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!

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