February 04, 2009

Is Your World Shaped By the Gospel?

by Jesse Larkins
1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39 (Epiphany 5B)
Each of the New Testament lessons this week make reference to Jesus and Paul’s felt responsibility to proclaim the gospel message wherever they were. In the gospel, after healing Simon’s mother-in-law as well as many others who were brought to him, Jesus demands of the disciples that they move onto other towns so that he might “proclaim the message; for that is what [he] came to do” (vs. 38). Similarly, Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians about the obligation he feels to proclaim the gospel to all people at all times. The question left for us, then, is “Do we also feel that obligation to proclaim the gospel in all times and places?”

For those of us who preach and teach on a regular basis, we can easily brush past this question without much thought. Of course we are proclaiming the gospel! The real question for us, as well as for each member of our churches, is whether or not gospel proclamation has so shaped the entirety of our lives that we could say of ourselves that we proclaim the gospel in all that we do and say. This is a slightly different take on the topic of evangelism than most folks in my church are comfortable with. Use that dreaded “e-word” and folks are suddenly filled with images of knocking on the doors in the hallways of their college dorms, handing out tracks on the street corners, recitation of the four spiritual laws, and a tally sheet of the number of folks with whom you have prayed the Jesus prayer. Ask folks in a lot of congregations what “living a gospel life” looks like and you would probably get answers that range from: be good and nice to “don’t smoke or chew or go with boys who do.” It is this narrow view of evangelism as well as an anemic understanding of the Christian life that has crippled the church’s witness and made us incomprehensible to the world.

Returning to the gospel passage gives some clue into how Jesus might respond to this question of proclamation-shaped living. For Jesus, proclamation of the gospel message was not just talk, it was an embodied way of life. He was the Good News after all! Yet, Jesus didn’t just talk about healing, liberation, or love. He showed the world what the gospel was about in the way he lived it. Similarly, our own gospel-proclamation needs to be embodied in a way of life that doesn’t just speak about words like forgiveness, love, reconciliation, praise, and service, but introduces them to the Christian life and message by modeling it in all times and places. This is not only a formational way of living but it is equally invitational, fulfilling our obligation to proclaim the gospel at all times. A great exploration of this notion embodied proclamation can be found in Brad Kallenberg’s (fairly) recent book, Live to Tell. Equally helpful for further reflection on this idea can be found through any of the recent Josey-Bass publications about Christian practices.

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