In our gospel lesson today, Jesus experienced the first of many attempts to contain Jesus and his ministry. After healing many, Jesus goes to a deserted place, to rejuvenate, most likely, but the crowds follow, begging him to stay. They want to keep Jesus Christ to themselves, to use him as they need. But Jesus will not stay: “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to other cities also …” Jesus must keep moving, sharing the Good News beyond one particular place.
We do this 2,000 years later. Though we say we want to grow, we like our small, close-knit community. We like what Jesus is doing now, and we are not sure how much change we actually want. Besides, if we are going to grow, we would like people to come to us, not us need to keep moving outside these walls, bringing people in. Of course, this is not simply a St. Margaret’s problem. The entire Episcopal Church is in decline because we really struggle with that whole “evangelism” thing.
Samuel Shoemaker, who we honor today, would not have liked our guarded, protective ways – even if we are in good company. Shoemaker, born in 1893 in Baltimore, was influenced by many evangelical thinkers. He learned the power of personal evangelism, and during his 16-year tenure in New York City at Calvary Episcopal Church, his church grew exponentially. He knew the power of personal evangelism and giving authentic witness to one’s faith. Eventually, Shoemaker started movements of sharing faith in the workplace and ministering to alcoholics through AA. Shoemaker kept making the “box” of church wider, keeping that same pace of Jesus, who could not be kept by one town or community.
The good news with Jesus and even Shoemaker is that they push us in good ways with results more bountiful than we could imagine. Yes, Jesus could have stayed in one town forever, and healed and cared for all. But Jesus Christ also knew he could do more. Shoemaker could have ministered to those inside the church and not worried about who wasn’t there. But because he did, the good news and ministries became whole movements in the church.
Our invitation today is to think bigger. We can make tweaks here and there, but maybe we can think bigger about our ministry and witness here in Plainview. Who knows which risks will pay off and what changes will lead us to boisterous new life? We may not know what that will look like in the years to come. But our invitation is to stay open, to keep moving and to boldly go out into the world with Jesus. Amen.