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October 20, 2019, 2:18 PM

No One Was Saved - Sermon, 10/20/19


Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. Father Mackenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved. All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Don’t worry, I’m not going to offend your ears with my singing but hopefully most of us know that song. “Eleanor Rigby” is one of my favorite songs by the Beatles and it sounds, at least on the surface, like a fairly cheerful song. It is in a fairly cheerful key. It has a catchy and fairly cheerful sounding refrain. But, once you actually start listening to the words, the song sounds less and less cheerful.

In fact, despite its upbeat key and catchy refrain, “Eleanor Rigby” is a downright depressing song about the isolation of that many people feel in today’s world. It’s the verse I just recited a minute ago that really stands out: “Father Mackenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved.” Geez, that is depressing!

Many Episcopalians, this one included, aren’t always comfortable using language of being “saved.” Many of us have grown up in the church and can’t necessarily identify a point in our lives when we came to know Christ in a new and personal way. Many of us were baptized as infants or small children and had the promises of faith made for us by parents and godparents on our behalf.

But, even if we were baptized as infants, we are still held to the promises made on our behalf by our parents and godparents. Listen to one of those promises: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? And, whether we were baptized as infants or came to know Christ as adults, we are held to our words when we answer: I will, with God’s help.

This is not a new promise. Although the words may have been different throughout Christian history, there has been a mandate since the time of the New Testament to make Christ known to others. We hear such a mandate in today’s epistle reading from 2 Timothy. When this letter was written, there was a passionate belief that Christ’s return was imminent. “Soon and very soon,” as the song proclaims, the faithful were going to witness the promised return of Jesus.

Some faithful people were losing faith, however, because Christ’s return was happening too slowly. Some faithful people were losing the sense of urgency. After all, how much longer can the faithful people wait for the promised return of Jesus?

The author of Second Timothy is trying to stir up the faith of those losing heart and reawaken the sense of urgency behind sharing the message of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ. This is the author’s advice: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

This is not easy advice to take. Actually, I’m not even sure if it is fair to characterize this as advice. In fact, I see these words as a command. “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”

Uh-oh. I think the author is talking about evangelism: real, honest-to-goodness evangelism. The kind of evangelism that involves talking about our faith with other people, even in difficult situations, whether the time is “favorable or unfavorable.”

Uh-oh. I think the author is talking about living up to our baptismal promises. Even if the time is unfavorable, the author still calls us to be persistent in proclaiming, in word and deed, the Good News of God in Christ. Did you catch that little part in the baptismal promise? “Word and deed?” It is easy for me to focus on the “deed” part, but we still promise to proclaim by “word” as well.

Uh-oh. I think the author is talking about breaking through the isolation so many of us feel today. In the words of the Beatles, “all the lonely people – where do they all belong?” They belong here, they belong with the faithful people of this congregation, they belong in church. They belong in a place where the Good News of God in Christ is preached from the pulpit, celebrated at the altar, and experienced over a cup of coffee.

Difficulty with evangelism is not a new struggle. Even for Christians in the early church, even for those who believed that return of Christ was going to happen any day now, reminders of this responsibility were needed. The author of Second Timothy ends this section with clear yet overwhelming directions: be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, (and) carry out your ministry fully.

The work of an evangelist is not easy work. Second Timothy acknowledges that carrying out the ministry of an evangelist might call Christians to “endure suffering.” At the time when Second Timothy was written, “suffering” might involve actual, physical, bodily suffering. Being a follower of Christ was radical and left a person open to martyrdom.

Today, at least in our cultural context in New Jersey in 2019, being a follower of Christ rarely leaves a person open to physical martyrdom. But being a follower of Christ is still radical and calls forth radical beliefs and behaviors from our hearts. Our mandate to be evangelists is no less real and no less difficult than it was in the time of Second Timothy.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. Father Mackenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walked from the grave. No one was saved. All the lonely people, where they do all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Let us take the words we hear today – both from the Beatles and from the author of Second Timothy – as a call and a challenge. Let us avoid a life in which “no one is saved” because we did not fulfill our Christian call to evangelism. Let us avoid a life in which those who need to hear the Good News of God in Christ are left lonely and without a safe place because we did not fulfill our Christian call to evangelism.

Instead, let us take the words we hear today – both from the Beatles and from the author of Second Timothy – as a call and a challenge. Let us embrace a life in which we are strengthened to “proclaim the message” of the Good News of God in Christ. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” Here. Amen.


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