Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Do Evangelism?

"Delivering the Invitaiton"

Matthew 28:16-20

Christ is risen! The good news of last week, the gospel, I pray is still alive in you.

In today’s lessen we find the disciples in Galilee. The risen Christ had urged the women, who first experienced the joy of Easter to do two things: 1) Go and tell the good news to the disciples, and then 2) tell them to go to Galilee. So the disciples are at the meeting place. It feels somewhat like determining what tree the family will gather at in the event of a house fire evacuation. We’ll find each other under the oak tree across the street and two doors down. But this time it’s the mountain in Galilee. You see, Jesus had a plan for them all along. While their experience of resurrection is good, it’s not the only surprise that Jesus had planned. He gathered the disciples on the mountain after his resurrection, to send them out into the world. Jesus uses some active verbs, here: go, make disciples, baptizing them, teaching them. They are to do the work of evangelism.

Someone in a Bible study class asked me the other day what “evangelism” is. While her question came from a lack of knowledge, which made her unaware of things like TV evangelists that are slick and creepy, and street corner evangelists that yell at you, my sense was that everyone else in the room wanted to hear the answer, too. Evangelism is this: sharing with other people an important time in your life with God. It’s that simple. And this is what Jesus had planned for the disciples all along.

Have you ever lost anything under the fridge? You can imagine it. A child has been playing in the kitchen with her Lego’s. The kitchen, as we all know, is the best place for this kind of play. The solid floor for building things high, and the slick floor, if the need arises, to scoot some Legos across to the other side of the room in imaginative play. And it seems, children are always playing on the floor in the kitchen while other things are happening in there, too. So when you walk by the child to pull something out of the freezer for dinner, unknowingly, a yellow Lego gets kicked underneath the appliance. The child doesn’t miss it – she has plenty of others in yellow. And even when an adult helps to carefully pick up the toys before the meal, no one misses the yellow Lego.

Now its been 5 years, and the family is getting ready to move. And though you have thought many times of pulling the fridge out to clean behind it, you haven’t. But before we’ll let someone else move in, it must be cleaned. The fridge is carefully pulled out, and there you see it. Among the M&M you remember loosing to fridge last week, and the magnet that fell off some years ago, and the enormous amount of accumulated dust: there it is…a Lego! And the dust and fuzz on the under-the-refrigerator Lego makes it nearly impossible to tell the color. It’s been under there so long, and no one missed it until we pulled it out again.

Evangelism has been the under-the-refrigerator yellow Lego of the mainline church. Unknowingly, we kicked it out of sight some years ago now. We haven’t missed it at all, until we shifted a few things around, changed our priorities, were challenged in our faith, and then it was unearthed…with dust and fuzz on it so it was almost unrecognizable!

Why don’t we do the evangelistic work the risen Christ calls us to? We have a lot of emotions around this one. We’ve seen the slick TV evangelist equate faith with money. We don’t want to be a part of that. We’ve seen street corner evangelist try to literally scare the hell out of folks: If they don’t become Christians it’s a burning fiery hell for them. So you’ll want to turn your life around now and live in the bliss of the assurance of eternal life with God, now! And we’ve even seen pushy friends equate evangelism with church attendance, at their church, nonetheless! We have some fairly negative images of evangelism. We’ve seen it at its worse, and we don’t want to be a part of that. And because we don’t want to be a part of these negative expressions of evangelism, we’ve kicked it under the refrigerator, to gather dust and fuzz and hope no one will notice it is missing.

What does evangelism in its purest form look like?: sharing with other people an important time in your life with God.

Evangelism is always done in the context of relationship. It’s two people who already know each other, who have built a trust with one another, in which the Christian finds a very natural time to share their own important encounter with God.

Evangelism tells stories, rather than proselytizes, seeking not so much convert the other, as to simply share the life-changing experiences you have had in Christ, with an invitation to a time and a place where they might experience that life-changing work of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism invites rather than scares. There’s no scaring the hell out of people, rather, an invitation to something more in their lives.

Evangelism doesn’t seek the perfect technique. Rather, the evangelist is always aware of the presence of God, confident not in their perfect delivery, but in God’s perfect work in the midst of their attempts to share the gospel.

What is the purpose of evangelism?: To help people begin a living relationship with Christ. To invite them into something new in Jesus. To call folks out of meaninglessness and hopelessness into the life-giving relationship with the risen Christ! The purpose of sharing our story with others is simply this: so that they might begin a relationship with the one who gives us life! Note that I didn’t say the purpose was to increase church membership, to increase worship attendance or to increase giving to the church budget. The entire purpose of evangelism is invitational, to invite someone with whom we have a relationship into something deeper with God.

What is at stake in evangelism? That’s another way of asking, so what? Why do evangelism? What should motivate us?

What is at stake in evangelism? Transformed lives – theirs and yours! People who receive and act on an invitation of evangelism have their lives changed forever. They experience the transformation of their entire lives. All that they used to know is altered by their new relationship with Christ and with the people of Christ. Even so, your life is transformed, too! The disciples left the Galilean mountain to make, baptize, and teach. We know their work, as it is recorded in part in the book of Acts. There we find story after story of the work of evangelism. And we know that their lives were never the same again. In fact, from the first time each disciple met Jesus, everything about who they were changed. In their work of spreading the Good News, they were changed again. transformed into the people of God in Jesus Christ.

As you do the work of evangelism, expect your life to be changed, too. You’ll be developing relationships with people you don’t know. You’ll be remembering the work of God in your life. You’ll be telling the stories of blessing and goodness and beauty. God will work a mighty change in you, too!

Can we dust off and remove the fuzz from our under-the-refrigerator yellow Lego? You had a chance today to share with other people an important time in your life with God. You already know one of your stories, and you’ve practiced telling it to someone else. This is evangelism. Now, would you try something riskier yet? Would you pray about who you already know who might need to hear a word of hope? Who do you know who doesn’t know God? This isn’t your Lutheran, Presbyterian or Catholic friends who might be unhappy with their pastor or their church. Who do you know who really doesn’t know God? Or who do you know who has turned away from God? In the coming week, I want you to … 1) Ask God who you know that needs a word of hope, 2) Look for or create an opportunity to share your story with them, 3) And deliver an invitation to them to worship with you. Even if you don’t have any idea who the person might be. Even if you are scared right now to do it. Even if you are thinking I am crazy to ask such a thing of you, take the invitation anyway, and ask God to do the work to get you and your friend ready so that you can tell your story and deliver the invitation! Evangelism is about changing lives for Christ! There is no more important work that this!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Journey to Hope...Easter!

“Jesus is on the Loose...”
Mark 16:1-8

Today is a day of celebration. We have a gorgeous array of flowers, the Children processed with gold and white banners, a clear sign in the church that it’s a special day, we are singing beautiful, full sounding hymns, you all came dressed so beautifully. We are clearly celebrating here today. This is a day like no other, and I hope it is a day like that for you!

But the scene of the first Easter morning is quite different. It’s been three days now, since the crucifixion. Christ’s bloody, battered, lifeless body lies in the tomb. The 12 disciples who gathered as friends at the Passover table have now fled. One of them, the betrayer, has taken his own life in despair. There is a numbing air of let down, disappointment and grief: that is, for those who had hung their hope on Jesus; that is, for those of the community of believers; that is, for all those who had hoped he was the Messiah That first Easter there are no trumpets, no hallelujahs, no joy. The first Easter begins in grief and disappointment.

Three women are on their way to prepare the bloody, battered, lifeless body of Jesus for burial. It is the last act of caring love they can offer. This was what women did when there was a death. But these women were followers of Jesus, too … disciples. So even though they come to do what is ritually appropriate, even though they come to anoint the body with oils and spices and perfumes to give the body a bit of beauty for burial, they are disciples coming to do this work. It had to have been an emotional task. They were disappointed. They had, like all the other followers and disciples, placed their hope in Jesus. In the darkness of that Friday afternoon, they are the ones who had stood by the cross as Jesus was killed. All their hope had hung on the cross with Jesus. Their entire future, as they saw it, was crucified that afternoon. So they come this first Easter morning to do the very last thing they can do for Jesus. But they come let down, disappointed and grieving.

Shouldn’t the Easter story resolve those emotions? We expect something more out of our Easter story. Let down, disappointment and grief should turn into trumpets, and hallelujahs, and joy. But it simply isn’t there in Mark’s gospel. Even when they find the stone rolled away, even when they see the tomb empty, even when they hear the words of hope from the man in white, the women’s Easter morning response is not celebration. Instead, it’s terror, amazement and fear. Easter begins with fear!

Why were the women afraid? The English translation says it this way, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” End of sentence. The Greek translation doesn’t resolve the question, either. “They said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…” The sentence doesn’t end, but the gospel does end here. Scholars have discovered that the oldest manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end here. And we are surely left wondering, what has them so afraid? End the sentence, please. Please tell us what has them so afraid.

I believe the women fear the same two things we fear 2,000 years later. Either they fear Jesus’ life and ministry didn’t make any difference or they fear a Jesus on the loose that will change their lives completely.

Maybe the women fear that Jesus’ life and ministry didn’t make any difference. Perhaps they fear … actually, they must fear that death has won, that in Jesus’ death there is no hope for any of us. That death, with its ravenous appetite, has finally, utterly swallowed up their friend. And in that, has sealed the fate of people forever. They must fear that death will always win. That death will always have the final answer.

And maybe they fear that the message of the man in white was a lie. Maybe he was a Roman guard playing some sick joke on them by stealing the body of their loved one. Maybe he knew what buttons of theirs to push. Maybe he had heard of Jesus’ promise of resurrection. So, maybe he wanted to get a good laugh. Knowing someone would come prepare the body for burial, maybe he waited that morning to play this sick joke on them, to say to them what they wanted to hear, only to play a kind of April Fool’s joke on them.

But do not overlook the fact that Jesus is on the loose. The message of the man robed in white doesn’t end with “he has been raised.” He continues, “Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him just as he said.” Perhaps this is what elicits the fear. And I think it should. The women might fear that this news will change their lives forever. For the women knew as well as we know that if Jesus is waiting on-down-the-road for them…He probably has plans for them.

“They said nothing to anyone, they were afraid for…” But they did say something to someone! Even in their fear, they said something to someone. Because we know their story 2,000 years later. We know their fear, their terror, and their amazement. But even that didn’t stop them, eventually, from saying something to someone. Because we know that Jesus is on the loose. We know that Jesus went ahead of them to Galilee. We know that this on-the-loose Jesus was waiting for them and the rest of the disciples to show up. We know he had plans for them, plans for them to say something to someone. It’s the telling of the story of hope that will change their lives forever!

What kind of fear does the Easter news bring you?

Are you afraid that this Easter celebration will leave you unchanged? That you will gather around your Easter dinner table among the azaleas and chocolate Easter eggs without having seen God? Are we “afraid” that we will find the tomb empty of meaning and hope? Have we experienced so many moments of shock, moments of let down, disappointment, moments when the bottom drops out of things, that even the slightest Easter news still brings us fear?

The Easter story comes first to those in shock, let down, disappointment, to folks who have nothing in which to hope, to folks who share your experience of loss. And yet, they find hope. They find the empty tomb full of promise, because the missing body hasn’t been stolen; it has been raised from the dead! It has defeated the ravenous monster of death. Death will never again have the final word! Life, abundant life in the Risen Savior, has the last word! And in that, you can find hope. In that your life can be forever changed. In that hope Jesus waits to meet you.

Or maybe you are afraid of the possibility that Jesus is on the loose and waiting for you? Perhaps you should be! Because Jesus is waiting on-down-the-road for you…and he probably has plans for you. Plans for you to share this good news with the world; plans for you to bring hope to a hurting and broken world; plans for you to meet people where they are and show them who Jesus is and the kind of hope and promise he provides. To say something to someone.

For a Jesus on the loose is impatiently waiting for us. A Jesus on the loose calls us out from tomb-gazing, to go meet him in the world, out where people are waiting for the word of resurrection hope; out where we can say something to someone who hasn’t yet heard of the joy of this special day.

I wonder if you won’t do something risky with me and walk with me out of fear and into hope this day. Jesus is on the loose and he is waiting for you to meet up with him and to bring hope to the hurting world…to say something to someone!

(Here in worship I challenged people who had their cell phones to look through their list of contacts and see who among their contacts might need to hear a word of hope. Everyone else, I invited them to go through their mental contact list and see who they know that need to hear a word of hope. Those with cell phones were encouraged, right during the message this day, to text that person from their cell phone: “Jesus is on the loose…” Others were encouraged when they got home to call the person they thought of, say “Jesus is on the loose” and hang up. The person will call or text you back and you can share the story of hope with them.)

Christ is Risen…and he’s on the loose!!!
Thanks be to God!