Sunday, August 30, 2009

Phillip the Evangelist: Evangelism 101

August 30, 2009
Acts 6:1-7; 8:26-40

Disciples were being made. People were obviously telling others about Jesus.Since the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit birthed the church, when many chose to be baptized in Christ, disciples were being made. Folks were being told about life in Christ. And they were choosing Christ for themselves. The church was growing so fast. They couldn’t keep up with the needs. Specifically, the care of widows was lagging behind. Disciples were so busy earning a living, making a wage so as not to burden others, trying to still leave space for the work of Christ. But it just wasn’t cutting it. More and more people were coming to the faith and something had to change. They needed some who could give their whole lives to the work of Christ, to not be burdened with having to earn a living, so that they could organize the rest of the people and their work for Christ. Some leaders were set apart. One of those leaders was Phillip

The strategy worked! More disciples were made. God’s word continued to be told. Evangelism was happening. People’s lives were being made new in Christ.

Today we venture to learn a little about Phillip, not the disciple, but the one known as the “Evangelist”. Philip was “set apart,” in much the same way that I was when I was ordained. He was set apart to help lead the church, but his primary task, given by God, was evangelism. God set Philip apart for the task of evangelism.

We have 3 other accounts of Philip’s life in Christ. In Acts 8 Philip is preaching and changing lives in Samaria. Later in the same chapter we have the encounter with the Ethiopian. And in Acts 21 reminds us that Philip is still at the work of evangelism and has taught his family.

In all his ministry, Philip evangelized. He went to people and places outside of his comfort zone – Samaritans and Ethiopians. He had conversations with people he would normally not talk with. He shared the life of Jesus with them and the difference it made in his life. He encouraged others to choose Jesus for themselves and brought people into the faith through baptism.

Philip was an example of evangelism in his generation.

But just what is evangelism? And what does evangelism look like in our generation?

Martha Grace Reese in her book Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism (page 6) tells us “Evangelism is people sharing with others their personal understandings that life is better, richer, truer if one has faith in Christ and lives in a faith community.” She tells us that evangelism is relational. It’s about intentionally building relationships with other people, sometimes relationships with others with whom we would not normally mix. It’s about going out of our way to, for the sake of Christ, know others personally.

Reese also tells us that evangelism is sharing what you feel. Sometimes we think evangelism is telling people what we know, and we think we don’t know very much, so we think we don’t have to do evangelism. But Reese reminds us that evangelism is sharing what you feel. It’s sharing the simple story of how God has made a difference in your life. It isn’t always a “I once was lost but now am found” kind of story, though if that’s your story, that’s the story to share. Sometimes it’s a story of always having been held in God’s love and the difference that this has made in your life. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing why you make the choices you do because of your faith.

Evangelism draws people to Christ first, and to community as a result. Sharing your story with others should elicit a desire to know Christ personally. Evangelism helps people want to know Christ. The conversation Philip had with the Ethiopian drew him to know Christ. It didn’t highlight Philip’s accomplishments or life, it It highlighted Christ. And because of that story, the Ethiopian was drawn to baptism, to connect with the community of Christ.

Two cautions: First, evangelism isn’t about growing the church. Though there is no harm in growing the body of Christ, our task is making disciples. Evangelism draws people into the life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, as it goal! Secondly, evangelism isn’t solely the task of people “set aside” like Philip. Jesus charged every follower to “go and make disciples”. It is the task of everyone whose life has been genuinely made “better, richer, truer” because of Christ. That’s all of you, to be sure. That’s me as well!

So what does evangelism look like in our generation?

Two stories of evangelism in our generation:
1) Heather Kirk-Davidoff’s story from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (page 34-35)

2) Story of Evangelism in the Oil Change shop told by Royal Speidel, the Distinguished Evangelist in Residence at The General Board of Discipleship.

That is another, good, definition of evangelism in these stories: engage people in conversation about God in the strangest of places. Places we sometimes go regularly – like the oil change shop. Places we sometimes go out of our way to in order to engage in conversation about God – like the bar, perhaps.

I am convicted by these ideas of evangelism. And I want you to challenge me. I have many times I schedule to engage people within the church in conversations about God. I don’t know any time in my work week where I intentionally schedule time to engage people outside of the church in conversation about God. But I want to know that time. I am compelled to do that. And perhaps if a few hundred of you each week ask me if I had a conversation about God with someone outside the church, I might be more inclined to remember the importance of doing so. So would you ask me? Would you hold me to that? Ask me if I have been Philip this past week or not?

And may I ask you the same?

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Would the Real Mary Magdalene Please Stand Up?

August 2, 2009
Mark 16:9-11

It was 1988, and I was in my second year of college

  • We were on a campus that brought in all forms of art - ACES
  • Every presidential candidate that year
  • Lectures by famous people
  • And then there was the movie
  • People lined up in protest outside the showing on campus
  • It was The Last Temptation of Christ

The movie in part portrayed the subject of today’s biblical character: Mary Magdalene

  • In the movie she is a prostitute turned around by Jesus
  • And then in dream sequence, she and Jesus are married and have children together

Sounds like a more recent movie, doesn’t it?

  • The Davinci Code worked on the same sensationalistic story
  • The same underlining assumptions about who Mary Magdalene was

But would the real Mary Magdalene please stand up?

What we know from scripture is far from the tabloid type stories of her we find in the movies

So, would the real Mary Magdalene please stand up?

Mary Magdalene

  • From the town of Magdala – on the Sea of Galilee near Tiberius
  • That’s where she gets her name “Magdalene”
  • Mark and Luke record the fact that Jesus healed her from seven demons
  • As a result of her healing she becomes a disciple of Jesus
  • She uses her “resources” to support Jesus’ ministry

We get confused because there are three women of scripture that have been fused into one woman throughout history

  • Mary Magdalene, the one healed of the demons
  • Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume
  • The sinful woman of Luke 7 who anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears and with oil, the dried them with her hair
  • Pope Gregory the Great fused these all together
  • And in that we have our confusion
  • This Mary Magdalene has been cast a prostitute – sinful woman
  • And there is speculation about her closeness to Jesus in ministry
  • Artists have raised the question of whether or not they married

The real Mary Magdalene stands up at the death & resurrection of Jesus

All four gospels agree that Mary is at the death of Jesus

  • When other disciples fled
  • Mary and the other woman followed
  • Many women ministered to Jesus on his way to the cross
  • Many women followed and stayed
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene are the only women named
  • Mary Magdalene stood there on that awful day
  • She stood with Jesus’ mother at the crucifixion
  • She watched and prayed as Jesus suffered in pain
  • There was not another place she wanted to be
  • She stood weeping as Jesus breathed his last breath
  • Even though it was dangerous to be associated with Jesus
  • Even though it was risky to stand publicly with him, Mary Magdalene was there

Mary Magdalene was there when Jesus was taken from the cross

  • In three of the four gospels, the women are there at the burial
  • In two of the four, Mary Magdalene is named

Mary Magdalene walked with Jesus

  • Through his ministry
  • To his death
  • And to what all believed would be his final resting place
  • Mary Magdalene was a woman devoted to Jesus
  • She had a boundless love for him
  • She was endlessly grateful for the healing he had done in her life
  • And she was devoted to Jesus until the end

It was the same boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion that led Mary Magdalene to the tomb that first Easter morning

  • All four gospels agree on this important detail
  • Mary Magdalene was among the first at the tomb
  • She probably could barely wait for the sun to rise
  • She came with love and gratitude and devotion to do that last thing that she could for Jesus – prepare his body with spices
  • Now the gospels differ on the details
  • Much like four different people describing the same accident scene will tell the same story with slight variations depending on their vantage point
  • While the details differ, Mary Magdalene is first on the scene in all the gospels
  • We have two of those accounts read this morning
  • Mark’s gospel has Mary witnessing to the disciples
  • But they fail to believe her good news of Jesus’ resurrection

John’s gospel has the beautiful, intimate account of Jesus and Mary

  • After a time of grief because the body is lost
  • Mary encounters a person she supposes is a gardener
  • That person is actually Jesus
  • And when the gardener speaks her name “Mary”
  • Mary Magdalene knows immediately that it is Jesus
  • Her boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion to Jesus enable her to recognize her Savior

Remember that Mary Magdalene is a disciple

  • In other words, one who learns from Jesus, follows his ways
  • So as his disciple, Jesus gives Mary Magdalene disciple-like instructions
  • Go and tell!
  • Jesus make of Mary Magdalene the first post-resurrection evangelist
  • She is charged with going to the other disciples and telling them the good news
  • Beyond the resurrection, Mary Magdalene continues in her boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion to Jesus, now Risen Savoir.

Jesus asks of us the same as he received from Mary Magdalene

  • Boundless love, endless gratitude and faithful devotion
  • It is an invitation to walk with Jesus in his ministry, through his death, and beyond his resurrection
  • Our love, gratitude and devotion is demonstrated best when we, like Mary Magdalene, go and tell others about Jesus
  • May we continue what Jesus began in the real Mary Magdalene

Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN