Will We Ever Get a Witness?


Preached by The Reverend Paul D. Allick on Proper 6 A in Ordinary Time (Sunday, June 18, 2017)


Exodus 19:2-8a; Romans 5:1-8; Matt. 9:35-10:8



Several years ago, I watched with great interest, a two night PBS documentary on the history of the Mormons. I remember at the time sitting at lunch with a group of Episcopalians. Some had been watching it others had not. It didn’t matter. Everyone had a lot to say about those Mormons.


The basic theme was, “These people are strange. How can they actually believe that stuff?” The issue of polygamy came up. Although the Mormons renounced that practice about a century ago. The issue of following the self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith, came up. How could anyone follow a fallible human being?


The Mormons, like the Jehovah Witnesses, always seem to elevate people’s blood pressure. They believe “strange” things and are always trying to convert people. Both groups have been maligned and set outside of society.


It reminds me of another group about two thousand years ago within the Roman Empire. They were mockingly called, “Christians.” They held beliefs way outside of mainstream religious thought. They met in secret to eat their god. They believed that their god had become human, died in a public execution, and then rose from the dead.


How could these people believe such things?



My response to my beloved sophisticated, liberal-minded Episcopalians was this: we all believe some pretty strange things. The Christian Church has practiced and defended all kinds of crimes against humanity. We might not want to get to high up on that horse before we get the plank out of our own eyes.


Further, I suggested we might learn something from our Mormon neighbors. What it would be like if Episcopalians enjoyed a tenth of the commitment to our faith tradition as the Mormons have with their own?


What if our nineteen year olds went out on a two-year mission where they had to explain the Anglican Tradition to everyone they met? Indeed, what if we had a desire to convert people to our tradition?  


Our Mormon, Jehovah Witness, and Evangelical sisters and brothers seem to understand today’s Gospel in a way we lost touch with a long time ago. It might be the reason they grow and we shrink.


This hasn’t always been true. Just these past two weeks we have honored the lives of Boniface, Columba, Barnabas and Enmagawbowh (the first Native American Priest in the Episcopal Church). The witnesses went out on mission explaining the Christian faith. They went into communities that had never heard the Good News. They faced hostility. They catechized others so that they could then teach the faith. They wanted to convert others to a way of life they found worthy.  


We not only respectfully remember these missionaries as in a museum of faith. We are called by our Lord Jesus to imitate them.  


As we learn in the catechism, “Who are the Ministers of the Church? Lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.”


In the Gospel, today Jesus looks out on the crowd and has compassion for them. He looks out on the crowd and sees that he cannot do this by himself. He ordains twelve apostles (apostolos, “one who is sent”).


Who were these Apostles? Four of them were uneducated, uncertified fishermen: the two sets of brothers, Andrew & Simon, and James & John. There was the tax collector, Matthew/Levi who belonged to a despised occupation that often involved shady business. We have Simon the Cananaean or zealot. He was a militant radical fighting an occupying government. We have Judas Iscariot the betrayer and embezzler.


And always present, though not of the twelve, are the women disciples: Mary of Magadala, Mary of Nazareth, the other Marys, and often Joanna. Most teachers in Jesus’ world would not have women in their company.  Women by biology were outcasts.


Who are these Disciples and Apostles? They are us. They are ordinary people; they are people who made mistakes, they carried regrets, they lived and they died, they worked and they played, some of them were outcasts, some didn’t know much about scripture, some were learned, some were wealthy, some were poor, some were innocent others were thieves and con artists, some were male, some were females, some were left wing radicals and believe it or not some were even conservatives.  


Jesus sees the crowd of humanity, he calls it the Harvest, and he summons us: “Go out there just as you are and feed my sheep. Go out into that harvest of broken lives and bring some healing. Teach others about our two-thousand-year-old tradition to help them find some peace with God and each other.


We are a royal priesthood to serve our God. In our Baptism, we were ordained to worship God and make disciples of Christ.


I guess we really do have something in common with those strange Mormons after all.