Sunday, January 22, 2006

Embodying Christ: Evangelism

I'm preaching a series of sermons on various ways in which the church is called to embody Christ. The series will carry us through this brief period of Ordinary Time. Here is today's, rougly pieced together from the outline of my memory...

Diets are a dime a dozen. Go to Borders, and you will find two entire bookshelves devoted to The Next Big Diet, all promising that you will begin approaching your ideal weight within a short span of time. We have the old standbys such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, and the more recent Atkins and South Beach. There's even the Special K diet, where you substitute two meals for bowls of Special K. The thing about that loose weight because all you're eating is Special K. Diets are a dime a dozen. They promise a 'quick and easy' way to achieve your goal

'Quick and easy.' A symptom of a larger cultural problem. We like things quick and easy. We like results fast and now. If that doesn't happen, well...throw it out and try something else. Quick and easy. Results now.

There's something about evangelism that might cause the hairs on our necks to stand on end. We in our tradition might not be as comfortable with it. Other traditions and churches are much moreso. They seem to do it so much better. It comes so natural. Why is it so tough for us? There may be a number of reasons. Evangelism brings with it a list of questions and worries that cause us to pause when the concept is mentioned. Am I just supposed to walk up to a stranger and talk to them about my faith? I don't think I know enough about Christianity to present a good case. What if I end up sounding stupid, looking stupid? What about other religions? What does evangelism mean in light of them? These are all valid questions and concerns, not all of which will be covered this morning. Nevertheless, we may keep them in mind as we consider evangelism.

First, what is evangelism? The words 'evangelize,' 'evangelist,' 'evangelism' all come from the Greek word evangelion, which means 'good news,' or 'gospel.' To evangelize is to tell the gospel, to proclaim the good news.

So, then, what is the good news? Jesus helps us define that. He has just come back from 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and is just beginning his public ministry. As he does so, he proclaims, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe the good news!' The kingdom of God has come near. This, according to Jesus, is the good news. And what is the kingdom of God? It is a kingdom over and against Rome and its values. It is a kingdom witnessed to us by Jesus' life and teaching, death and resurrection. It is a kingdom where death does not have the final word. It is a kingdom where God's love and justice is the rule and proclaims that all are equal in God's eyes rather than the best being the richest, the best-looking, and so on. It is a kingdom where forgiveness and love carry us and challenge us. Here it is for us to recieve and to challenge and transform us. This is good news indeed.

How to share that? After all, there is still that worry that we'll look or sound silly. Can this really be done? Maybe it's not as hard as we think. You see a movie that you connect with in some way...your favorite actor or actress stars in it, there's one scene that feels like it's been plucked right out of your life, there's a line that reasonates with you, the plot is just put together well....You hear a song. You love the music, it's by your favorite artist, there's a line or two that once again seem to be plucked right from your own life....You meet someone. This person makes you fall over laughing every time he or she opens his or her mouth. Their very presence is intoxicating. You are mesmorized by every word, every action.

What's the first thing you do? You call someone you know...

You have got to see this movie.

You have got to hear this song.

You have got to meet this person.

Evangelism is, in a sense, second nature to us. We say things like this to people we know almost every day. All that changes for us is the subject matter. 'You have got to experience the kingdom.' 'You have got to meet this guy Jesus.' Somehow this good news has taken root within us and has spoken to us. It is inside us, working. 'You have got to experience this for yourself.' We say this because we know the experience is real, is life-giving, and has changed us.

What about the 'who' question. Can we really approach a stranger with this? Evangelism is in some sense about relationship. The kingdom of God is built on relationships. I knew a group in college who carried around with them these little booklets, about the size of a business card. They WOULD stop strangers on the sidewalk, take them through the booklet, and then after a 10-minute talk, the continuing of the relationship seemed to hinge on whether the stranger would accept what he or she had to say. In evangelism, you need to get to know people. You need to care about them. The kingdom is about knowing people's ins and outs, ups and downs. It is taking grief and joy seriously. It is loving someone in a genuine way. Evangelism carries with it a call to relationship to show that the kingdom is working in us.

Evangelism is sharing what we've discovered with someone else. It is saying that God knows another's problems, but they won't go away easily. 'Quick and easy.' But it will change your life. It is an experience like no other that lasts your whole life.

Consider Jesus...not because I want to push you to do so, but because I know meaning in his life, proclaim his death, and celebrate his resurrection.

Come to church with me...not because we're eager to fill our pews or offering plates, but because I want you to experience what I've experienced there.

Consider the kingdom...not because it offers a quick and easy solution, but because it will comfort and challenge you in wonderful ways. This is God's love at work.

And that is good news indeed.