Posts tagged ‘evangelism’

Sent by Christ: Sharing the Gospel with the World

Great CommissionActs 5:12-20
John 20:19-31

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

This morning, I’d like us to consider the question, “What has Christ called/commanded us to do as His followers?” And even more specifically, I want to look at one aspect of that question: “What has Christ called us to do in relation to those people around us who are not members of the Body of Christ?” We have just celebrated, and will continue to celebrate for the next 40 days, THE central event in all of human history – the death and resurrection of our Lord, so that we might become part of His Body and be saved.

We bear His name, the name of Christian, and bearing this name comes with responsibility. It’s not just a name we take on so that we get to go to heaven – being a member of the Body of Christ means that there are things which we need to do. Our Lord mentions one of those things in the Gospel reading today; He answers the question I want us thinking about, “What has Christ called us to do in relation to those people around us who are not members of the Body of Christ?” We just heard from St. John’s Gospel: “Peace be unto you! as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (v21). Obviously, He is speaking to the Apostles, but His words apply to us all. What is Christ sending us to do? St. Matthew’s Gospel spells it out in more detail, when the Lord tells the Apostles to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Apostles, and we by extension, are being sent into the world in the name of Jesus to share the Gospel and to teach the nations the Truth.

Not only did Jesus send the Apostles into the world, He blessed them, “receive ye the Holy Spirit.” They are not sent out to fend for themselves, they are sent in the strength and grace of God. In another place in St. John’s Gospel, our Lord tells His followers “verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). How is the Gospel, the Good News about both God and man, how is the Gospel to spread throughout the world? Those who believe are called to share the Faith. We are sent, as the Apostles were sent by the Lord. In our Epistle reading this morning we see an example of this brought to life. The Apostles went out to share the Gospel, and in Acts we read “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people…[and] the people magnified them and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” (Acts 5:12-14) The Apostles went out and shared the Gospel both by their preaching and working miracles, and many people were converted and added to the Body of Christ. Further in the reading we also hear about more people being brought and being healed by the hands of the Apostles through the grace of God.

So how does this come down to us today, in 21st century America? We are still sent by Christ – we are sent from this gathering into the world to share the Gospel of Christ. A few ideas on what this might look like…1 – In order to share Christ, we first have to work on ourselves. In plain English, this means we have to work on our sinful lives, ever decreasing our sin and growing more like Christ. We can’t witness to Christ if we’re following the way of the world. We’re supposed to be a light on a hill for the world to see, salt to properly season the world; we’re called to be in the world but not of the world. If we are loved by the world, and if we love the world, then sharing with others the Cross of Christ becomes very difficult if not impossible. I can’t call you to a new life if I’m not living that new life already myself. 2 – Secondly, and directly related to the first, our lives of prayer and sanctification have to be healthy in order to share the Gospel with the world. Remember that even the Apostles couldn’t always heal – there was the instance of the possessed boy who Jesus healed, and told the Apostle that this could only be done through prayer and fasting. As understood by many of the Saints, our relationship with Christ is built on prayer. Our lives are supposed to be lives of prayer, filling as much time as possible with calling on the name of the Lord. We follow the commandments, we pray, we fast, we live lives dedicated to Christ, and slowly we become ever more like Him.

Then what happens? Then being sent can begin to bear fruit. People should know there’s something different about us just by observation. This gives us a chance to tell these people about Christ. And there are countless opportunities in our daily conversation to share Christ on some level, whether by not participating in certain conversations, or by offering something from the Bible/Fathers in conversation…we have a lot of opportunity in conversation to bring out our faith and share at least a glimpse of the Gospel. Then there’s the ageless suggestion which we see even from the time of the Apostles, to invite those around us to “come and see.” As the Apostle Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see the Lord, we can make that same invitation to those people around us. Come and see – and in the context of the holy services of our Church, God’s grace is present and ever-working. We have the responsibility to bring others with us, to introduce them to the fullness of the Truth found in our Holy Orthodox Church. But no method of sharing will bear fruit if our lives don’t also convict others of the Gospel. May God give us strength to walk the narrow path, and by following the way of Christ, my our lives also be used to call others to the brilliance of life in Christ.

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

Matthew Jackson

Holy Myrrhbearer and Equal to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!
You know, I said last Sunday (and I often say) how much I love preaching and talking about the lives of the Saints. And that’s true, but typically I wouldn’t preach two Sundays in a row about the lives of the Saints remembered those days. This is different – because today we remember and celebrate the life of St. Mary Magdalene, Equal to the Apostles, and one of the Myrrhbearing women. There’s a lot of garbage, frankly, that’s been said about St. Mary Magdalene over the last decade or so. Every year, even though the big excitement surrounding her has somewhat subsided, around Western Easter every year we get to hear all about these ridiculous theories that claim St. Mary and our Lord were married or carrying on in some kind of relationship, having children and living in earthly bliss. All of that is nonsense, and as Orthodox Christians we know it’s nonsense, but all too often, we don’t actually know what the story of St. Mary is. Also, the Christian Church is constantly accused of being against women, of oppressing women, of holding women back. Again, the life of St. Mary speaks to the point – one of the earliest follows of Christ, a women, celebrated today as Equal to the Apostles.
St. Mary was born in the city of Magdala. We know little of her life before she appears in the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, and it just so happens that she was healed of demon possession, exactly as one of the men was in the Gospel reading this morning. She was healed by our Lord, having 7 demons cast out of her, and from that time on she became His disciple. For clarities sake – somehow, in the West, there was a confusion of St. Mary and another woman who was a prostitute and was forgiven and converted by Christ – but scripturally they are clearly two different women. St. Mary followed Jesus as he traveled around Judea and Galilee, ministering to Him and hearing Him preach the Gospel to the people. She witnessed many of His miracles, and was actually one of a fairly small group who heard a great deal of the teachings of our Lord. She was present during Christ’s procession to His crucifixion, and is also mentioned in the Gospels as being present on Golgotha when our Lord was crucified and died. In other words, she stayed with Him even when His chosen disciples and Apostles had fled. She not only stands out as exceptional among the women following Jesus, but she stands out as exceptional among all of the people following Him and professing to believe in Him as the Messiah promised to Israel. One of the names given to St. Mary is Myrrhbearer, because after the Sabbath, on the morning of the third day, she and several other women gathered the required spices and went to anoint the body of the Lord. This is a wonderful example of the faith of the women that we often don’t think about – His body was guarded and behind an enormous stone in the tomb. The women took no thought for how they were to get to His body, they went in faith, knowing that God would make a way.
And perhaps it was precisely for the unquestioning faith of these holy women that it was revealed to them first that Christ had risen from the dead. The scene then at the tomb with Mary is beautiful – as relayed by the Evangelist Matthew – an angel greeted them at the tomb, telling them that the Lord had risen, and instructing them to go and tell the rest of the disciples what had happened. St. Matthew also relates that on the way to tell the Apostles, the Lord greeted them, and told them to tell the disciples to meet Him in Galilee. And as the Apostles were later to preach the Risen Lord to the world, St. Mary first delivered this word to the Apostles.
The Holy Scriptures do not tell us the work of St. Mary after the Resurrection and Ascension, but Holy Tradition does. St. Mary also went, as did the Apostles, to preach the Risen Lord to the world. It is said that she ventured as far as pagan Rome, preaching the Risen Lord, and using her own experience as a central point in her preaching. One of the most famous tales from the tradition also related that she visited the Roman Emperor Tiberias, bringing him a red egg and preaching to him Christ is Risen! It is also said that she used the egg to explain to the Emperor the Truth about the living God, the Holy Trinity. As the egg is one yet three (yolk, white, shell), so is our God one in the three Persons.
After Ss. Peter and Paul came to Rome, St. Mary moved on to Ephesus, and labored with the Apostle John who was preaching there. She died in old age in Ephesus, and was buried there. It’s very easy to see why the Church honors her with the title Equal to the Apostles, for she labored with them and along side them, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations.
Our nugget from her life today…as St. Mary lived and preached the Gospel of Christ from her own experience of the Living God, so too, we also live and share the Gospel based on our experience of God. All of the Saints tell us that God is truly made real in our lives by our experience of Him. We can’t share what we don’t know, what we don’t have experience of. The Apostles, and St. Mary, were not simply sharing intellectual knowledge with the masses – they were sharing their personal experience of the living God. And from this experience they could speak the Truth, and words that healed. We meet God in our prayer, in our reading of Scriptures, in the Holy Services, and even in every person that we meet.
May God grant that we nurture this relationship, that we grow to know Him more and more fully and deeply, and from this relationship, like St. Mary, we can be lights to the world.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson