Sermon July 8, 2018
A pastor gave a message on evangelism and one family thought they had better do something to witness to Jesus. So they invited their neighbors to dinner the following Friday night. When it came to the meal, the believers were keen to show their neighbors that they upheld Christian standards in their home. So the mother asked her 5-year-old son to say grace. Little Johnny was a bit shy. “I don’t know what to say.” There was an awkward pause, followed by a reassuring smile from the boy’s mother. “Well darling,” she said, “Just say what Daddy said at breakfast this morning.” Obediently, the boy repeated, “Oh God, we’ve got those bad people coming to dinner tonight.” That’s probably not a good way to share the good news of Jesus and a good reason to be cautious as you listen to this sermon.
We often cringe when we hear the word evangelism. It has so many negative connotations. Evangelists are usually hard working, dedicated and well meaning individuals. And yet our minds often turn to examples of people who do evangelism in a way that we don’t appreciate. So, for example, our minds may turn to television evangelists that we think are disingenuous when they ask for money from their followers. I think of Jesse Duplantis, a televangelist. It was reported in the Washington post that Duplantis has asked for donations of $54 million from his flock so that he can purchase a Falcon 7X private plane that will allow him to fly non stop throughout the world. This plane would be the fourth one in his fleet of private aircraft. I know that I am not supposed to be judgmental, but that seems excessive to me.
You might think about people who go door to door seeking to evangelize people. Most of these people do their best but perhaps we do not want someone to convert us in this way. Your thoughts might turn to someone who stands in the streets and cries out that we need to repent and return to the Lord. Or you may even think of the European powers who colonized many countries and sent missionaries to convert the people to their religion. Despite these examples of evangelism, you and I are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I am sure I make some of you nervous when I talk about it. But, evangelism does not have to be such a difficult task. Much of it has to do with simply behaving like Christians and sharing the story of Jesus.
Today’s gospel lesson is about evangelism. There may be some clues about how we might approach the subject. Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and tried to help the people but had little success. The people who knew him when he was a child were unable to understand how he could be so wise and so powerful. He was a carpenter and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon. So they rejected him and his teachings.
Then, Jesus directed his apostles to go out and evangelize others in the world. Their job was difficult for he sent them out without food or money. They were totally reliant on the charity of those they met for their survival. Perhaps Jesus thought their lack of wealth and their need for food and a place to stay would help them share the gospel. They came to visit people just as they were. That may be the key to how evangelism really works. I say we just need to be who we are. It might be as simply as giving a stuffed animal to someone in hospice or helping a non-profit in need.
Jesus sent his disciples out with a partner. Having a partner must have given them someone to talk with on the journey, someone who could provide encouragement when it seemed like things weren’t working and someone who might be able to say things to others in a way that the first person may not. So much good can come from partnerships. Perhaps it is a good idea for us to consider partners in our evangelism efforts.
I believe that Jesus was humble in all of his ministries. He met people were they were. Often he answered their questions and responded to their needs. Paul wrote that God had given him a thorn, a reminder that God was in charge and that he should not be too proud. In all that we do, let us be humble.
Jesus sought to heal people. Let us try to heal people as well. Jesus told us to love one another. When the Christian Church first started to form, many people decided to join. In his book The Early Church, Henry Chadwick writes, “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”
When Jesus went to Nazareth, he was rejected. When Jesus sent out his apostles, he told them to be prepared for rejection. Shake the dust off your feet he said and move on. If you invite someone to join us please do not worry if they say no.
Are there things we might avoid in our evangelism efforts? A religious writer and public speaker named Tony Kris begins his evangelism talks by asking folks to list the lies that Christians tell when trying to evangelize. People quickly come up with examples. Let me give you two. Kris would say “We lie when we don't acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith”. Kris offers his own doubts, “Where did evil come from? Why did God put this whole human story into motion when it has caused so much pain?”
A second is “We lie when we pretend that the Bible doesn't say some really nasty things when in fact it does”. In Psalm 137 there is a verse that says "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”. I usually try to skip over that verse. Tony would say we need to own the whole Bible not just the parts we like.
Our presiding bishop continually asks us to focus on the love of Jesus. On Tuesday, a few of us gathered to watch Bishop Michael Curry discuss ways to use the sermon at the Royal Wedding in our daily life. That Royal wedding sermon was about the message of love. He spoke about God’s love for us and the love of Jesus who gave himself as a sacrifice for us.
Bishop Curry often speaks about the Jesus Movement. He would say that we should share the story of Jesus with others. The story is not about the church as an institution, it is about the love of Jesus and the actions and teachings of Jesus. Our job is to live our lives as much like Jesus as we can. We are at our best when Jesus is at the center of our lives.
In his sermon at the beginning of the General Convention on Thursday, Bishop Curry continued this encouragement. He mentioned that for centuries monastics have used a guide called a rule of life to help them follow Jesus. Curry suggested that we identify our path as a rule of love. He hopes that we would pick up our own rule of love and use it to practice our faith.
I would suggest that evangelism is not so much about what we say but how we act. It is not about going to other people and telling them that they need to change. Instead, we should think about evangelism as an invitation to join a community that is seeking to follow Jesus. Come and see we might say. I wasn’t told that the Episcopal Church is the best way to be a Christian. My invitation was not judgmental. An invitation is about joining a community that admits everyone is sinful, all of us are trying to find our way. We ask people to join us along our journey. We say that we follow Jesus in the Episcopal way, understanding that there may be other ways. We speak of the love that Jesus has for us and the love that he offers to all.
Evangelism for me is about being yourself, not trying to be or do what others might do. Evangelism starts and ends with being centered in Jesus and to contemplate what Jesus did and what Jesus taught us. Evangelism is sharing how the love of God has affected our lives. Only then can our invitation to another be sincere and helpful. Amen.
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