The Jesus Movement, Evangelism, and Resurrection…Oh My!
This year, the Diocese of Maryland’s Annual Convention featured our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as a speaker and preacher. Bishop Curry’s message was one of inspiration and encouragement, reminding all of us that we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement—a movement that started in first century Palestine and continues today in 21st century Maryland and around the globe. Saying we’re members of Middleham & St. Peter’s or that we’re Episcopalians is one thing, but what about saying we’re members of the Jesus Movement? For some of us that might be an identity we readily claim and name. However, saying we are members of the Jesus Movement and sharing that with others though can be a tricky and challenging thing.
My freshman year of college, Facebook was a still in its early days. It was only available to college students. I remember sitting at my desk with my roommate as she showed me how to set up my profile and what this whole new social networking thing was about. Then we came to the option where you can state your religious view. I was hesitant to type the word “Christian” in the box. This hesitancy was not for lack of relationship with Jesus and or a crisis of faith. No, my love for Jesus had been growing since my childhood, fostered in Sunday School classes at St. Paul’s, in bedtime prayers with my parents, stories from my Granny and Grandmama, explored in youth group, and in the pages of my Bible. I loved Jesus, and knew of his deep love for me. My hesitancy with typing “Christian” in that box was that I might be lumped in with many who claim that identity and wield it with judgement, divisiveness, and as a tool to instill fear. What judgments and assumptions would be made about me by calling myself a Christian?
Something I’ve learned in the years since and one of the central points of Bishop Curry’s sermon is that we need witnesses, and not just witnesses in the abstract. “We need evangelists to witness to a way of being Christian that reflects the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.” And guess what? Those witnesses are you and me. Now I recognize that I just used the word “evangelist,” which sounds an awful lot like “evangelism.” That kind of talk is prone to make Episcopalians squirm a little, myself included. It can be a loaded word with connotations that are not so positive, even damaging. Growing up in the South with divorced parents, and as a member of the LGBT community, I’m familiar with forms of evangelism that I want no part of and can name as wrong across the board in content, form, and intent.
However, I also know that scripture and the words we say weekly from the Book of Common Prayer point to my call…our call to be evangelists. There’s a reclaiming to be had here, reclaiming and re-rooting of what it means to be a witness for Christ that is grounded not in some individual or denominational standard of salvation, but in the teachings and way of Jesus of Nazareth.
Here’s an important truth, are you ready? I am not Paul, great missionary of the New Testament. I am not Michael Curry, preacher extraordinaire. And neither are you. We might read a passage from Acts or listen to a sermon from Michael Curry, and think, wow that is impressive and wonderful. But, I will never preach like that or speak to a bunch of Gentiles on the Aeropagus. That’s probably true, but it doesn’t get us away from Jesus and God’s call for us to be bearers of the gospel. We don’t have to be someone or something that we’re not, but rather we’re called to lean into who we are at the core of our being, a loved child of God. In God we live and move and have our being—a way of being that is uniquely ours, the story of who we are, where we’ve been, and what we still long for that we can each tell.
First Peter 3:15 says, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” I wonder how you would describe the hope that is within you? What keeps you coming to church on Sundays? How would you describe to a friend how you’ve experienced God in your life? What story would you tell?
We are Resurrection people in a Good Friday world. A world that desperately needs us to bear witness to resurrection, new life coming in the midst of death. As Christians, living in the midst of tension is central to our experience of life in Christ. So often, and perhaps in our current national and political climate more than ever, tension is seen as negative. An either/or decision needs to be made, a side taken, a right way or a wrong way, a this or a that. An all or nothing approach is used that doesn’t make space for those who disagree with us or ambiguity.
However, Jesus continually invites us to not fall for the false either/or dichotomy. As Christians we learn to live in unresolved tension, seeing the world through both/and kind of lenses. Following the way of Jesus is one of both grief and joy, cross and tomb. Hope and fear, change and eternal changlessness. Love and struggle. Death and new life. And afterall, Jesus is the ultimate both/and—fully human and fully divine. These realities are held together, not in opposition.
Acts records that reactions to Paul’s preaching in Athens were mixed. “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34). Both/and—some scoffed and some became believers. Dionysius and Damarius, along with others, heard something that day that fed their curiosity, resonated with their experience, and made them what to learn more.
When you and I say we are part of the Jesus Movement, the reactions will most likely be also be mixed. Being able to share with someone a story, your story about the hope that is within you, can also transform. I know I’m here with you today, in large part due to others telling me the hope that was within them. They told me about what God was up to in their lives, they were vulnerable and brave enough to share the why behind what they believed.
After Communion we often pray, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.” Part of that love and service is being a faithful witness to Christ. Naming for ourselves first what the hope within us is, and then sharing it with gentleness and reverence.
Grant us strength and courage Lord.
Rev. Sarah Akes-Cardwell
 The Most Rev. Michael Curry, “Presiding Bishop Urges the Church to Wake Up.” Episcopal News Service Online. 15 May 2017.
 The origin of this great description is unknown to me. I’ve heard and read it used on several occasions, including by The Right Rev. Michael Curry.