14th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 22
August 29, 2010
Acts of the Apostles 18: 1-11
“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Pricilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together – by trade they were tentmakers. Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks (Gentiles)….When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles.” Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household, and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
The tents that Paul and Aquila and Priscilla were making were not tents like army tents or camping tents the way we think of them or the way nomads used them. They lived and worked in cities, and made awnings and other kinds of shade devices to protect merchants and others from the Mediterranean sun. Awnings were in demand in the hot, sunny climate and his skill gave him mobility. Tents/awnings were made of skins or heavy canvas or both, so the tools that they used were lightweight and portable. It was a decent living, and put Paul in contact with both working class and the elite all day every day. It was a good place for an evangelist to build relationships and talk about his real passion, the new life he had found in Jesus. Paul did not only go into the synagogues to persuade Jews and Gentiles who had come to believe in Yaweh. That was a once a week event. He worked in the marketplace and talked to fellow workers and customers as well as speaking at gatherings of believers. His work as a tentmaker was an avenue for him to speak and live the Gospel through the building of relationships and networks in the cities he visited.
We have come to think of Evangelists as some rarefied class of people, more specialized even than pastors. Even though we are encouraged to be ‘witnesses’ for Christ in our daily lives, as a class of believers, we Lutherans are pretty shy about proclaiming the Good News. We are encouraged to ‘tell our faith stories,’ and I know that some of you actually do in conversation with friends who are believers and some who are not believers. But I’ll bet you don’t think of yourself as evangelists.
But look at this: Paul’s work was a vehicle for the relationships which gave him the opportunity to speak about Jesus as God’s Promised One. His own meeting with Jesus changed his life, giving him new meaning and purpose. He wanted everyone to know about Jesus so that they would understand how much God loved them, and that a relationship with God was possible, and that Jesus had broken the bonds of their imperfection and opened the door to new life in this work and in the next. He wanted to change the world, one person at a time, and his work enabled him to make a difference in people’s lives. Tentmaking was an opportunity to live the life God had called him into, and to tell his wonderful story.
We are tentmakers in the same way: how many of you are volunteers as SMART readers, as library volunteers, as meals-on-wheels drivers, as Senior Center servers, at church, at Rotary or Kiwanis? How many of you work or worked in the school system, help or helped people get jobs, taught people new skills, or taught them how to care for themselves, or manage their money? You help to build community and to change people’s lives. Did you ever let people know that you go to church? Did you ever think that you did what you did because you loved God and wanted to help make the world more like the world God desires? We live lovingly and honestly in the world, and that is evangelism, because it says that we have been changed at the heart. We no longer live for ourselves, but we live to be like Jesus, loving and serving God’s people. Being evangelists is as simple as caring about God’s world and wanting to make it the way God wants it to be. I believe it was St Francis who said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” Amen.