Discipleship and Evangelization: Source of Christian Unity
The following is my homily at Blessed Sacrament Parish, Seattle, for today's readings: 1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19 ; Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10 ; 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20; Jn 1:35-42
The NY Times yesterday had the landing of USAirways flight 1549 on their front page.
Most of the news consists of “eyewitness accounts.”
We want to know “what was it like? What happened to you? What did you experience?”
There are more technical details in other stories about the “Miracle on the Hudson,” but they are not as viscerally interesting, and can be found on pages 17-19.
We tend to put stock in people’s experiences, and I, a very frequent flyer on USAirways, am curious to know what it’s like in case I’m ever on a flight that becomes a cruise.
Experience is a great teacher – especially our own experiences.
So a part of getting a degree in education is student teaching.
Part of seminary training is regular involvement in pastoral work under a supervisor.
My class on confessional ministry included “practice confessions,” with our own Fr. Allen as full-time penitent; acting as a middle-aged woman, a young man, a fellow beset with scrupulosity.
By the way, he made a very convincing eight-year old at her first confession.
In the ancient near east, if you were going to learn from a rabbi, or a great philosopher, you wouldn’t study books, or even sit in lectures.
You’d be like Samuel, sent to live with a master, the priest Eli.
We’re told “Samuel was not familiar with the Lord,” so when the Lord speaks to him, he doesn’t recognize His voice.
Eli becomes a mentor to the young Samuel; to share with Samuel what he had learned from his own experience of hearing the Lord’s voice and responding in obedience.
Samuel is a disciple of Eli; he lives with the priest, learns from him, and becomes a great prophet.
We see a similar pattern in the Gospel of John.
Two disciples of John the Baptist follow Jesus, who notices them shadowing him, turns and asks the very direct question, “what are you looking for?”
There answer seems peculiar at first – a non-sequitur, really – “Rabbi, (teacher) where do you stay?”
They acknowledge him as a teacher, and by asking him “where do you stay?” they’re indirectly asking, “may we stay with you, teacher, and learn from you?”
In other words, “May we be your disciples?”
He says, “Come and see,” and in the Gospel of John, “seeing” is always more than just physical vision.
It always refers as well to faith in the Word made flesh.
Notice how Andrew and his brother become disciples.
It all begins with John the Baptist, who points out Jesus as “the lamb of God,” and urges his disciples to abandon him to follow the one whose sandal straps he is not worthy to tie.
Then, after spending just one day with Jesus, Andrew grabs his brother Simon, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.”
Simon Peter or Andrew tells Philip about the Lord, and after meeting Jesus, Philip, in turn, tells his buddy Nathanael that Jesus is the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.
In each case, a new disciple is made precisely because someone has told them about Jesus – not specific doctrines about Jesus (they didn’t exist as yet), but of their personal experience of him that was so powerful they abandoned their former lives to stay with him.
Discipleship is utterly dependent upon evangelization – by sharing the good news of the encounter with Jesus.
The ‘New Evangelization’ called for by Pope John Paul II, is, in his words, “not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior."
This Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., I’ll be giving a presentation on “how to talk about your faith with others,” and I’ll give you my thesis now, so you can decide if you want to “come and hear.”
I don’t believe we can effectively evangelize until we have become disciples of Jesus ourselves.
In fact, until we have a personal and profound meeting with our Savior, I don’t think we’ll even be inclined to embrace the identity of a Christian – one who shares the good news of being saved.
Evangelization, Pope Paul VI said, is our deepest identity.
Being a Christian is about sharing good news we’ve experienced.
We want to share good news – in fact, it’s hard to keep our mouths shut when we’ve experienced something really great.
So people will talk about their experience of an improbably safe landing on the Hudson.
If the UW ever wins a football game again, trust me, people will talk about it!
When we fall head over heels in love, our friends won’t hear the end about our beloved.
This was the experience of St. Paul
His encounter with the Risen Jesus converted his prodigious energy; from persecuting the followers of Jesus, to proclaiming Jesus’ death as the price paid for his freedom from the obligations of the Law.
In their meeting on the Damascus road, Jesus revealed to Paul the depth of his sin: “you are persecuting me – the Risen and Ascended one.”
In that brief but powerful encounter, Paul received his Gospel: that “God made him who did not know sin to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” [2Cor 5:21]
God, in a wondrous exchange, attributed Paul’s sin to Jesus, who innocently suffered for him, and in turn, attributed Jesus’ obedience and righteousness to Paul.
This was Paul’s experience – that legal observance and sacrifice in the Temple, were rubbish compared to knowing Jesus; that whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him, and thus a Temple of God’s own Spirit.
So great, so profound was this experience of loving forgiveness and intimacy that he found in Jesus, that Paul could tell the Galatian Christians, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me!”
I have been blessed to have recently had this Gospel proclaimed to me by various people whose lives have been transformed by the experience of Jesus’ grace.
They know his love; they know he died in their place, nailing their many sins to the cross; they know in greater detail than ever before what those sins were and are; they know they’ve done nothing to receive this mercy – and their lives are marked by joy and gratitude.
They now imitate the Master they follow.
I have had glimpses of this mercy; moments, when I am touched by an awareness of my depravity and the unearned forgiveness I’m offered.
One time in particular was in the sacrament of reconciliation, when in a flood of grace I bawled like a baby – tears simultaneously of sorrow for what I’d done and joy that I had been forgiven.
This is the common experience of the Christian – and this experience of Jesus, and the Father’s grace and mercy in him, and the indwelling of the Spirit, is the source of genuine Christian unity.
If we, who are all given the mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” by Jesus himself are to actually obey him – and this obedience is what God wants more than sacrifice or offering, we’re told in our psalm today – then first we must become disciples of Jesus ourselves.
Here are some suggestions I intend to follow myself.
1. We must realize that like the young Samuel, “we are not familiar with the Lord.” We must ask to be evangelized ourselves.
2. We don’t recognize his daily call to us. We must begin to say with all sincerity, “your servant [who has been purchased at the price of your son’s death] is listening. And then we must be attentive to the often subtle promptings of the Spirit we’ve been given. If we have an inclination, however weak, to call on a sick friend, or to pray, or to help out at the Sunday soup kitchen, or to confront a gossip at work – do it! That small voice inviting us to do good is almost certainly the Lord’s.
3. We must accept that being a disciple involves realizing “I am not my own” – my life is not about doing what I want, but doing what the Lord wants – which will be my deepest fulfillment. Jesus saw more potential in Andrew’s brother, Simon, than Simon could have possibly imagined; Simon never would have become “Peter” – the rocky foundation of the Church, without becoming Jesus’ disciple.
4. We may very well need to seek out one who knows the Lord, and hear of their experience of him and of discipleship. We need to be inspired, we need to be mentored, and eventually we need to be a mentor to others.
5. If we’ve not been overcome by a sense of our sin and the undeserved mercy of God in an encounter with the Risen Jesus, then pray for it. Beg the Lord for a double portion of the Spirit, like Elisha did Elijah.
6. And finally, if you have experienced an encounter with the Lord that has changed you in any way, speak to others about it. Experience is hard to refute, and fascinating to hear. You are most certainly not alone in that experience, and others are longing to hear that God is still at work – because that, too, is Good News.