Romans 10: 5-15
August 10, 2014
Very few people, at least honest people, would say that they have beautiful feet. In fact, those of us with bunions, hammer toes or other foot afflictions know for a fact that we do not have beautiful feet! The best pedicure in the world won’t obscure that reality. The one occupation I know for certain that I would never consider is being a podiatrist. Look at people’s feet all day long? That is a special calling, in my estimation!
And yet, one of the most beautiful lines in scripture is penned in Isaiah 52:7, and quoted by the Apostle Paul in today’s epistle lesson: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. It makes us think a little differently about feet, especially when those feet are aiding someone to bring a word of grace and God’s love to someone who needs to hear that word. Paul says that same messenger, who goes in the name of Christ to an unbelieving world, is a crucial part of the unfolding Kingdom of God. Because otherwise, how will those unbelievers come to believe in one of whom they have never heard? The voice of Christ himself is proclaimed through believers like you and like me.
The Greek word for “good news” is euangelion, from which we derive the terrifying word “evangelize.” It terrifies us because we don’t know how to do it, and even if we knew how, everybody we know or associate with is already in a church! Or so we say.
In her commentary on this passage Martha Highsmith makes an interesting observation that evangelism needs to happen in context. She draws the distinction between the mission-oriented approach of New England Christians, who go out and do things in the name of the One who sent them. Southern Christians are more comfortable talking about faith in public places in an unself-conscious way. Our ancestors in faith in the UCC include the New England Congregationalists so we have inherited that “doing mission” tendency. And our German Reformed heritage predisposes us to a more modest and inward approach to our relationship with God, and that tends to inhibit public professions of faith.
Whether we share the good news by engaging in concrete actions like work with Habitat, or serving at the soup kitchen; or in speaking about our faith—it is “ job one” for Christians. And we should always be stretching ourselves in the mode of evangelizing that is least comfortable for us. The world needs a progressive Christian message about a Jesus who offers hope and certainty, and one who loves you and me enough to die for us. Frankly, most of the serious evangelizing that does take place is geared towards frightening people into belief, as opposed to a message that asserts Christ lived, died and rose from the dead to offer eternal life to the whole world.
We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a friend to our hairdresser, or refer someone in medical need to our trusted doctor. Maybe you’ve recommended a therapist to a friend who was struggling with emotional problems. Angie’s List recommends plumbers and contractors! Why then, would hesitate to recommend Jesus to those who do not know him? As Mary Beth Anton succinctly puts it, evangelism is introducing others to Jesus. Surely we all know to make an introduction! And we have no idea what effect this may have on another’s life.
Our smallest actions, in sharing good news can have effects of which we can’t know at the time. Scientists talk about a “butterfly effect.” From Wikipedia: The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations equating to the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. Lorenz discovered the effect when he observed that runs of his weather model with initial condition data that was rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner would fail to reproduce the results of runs with the unrounded initial condition data. A very small change in initial conditions had created a significantly different outcome.
Pastor David Lose (in a Working preacher blog from August 14, 2011) says that there is a “butterfly effect” to evangelism as well. Think back to what has shaped your faith life. If you grew up in the faith, likely many small actions brought you to your place in the pews today. The SS teacher who helped you with your lines for the Christmas pageant, or taught you to name the books of the bible. Maybe it was youth outing, or a confirmation mentor who really took the time to listen to you. Maybe it was a neighbor who came over to the house when there had been a death in the family, and offered prayer in addition to a casserole. Maybe it is a word of witness…someone shares with you what Jesus’ presence means to them and in so doing helps you to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Each small action may be insignificant in and of itself…but across time such acts of witness shape a life of faith.
It takes courage to witness to our faith. Yet, for people to call on the name of the Lord, they must first have faith, but that is impossible unless they know of the Messiah. For this, they need for someone to proclaim Jesus to them, and for someone to do that…they must be sent. We have all of us, been sent, as messengers of the good news of Jesus Christ. As baptized Christians, we are called and sent forth into the world. And our feet are beautiful when they bear us on the mission of proclaiming the good news. When we read these words, we are confronted with a challenge we dare not ignore.
As NT Wright puts it in his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreter’s Bible, we must ask God in prayer whether we are among the sent, and ask God to equip us to the task so that more will come to believe. He observes that although Paul does not promise it will be easy, Paul does promise the joy that bubbles up through problems and suffering. That joy is ours because of the glory that will be revealed to us in the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the world.
Evangelism arises from a vivid relationship with God. And by vivid, I mean one that lives, breathes, has color and intensity. One who shares their faith knows that a healthy relationship with God will better all aspects of one’s life and he or she believes that others would also have better lives with that same relationship. When the news of the world is so uniformly negative, why would we hesitate to share good news?
When I think of someone who shared the good news with joy and integrity, Bob Fortenbaugh comes to mind. I’ll remind you that Bob was a Gettysburg College graduate who did post-graduate work in chemistry, and eventually was part of the Manhattan Project. Of course, that was the effort to develop the atomic bomb during WWII. It did bring an end to the war in Japan, but in so doing brought very bad news to hundreds of thousands of people. Sometime later, project leader and rocket scientist Robert Oppenheimer famously remarked that it put him in mind of a line from the Bhagavad Gita “Now I am death, destroyer of worlds.” I doubt that the people who worked on the project, even done as it was in service of their country, thought that their feet were beautiful in bringing this news to the world.
After his time in the service, and later work in the private sector, Bob became a Methodist minister. It’s presumptuous of me to infer because we never talked about it, but I think he wanted to devote his life to good news for the world. He and Esther spent their retirement years in Arendtsville and worshiped with us, thank heavens. In the course of their life with Zion, Bob gave me a special gift. He and I would do home communions together. I’ll never forget our first visit together, to see Joe Sunbury. As we were leaving, Bob leaned down and touched Joe’s shoulder and said, “God loves you, Joe.” Bob had very beautiful feet. Such a simple gesture to share such good news. It taught me more than I learned in a 12 week course in pastoral care, and I’ve never stopped doing the same thing.
Evangelism is such a simple thing, really. It consists merely of sharing the love of God with someone else. Zion’s mission statement is pretty clear: Embodying the love of God in word and action. That really straddles 2 clear ways of evangelism—New England Congregational or Southern Baptist!—talking or doing. Figure out what you’re best at, and get started this week. The world is desperate for some good news.
Whether by our loving actions in mission efforts, or by words as simple as “God loves you, Joe” sharing the good news isn’t rocket science.