Well we are now at the final sermon in this series of introducing myself to you. I have told you about my imperfect nature and the importance of forgiveness. I have shared with you my love for rocks like geodes and how God and Jesus are our rock. And last week I talked to you about teamwork and how much good the Church could do if it worked together more. So on this last Sunday of this sermon series I am ending with something that is especially close to my heart and my calling to work in God’s ministry. Today we are going to talk about…the “E” word…yep, that’s right – EVANGELISM!
Now I know that the word evangelism has not exactly been the most shining example of God’s love throughout time. One only need look at the devastation of the Crusades to see some of the evidence. Thousands of lives were lost and many other atrocities were committed in the name of God. Evangelism has been used as a form of manipulation in some countries where missionaries promised food and medicine if people would only give up their current ways of life and commit to living the so-called “Christian Life”. And not just with adults, but with children as well. Coercion and manipulation are not reflective of God’s love. And yet, humanity has used them in God’s name time and time again.
Evangelism can also be a scary word for the people who are asked to do it, or are trying to begin doing it. When we think of evangelism we tend to imagine knocking on the doors of strangers, or maybe someone standing on a street corner with a megaphone condemning those who pass by. It can also be scary because when we share our faith we are sharing a core part of ourselves, and when someone rejects what we are sharing, our faith, we feel as though we too are being rejected.
But we will come back to the “E” word in a few minutes. Right now I would like you to think about the last time you received some good news. Maybe it was medical diagnosis that you were healed from an illness. Maybe it was a phone call from a loved one who you had not seen in a while and them telling you they were coming to visit. Maybe you picked up the sports section of the newspaper and saw that the Tigers had won another game and increased their lead in the standings. Maybe you found out you were getting a raise at work. Maybe your child came home with a higher test score that you were expecting in a subject they had struggled in.
These are all things that we would count as “Good News”. Good news is information that makes us smile, makes us happy, and it brings us a feeling of joy. So when we look at our Scripture reading for today from the Gospel of John, isn’t this declaration of salvation and forgiveness also “Good News”? God loved the world SO much, that he sent his ONLY son into the world to die for the sins of the world and save it for all eternity. That sounds like “Good News” right?
NO! This is not “Good News”. “Good News” makes us smile. It is something we share intentionally with people we know and love. So no, these words of the Gospel of John are not in fact “Good News”. Right about now you are all probably thinking I have completely lost my mind and am speaking blasphemy. How can he say that? These are the most quoted and published Scripture verses in the Bible! How can he say this isn’t “Good News”? They tell us about Jesus’ dying to save us. How can this not be the “Good News”?
Well before you all go running off to call the District Superintendent or the Bishop, allow me a few more minutes to explain. As I said, “Good News” is something that makes us smile and that we share intentionally with people we know and love. This message of love and salvation in these verses just does not fit that profile, I’m sorry.
No, I would classify the immortal words “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” as not “Good News”, but “THE GREATEST NEWS”!!!!!!
Think about it. What could possibly be better news that this? God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins and wipe the slate clean. God loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his son, part of the triune God, so that we would not suffer for our sins and be apart from him. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to the world not to condemn it, but to SAVE IT! Folks it doesn’t get any better than that!
God could have easily left us to our own devices and let us fall into a tailspin of suffering and death. But he didn’t because he loves us. I’ll be honest, I have tried for almost all of my life to find a fair comparison of God’s love for us and I just don’t think there is one. God has been compared to a father or mother loving their children, and I will admit that’s pretty close. But it still does not fully explain just how powerful God’s love is and how deep it goes.
This is the GREATEST NEWS EVER! It’s not the “Good News” or the “Okay News” or the “Pretty Neat News”. No, this is the GREATEST NEWS – period. It cannot get better than this and it never will get better than this because God already sent Jesus to die and resurrect to save us. The battle is over and done. God won, end of story.
Well…sort of end of story. Yes, God’s victory is already completed and secure. But sharing and spreading that God’s love is a never ending work that we have been called to do. Remember when I said that “Good News” is something you intentionally share with people you know and love? While that is also true of the “Greatest News”, this is more. When it comes to the “Greatest News” of God’s love and Jesus’ saving acts, we do not ONLY share it intentionally with those we know and love.
See God’s love is so strong, so powerful, that whether we realize it or not, we are sharing it every second of every day. When we live out our faith authentically, God’s love shines through us by what we say, what we do, everything in our lives. But what does that mean, living out our faith authentically?
Well, I understand it to mean being open and honest about myself and my relationship with God, being open and honest with myself and with God. Think about that. If we truly believe in an all-powerful God, then God already knows everything about us anyways right? But when we pair that with being honest with ourselves about our faith and relationship with God, that, that is when we begin to find authenticity.
Folks we are each a living witnesses to God’s love by everything we do in our lives. We are. When we live out our faith authentically it is reflected in our lives. People will see you and notice something special in your life. They may not fully understand what they see, but they will see something when they are with you and when they observe you. There is an attraction and a peace that people will experience as you live out your faith authentically in your life.
So is that it? We just need to live out our faith authentically and the rest takes care of itself? Not quite. While I believe very strongly that evangelism is not just the act of proclamation, we should also not be inactive either. Let me be very clear. I am not saying we should sit quietly until we experience some great revelation or we hear some voice off in the distance outlining what we should do. Not at all. Rather I am saying we should engage with people and trust that the Holy Spirit is with us in those moments and will guide our words, even when we feel unsure or scared.
American theologian Leonard Sweet wrote in his book titled Nudge that the Holy Spirit is like basketball star Michael Jordan during his playing days with the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls coach Phil Jackson at the end of games would tell the other players to just give Michael the ball and get out of his way. Sweet suggests that when it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit, we too need to get out of the way. This did not sit well with me I’ll be honest, but as I read on Sweet continues to say that it is not that we have nothing to do. Rather he impresses that we not do anything to hinder the Holy Spirit in its work. That sounds a lot better right?
So how do we not hinder the Holy Spirit? I think part of it at least goes back to what I just mentioned about trusting in the Holy Spirit that we are not alone in these moments of witness. And I know the idea of trusting is hard for a lot of people, especially trusting in something we cannot directly see or even directly hear. But when we are able to trust, we will find the right words and we will be a shining example of God’s love for the world.
So what now? We have established that the message found in our Scripture reading is not just good news, but the “Greatest News” ever! Awesome! What do we do now? How do we take this and do something with it? How do we go out and share the “Greatest News” ever with the world? How do we bring this ultimate joy to other people without making them angry, feel upset, or maybe even cause an argument?
Well we know that manipulation, oppression, and forcefulness are not good techniques to employ. And I have talked about trusting the Holy Spirit and living out our faith authentically. But there is more we can do. When we read about how Jesus lived and loved people, we can go and emulate that. We can care for one another and really help each other. We can do things like working with the Food Pantry. We can take time to be with people who are lonely or facing difficult times. We can share the blessings we have received from God with those in need.
And I know many of you here today are already doing these types of things. I know because some of you have shared with me some of the outreach that you and others have done both through this church, as well as on your own. But even before you might have shared that with me, I already knew. I already knew because the first time I saw you I could see something in you and in your life. I could see God’s love and I could see the Holy Spirit at work.
But we cannot stop now! No, because there is so much more to do. There are still so many people who do not know God or do not know God’s love the way that you already do. The Pew Research Center reported recently that over 78% of Americans identify as Christian. But how many people do you know who identify as Christian but do not seem to know God’s love? How many of them no longer attend church because they have been hurt or even chased out? How many have an emptiness in their lives they cannot seem to fill?
We need to continue to witness every second of every day by living out our faith authentically and loving each other the way that God and Jesus have loved us. We need to trust that the Holy Spirit is always with us and guiding our hearts and our words. We need to emulate the life of Jesus and be Jesus to the world, through love and everything we do.
And when I think about these things we need to do, I always every single time come back to the same starting point: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Not “Good News”, but the “Greatest News”. When you leave here today go out and not just share the “Greatest News”, but live the “Greatest News”. Amen.