BIBLE READING: Matthew 4: 12-23
In a sculpture by Michelangelo entitled the “Unfinished Slave” or the “Awakening Prisoner,” a human being emerges slowly, through the grace of the artist’s hammer and chisel, struggling to break out of a petrified prison into the freedom of being fully human. “This image of a slave being set free is the most important ministry of the church – evangelization, a word derived from the name given to a slave in the ancient Greek city-states who was charged with bringing the good news of victory to the citizens back home during a battle. When this slave proclaimed the victory the response of the people was to grant him his freedom.
The slave not only proclaims a word about freedom after a time of violence and war, but also is himself a manifestation of that freedom. In other words, the slave is the good news made flesh, an embodiment of the very message he announces. His word transforms his life as well as the lives of others, and freedom emerges from the prison of his circumstances.” This, at root, is what evangelism means – to allow our transformed lives to transform others – to nurture in them the image of God in Christ.
The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, declared that the highest duty of humanity is to transform society into community. A society holds certain beliefs and ideals in common, but a community adds another dimension to every relationship, because community exists only where there is intimacy.
“God’s vision for the world and Jesus’ vision for ministry – his own and ours – is about intimate involvement with others. The life God calls us to live is a life of contact with others – the full contact life of Christ – to touch and to be touched by those at our doorstep.”
Many folks believe the work of evangelism focuses on the content of the gospel; but the real message of Christianity has to do with the context. It’s not enough to know that Jesus is Lord, or that we’re to love our God and our neighbour. We must carry that message into the context of others’ lives.
An artist spent several months working on a painting. A friend visited several times to watch the artist work and comment on the progress. A wooded scene began to take shape on the canvas with barren winter trees surrounding a dark, lifeless cabin. The friend waited for a moon to appear, or stars, but day after day, darkness overwhelmed the canvas. He urged the artist to stop, put it away, and start on something else. The artist refused.
His friend said the painting gave him no hope. It radiated only numbing coldness and filled him with gloom and despair. The artist continued to paint, continued to refuse his friends pleas to stop, and continued to urge his friend to keep coming back.
Finally, the artist told his friend, “I’m going to complete my painting today and I would like you to be there.” The friend was uncomfortable revisiting the dark eeriness of the foreboding landscape, but finally consented for the sake of their friendship.
At the studio, the painting appeared as dark and as dead as before. The artist said, “Just watch.” With brush in hand, he painted a light shining from the window of the darkened, lifeless cabin. The entire painting underwent an instant transformation. Where it was lifeless, there was life. Where there was despair and foreboding, there was now hope – even, it seemed, a sense of joy. The darkest of nights was, in that single moment, by a single stroke of the brush, transformed into something warm and intimate.
The content of the artist’s message remained a cold, barren, winter landscape. However, the context of the artist’s message became a light in the darkness, a candle of light and life – a beacon of hope and love.
John Greenleaf Whittier reminds us, “To worship rightly is to love each other, every smile a hymn, and each kind deed a prayer.”
Yet, we need to remember not to confine our worship to the pew, or the pulpit, the balcony or the choir loft. When we learn to act out our worship in the streets, in the company of and for the benefit of strangers, we will have learned to live in a church community rather than a church society. We will have learned that, “bread for myself is a material concern, but bread for my neighbour is a spiritual concern.”
Someone once said, evangelism is merely “one beggar telling another where to find bread.” In the context of community, it is a shared hunger; in the context of a society that defines full employment at 5% unemployment, we tend to think of hunger as somebody else’s problem.
I am certain there are a variety of forms your service could take, ….. Your life will be changed by your involvement, as will the lives of others. You will be helping our church transform into a community of faith out of a society of people with a common history and shared beliefs. You will be donning Christ, and becoming a light in the midst of a bleak landscape – a bit of warmth and welcome. You will be acting out your love rather than talking about your love. The differences in these small things are profound. You can make a difference and a difference can be made in you.