

Often our mission and evangelism is the quiet work, helping at the local charity, the kindnesses shown to people, the prayers we pray for them, and answering questions on faith when asked. A verse from 1 Peter 3: 15, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ It is taking the opportunities when they come, when someone asks, ‘So, what did you do at the weekend?’ Have we the courage to tell them that we went to church and risk questions about our faith, the most precious gift God has given us?

When someone asks, ‘So, what did you do at the weekend?’ have we the courage to tell them that we went to church and risk questions about our faith, the most precious gift God has given us?

I am often wearing my clerical collar as I walk around town and in a way it makes it easier for me to speak of spiritual things to others, as they know that I am a priest and sometimes feel they can trust me more. However, I do get the difficult questions, like, ‘If there is a God why is there all this suffering?’ Someone said to me, ‘I used to believe, but then my mother died young of cancer’. And if I want to do a quick shop at Tesco I’m afraid I take my collar off!

But what of all those who don’t wear a collar yet are Christians? The question, ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ – what do we answer? I went shopping, or I went to church? This can often stop people in their tracks, or can start an interesting conversation about beliefs. But I wonder if, as in the verse I quoted, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer’, we are ready with an answer about why we believe in God, what our faith means to us and what advantages there are to believing in God and being in a Christian community?

I know of three people who go out every Saturday night, taking food and drink to those who are sleeping rough on the streets of Winchester (I have joined them a few times). They show such love and kindness to these people; they feel this is what God has called them to do. Not an easy task, but one they feel fulfilled in, and sometimes the rough sleepers, or drinkers passing by, ask them why they are doing this. They answer simply, ‘Because we are Christians and we want to show God’s love’. Sometimes they are not treated well, if someone is drunk or on drugs, but they carry on. They show kindness and love as followers of Christ and bring peace to those who are troubled.

If your belief is that all those who don’t give their lives to Jesus will be unsaved and go to hell, then evangelism is very serious, and telling people about the need to turn to Jesus is a desperate one (as the woman I met in London). I remember doing an evangelism course at another church, and part of this course was to knock on people doors and ask them to complete a quick survey on belief. We went out in pairs. I remember standing on a doorstep, ringing the bell and hearing the music of the beginning of EastEnders and someone shouting, ‘Who’s that knocking?’ I felt very awkward about what we were asking people to do.

If, however, we believe that God’s heart is greater than that, that his love is for all, that Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us to God’s love, then the mission is to show God’s love in the world in whatever way we are called to do, being led by the Holy Spirit, guided by him in all that we say and do. To give people time, to listen to them, being patient, and talking about our Christian faith if they ask – having that answer ready.

St Teresa of Avila said, ‘Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.’

We’re told that the 70 returned to Jesus with great joy at all that had happened. As we show love and kindness to others in Jesus’ name, we too experience deep joy in bringing light to a troubled world.

Let us go out from here into the coming week, to show again God’s love and kindness in the world.