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Evangelism: Inviting Others Into Joy

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: Matthew 9:35-10:23

I kind of have this obsession with witnessing people fully embodying their joy.

Like the other night I was listening to this song that had a wildly fast and intense drum beat, but it wasn’t frantic. It wasn’t chaotic. It was clean and crisp and precise. It dictated the pace of the song, but it also held it together. I kept listening, and my ears couldn’t stop lifting that drumming out of the rest of the song. I couldn’t imagine how one person could make those drums happen. So I did what you do these days: I went on the internet and found out who that drummer was. Then I discovered he had posted a YouTube video of him drumming that same song live during a concert.

I was mesmerized. There was no thinking. There was no trying. It was just pure embodiment. Letting his natural gift, built up and honed by years of practice, just flow through him in that moment.

To me, that’s joy. Fully embodying how God made him, fully stepping into the gifts God gave him and sharing them with the world. Now I don’t know if that’s how he would think of it, but that’s how this Christian priest sees it.

I love watching documentaries and videos about how artists create, how athletes train and compete. I used to think that I was attracted by their confidence, and I think that’s part of it, but I’m now starting to recognize that confidence is about trust—trusting so much in their gifts and in the people around them helping them to hone their gifts that when the time comes to perform or create or compete, there’s no thinking, no trying. There’s just doing, just fully being who they are.

To me, that’s joy.

It’s also what I love about being a rector in a parish. I love witnessing Deborah Aronson hold space during Welcome Time, inviting us all into getting to know one another and St. Luke’s better. I love looking out on Sunday morning and seeing each of you holding Casey Gorsuch’s art on the front of the worship booklets in your hands. I love those minutes before worship starts when I just get to soak in Kathy and Barry and Brother Dave and usually Jack as they open up our worship space with their music. I love when James Kice Matlick pokes his head into my office on a weekday to ask if he can please polish yet another thing in our sacristy so that our altar space may be literally cleaner and brighter. I love when Roberta Peterson comes up to me excited to tell me about a conversation she had with a contractor—God bless her.

To me, all that is joy.

In today’s gospel, Jesus sends the disciples into the world to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near! And let’s be clear about what Jesus calls them to do. Or rather, what he doesn’t mention at all, which is to teach the world how to believe correctly. Not anything about that in this gospel. Nor does he say anything about saving souls from hell. What he does tell them is: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. In a word: heal. Jesus calls the disciples to bring healing to the world.

To me, that is also about joy. To have healing—in body, in mind, in spirit—is to be able to fully step into how God made us, to fully trust and then embody the gifts God gave us.

This is how Jesus first calls disciples to evangelism.

When we talk about evangelism, what are we really talking about?

A lot of us were taught that it’s about one of those things Jesus doesn’t mention: saving souls from the eternal torment of hell. So many people think that that’s what Christianity is about, that people who aren’t Christian think of Christians in general as judgmental and sanctimonious, which makes many of us who are Christians afraid to say that we are for fear of being seen as one of those Christians. We hide our faith and therefore let others define what Christianity is for the rest of the world.

Within the parish itself, evangelism can often be about numbers. We need more people in the pews so that they will pledge and we can continue to have St. Luke’s! And listen, that’s real. Without you and without your gifts of time and skills and, yes, money, St. Luke’s couldn’t exist. We couldn’t afford to keep the building maintained. We couldn’t have our music and Zoom systems. I couldn’t be here serving as your rector.

But I don’t want more people in the pews because I want to keep my job and my paycheck. I don’t want more people in the pews so that we can afford our new furnaces.

I want more people in the pews because I think this is a place that cultivates and celebrates joy, and I want that for as many people as we can fit into this building. I want people to see the ways each of you embodies how God made you, how each of you lives your joy, and I want them to be inspired to live into their own joy, to fully embody how God made them.

So many of us have been taught to hide our gifts, hide our joy. “Serious” writers have told me that writing fanfiction is a joke, even though it brings me joy. Some of us have been told that creating things with Legos or crayons is childish. Some of us have been taught that our gifts aren’t actually joyful—gifts like putting together a badass spreadsheet or organizing file cabinets or calling contractors.

I’m here to say today that your joy, however it manifests, is welcome here, is needed here.

Evangelism is about saving souls, but not in the way we think. We’re not saving souls from some mythical eternal torment in the afterlife. We’re saving people into joy. We’re saving people into belonging within a community that loves the unique way God made them, that values their gifts, whatever those gifts are. The Body of Christ is about making space for each and every person’s unique joy and knowing that it is essential to our mutual thriving.

But St. Luke’s can’t fully thrive if we keep this joy to ourselves, if we don’t share it with others, if we don’t let them know that there is a place where their joy will be celebrated and nurtured, where their joy is needed.

Jesus says, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We can read this in a lot of ways. Matthew was the gospel written to the Jewish community specifically, so it makes sense. But it’s also worth mentioning that one of the last verses in the book of Matthew is, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” So Jesus does widen his call.

But I read that line about going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel as: Go first to the people you know, to the communities you know. Share your joy and tell them that there is a place where their gifts, where their joy, is welcome, is needed.

Not: Have you accepted Jesus as your personal lord and savior? But: Do you need a place where you feel safe and respected and loved for who you already are, for how God created you?

Don’t we want that for the people in our lives? A place where they feel loved, a place where they get to unabashedly share their joy, whatever that joy is? And don’t we want their gifts and their joy for this community?

Not everyone will be into it when you share this with them. That’s okay. Jesus says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” He also says something about raining judgment on those places, but that’s for breaking down in a different sermon.

We don’t need to convert people. We don’t need to convince them that our beliefs are right. Our faith isn’t justified by what we say we believe, but how we live what we believe. We just need to invite people into the joy that is already present in them, and let them know that there is a community where that joy is deeply needed, where that joy is nurtured, where that joy is celebrated.

That’s who we are. That’s what St. Luke’s has to give. And that’s what we need to share with the world.

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