None Dare Call it Evangelism
None Dare Call it Treason is a 1964 book about communism in America and how you dare not call it what it was: treason. "Nones" are those people who check the box for none' on surveys asking about a person's religion. They are either the fastest growing or one of the fastest growing "religious" blocks. The "Nones" outnumber Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists combined, and are only slightly smaller than Evangelicals and slightly bigger than Catholics. Churchmen of every stripe wring their hands about this. How do we reach the Nones? Well, no None would dare call this text evangelism. It's set in Nazareth, Jesus hometown, a year after Jesus has made it big on the Palestine scene. Jesus goes to the synagogue where He had been taught the Faith, and He reads them a text about the Messiah coming to forgive sins and how He was Him. None dare call this anyway to do evangelism. Harry, Gordon, and Hank say so.
First, there is the Harry Chapin problem. The words of grace that were pouring out of Jesus mouth like a river, that's what the text says, were amazing, were wonderful, magical even (Trench, 344). The verb here indicates there were beginning to speculate on the matter (Vincent's, I, 450). And that's when they ran smack dab into what Harry Chapin sung. Jesus had come into the world in the usual way. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" Mark 6 quotes them saying: "Where did this fella get this? What is this wisdom given to this guy?" And it concludes, "They were scandalized by Him."
None dare call this evangelism. Doesn't Jesus know familiarity breeds contempt? They all know Him, and when they ask, "Is this not Joseph's son?" I think it's with a wink and nod. You know Joseph's "Son" that Mary came back from the Hill Country of Judea pregnant with when she had been 6 months away from Joseph? See, it's not just that Jesus came into the world in the usual way, but in a way that gave occasion for people to look down on Him. He was an illegitimate child, conceived out of wedlock by who knows whom, but certainly not Joseph!
But Jesus doesn't back down. He doubles down. Though Jesus is there to declare to them the acceptable year of the Lord, He declares that no true prophets is accepted (same Greek word) in his home town. And then He does something really crazy. He gives them every, earthly reason to reject Him. He, figuratively speaking, starts singing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Does anyone know where the love of God goes when pagan widows eat and the widows of God's people starve? Does anyone know how the love of God can heal an unbelieving, leprous general who defeated God's people while letting His own people rot in their leprosy? You must see it how the synagogue goers in Nazareth did. Believing widows and lepers, faithful widows and lepers prayed and prayed for God to be merciful, for God to come and heal them, and God almighty left them to starve and rot? Tell me where's the love of God here?
None dare call this evangelism. This is not how you reach Nones. You don't shove in their faces how God's free grace just walks on by believers and heals unbelievers. No, they shove it in your face: "How can a loving God do this or not do that?" And you're left but, but, butting and sputtering because you think God Almighty has got to be defended, explained, shown to be right in the eyes of the person who admits to having no religion.
Jesus doesn't do that. He does the equivalent of Hank Williams, Jr. in A Country Boy Can Survive, he spits some Beechnut (chewing tobacco) in their eyes. I could've used Charlie Daniels' Simple Man, or Toby Keith's How do You like Me Now? They all have a take no prisoners and an in your face component. Jesus takes no responsibility for unbelief. Jesus had come to Nazareth to cry out, "Olly, Olly oxen free". All imprisoned by their sins of acts, words, and even countless lustful, greedy, evil thoughts can come out. All those shattered by their sins can come to the Lord and He will put them back together. If people don't come, it's all on them and them only.
The text says that words of grace were pouring out of the mouth of Jesus, so go ahead and hear them. They're not quoted here but you find them in other sermons and Bible classes of Jesus. He was saying, "He who comes to Me I will in no way cast out." "I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life in place of the sheep." "Come unto Me all you who are burden and heavy laden and I will give you rest." "Though your sins be scarlet, I will make them white as snow." Jesus preached how for the sake of the perfect life He lived the Father had put away their sins and they would not die let alone be damned. He told them how with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death He would redeem them, buy them back, from the Sin, Death, and Devil they had sold their souls to.
Now that's the way to do evangelism. That's how to reach Nones, the unchurched, unbelievers, atheists, and agnostics. But Hank's way, which Jesus uses when they reject Him, is a non-starter. You dare not do that. You dare not refuse to apologize, explain, or repent of how God in His grace answers or doesn't answers prayer, lets the innocent' die and the guilty live. But that's what Jesus did, and that's what we feebly, falteringly, try to do too. Yes, we have clown ministry on the left and jokers on the right making divine worship entertainment, but we stick in the middle with Jesus and a centuries old liturgical service. None dare call this evangelism.
Even some in our own denomination don't. In the 80's, I was told preaching the Gospel purely and administering the Sacraments rightly was not enough. In the 90's I was told I needed a non-white vicar to evangelize a non-white neighborhood. In the mid-90's I was told by a confessional pastor that to reach people today you need side-door evangelism: have a basketball night, game night, a way to allow Nones to enter the building without entering the church. In the 21st century, I was told what I lacked was Mother's Day Out, day care, or English as a second language classes. None dare call Word and Sacrament ministry, liturgical worship, Bible classes on the Bible enough evangelism.
The jokes on those who would clown around with making Jesus more acceptable. While Jesus doesn't make nice with unbelief, apologize for the Gospel that the Nones won't hear, neither does He send a lightning bolt to fry them. He who raised the dead, healed lepers, cast out demons, and forgave sins with just words, could with but a word strike them all blind, dead, damned. But He doesn't. This is one of the Nones strongest reasons for their unbelief: That God doesn't punish them right then and there. That God doesn't prove He is God to them by judging their unbelief.
They wouldn't know grace if it bit them. God's free grace for Jesus' sake is uncontrollable and unaccountable, but it is also boundless and free. This mob, these people who knew Jesus from age 4 to 30 are ready to kill Him for daring to say God can be gracious to whoever He wants, wherever and whenever He wants. Yet, Jesus is as gracious to them in their murderous unbelief as He was to the widow of Zarephath and the pagan general. He doesn't lift up His voice to break them in pieces. He doesn't blow out any dimly burning wicks. Jesus just suffers their unbelief, their insults on His body, He lets them think He is no more than a man at their mercy.
None dare call this evangelism, but that is what it is. Jesus earthly ministry like ours is under the cross, is hidden under weak things. In Jesus' case it was hidden under human flesh and blood that got tired, hungry, sleepy, and sick. In our case, the ministry of the forgiveness of sins is hidden under Water, Words, Bread, and Wine. Christ preached Himself, True Man and True God, crucified. We preach Christ and Him crucified too. We lift high the cross but not in some triumphal march but proclaiming the Lord's death for sinners until He comes again.
This is evangelism: That no man took Jesus' life from Him. No the God who is Man freely, willingly, laid it down to pay for the sins of the world. That's true whether you or anyone at all believes it. God the Son willingly took on our flesh and blood to come all the way down to the dust we had made into mud to raise us mud-men all the way to heaven itself. Christ Jesus by Word and Sacrament comes to where we are today mired in sins, lost in unbelief, confused by misbelief, or burdened by other great shame and vice, and says. "Olly, Olly oxen free."
This is evangelism: all that happens to Jesus, all that Jesus does and doesn't do to and for you happens on His timetable, at His hour. In John 2 Jesus tells His own mother that His hour had not yet come. It wasn't time for Him to act though Mary thought it was. And in John 7 His enemies tried to seize Him but no one laid a hand on Him "because His hour had not yet come." Read the Book of Job. His "friends" try to convince him that the reason God is not acting on his behalf is because of his sins. Then God comes and shows Job and the friends that no one knows enough to be able to tell when and where God should act, and it wrong to attribute evil motives to God, or call God's patience slowness.
This is evangelism: the unbelief of men, the rage of men, the hardness of the modern heart doesn't slow let alone stop the ministry of our Lord Jesus. They mean to murder Jesus, but Jesus miraculously, yet without bells and whistles, without thunder and lightning, without judgment passes unharmed on His way. What is emphasized is that Jesus is on His way; all this opposition didn't hinder His journey or even cause Him to wobble. The Greek word here is Luke's special one for Jesus heading to the cross. His cross that will redeem you, rescue you, save you is His mission, His quest, His goal.
Do you think it's over for Nazareth? No more than it is for Nones. Later, when Jesus goes off on cities for their unbelief He mentions Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, but not Nazareth. Hmm, none dare call it or Nones totally lost. Amen.
The Reverend Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (20190203); Luke 4:21-30