Sermons

"What is Evangelism?": Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A

"What is Evangelism?": Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A

May 06, 2018

Passage:John 15:9-17

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Easter

Category: Love, Evangelism

Keywords: evangelism, gospel, healing, love, salvation

Summary:

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry encourages us to be "evangelists" as part of the "Jesus Movement." But what does this mean? For many in the Christian tradition, evangelism means to "introduce Jesus" to those who do not know him "so that they may be saved from eternal damnation in hell." This sermon explores alternatives to that theological viewpoint.

Detail:

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

When our bishop was here a couple of weeks ago, he preached about the influential role that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is having in our Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry is helping us all to see ourselves as part of the "Jesus Movement"--as he puts it, we are "the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement."

And moreover, what Bishop Curry is also really prodding and pushing us to embrace is our need to reclaim as our heritage and our identity--evangelism.

Our bishop pointed out that for us Episcopalians, "evangelism" can sometimes feel like a scary word and an even scarier concept.

And there are lots of reasons why we tend to shy away from evangelism--but not because we don't love Jesus.

I remember when I was a young man in college I was part of a group that was quite excited about Jesus. We worshiped and sang praise songs and prayed together.

And we were also supposed to "do" evangelism. What that meant for this group was to find people who were "not saved" and "bring them to Jesus."

The leaders of the group told us each week that we had an important job to do. "Just think," they would say, "people in your classes or in your dorm or maybe even your roommate might be headed to eternal damnation in hell if you don't introduce them to Jesus!"

I've gotta say, that was a lot of pressure for an eighteen year old. I sure didn't want to be responsible for someone's eternity being so screwed up just because I didn't make an introduction!

 So, evangelism, therefore, was God commissioning me--an eighteen-year-old, who was fired up about Jesus--to make sure that other people accepted Jesus as their savior, SO THAT they wouldn't be punished for NOT doing so.

The truth is, I was pretty bad at this version of evangelism. Most of the people I approached didn't want to hear my warnings of their eternal damnation. And I have to admit, I wasn't sure I understood or believed what I was warning about either.

That warning went something like: "God, who loves us and created everything, including you and me, sent his only son, Jesus to die for our sins. So you need to accept Jesus as your savior, or you will not be saved and will spend eternity in hell. That's the choice our loving God has given us."

Now, I'm sure many of you have heard this theology presented. Perhaps it troubles you. I know that it troubled me. Even then.

It all came tumbling down for me in the Spring semester of my Freshman year. I was trying to be a faithful Christian evangelist. I tried to read the Bible and pray and introduce people to Jesus as I was supposed to do. But then I befriended Neil, who lived down the hall in my dorm.

Neil was one of the kindest people I knew. He always went out of his way to help people. Neil volunteered in the community to aid the poor. He befriended those who were lonely and just needed kindness. Neil was basically the personification of everything I had ever been taught that Christ asked us to be. Neil was also a devout Muslim.

This was VERY confusing to me. I had SEVERAL friends in the Christian group who behaved poorly on a REGULAR basis when compared to Neil. But, according to the "rules," they were going to heaven and Neil was doomed.

I was taking a Bible class at the time. I hung around afterward and privately asked the professor about my concerns. I told him about Neil and my worries about his eternal salvation.

The professor smiled, and asked me a few simple questions: "Robert, do you love Neil as a friend?"

I said, "Sure I do."

"If it were up to you, based on what YOU know about him, would YOU spare him eternal damnation?"

I said, "Absolutely!"

Then he said, "And YOU didn't even create him! YOU were not the one who knew him even before he was born. YOU are not the loving God of the universe, the God of all creation, who knows even the hairs on Neil's head. If YOU love Neil enough to spare him, and you've only known him for a few months, how much greater is God's love?"

In that moment, my whole universe changed!

Evangelism means "Good news!"

We are supposed to be spreading the GOOD News of God's love.

In the Gospel of John that we heard today, Jesus tells his disciples (and tells us): "You did not choose me, but I chose you!"

We are all children of God. Christ is God's incarnation. God made flesh.

And of course, as Christians, we choose to participate in the Body of Christ--the Church.

But Christ also makes it clear that he is present in every encounter that we have in this world.  

With evangelism, it is not our role--our job--to introduce Jesus to those who need to be saved from hell. That's not the "Good News" narrative we are supposed to be sharing.

We do not bring Jesus to anyone. Jesus is already there! Christ is present before we arrive.

God is at work in the world, and in every person we meet--whether they know it or not--bringing love, hope, reconciliation, and grace into the broken corners of this fractured existence.

Our role is to make these things explicit in every encounter. We need to look for the love of Christ in everyone we see and everyone we meet.

Jesus tells us to "abide in love." Jesus tells us to "keep his commandments." And what is the commandment? ... "That you love one another as I have loved you!"

Bishop Michael Curry puts it pretty succinctly: "If it's not about love, it's not about God!"

We are called to share God's love with all whom we encounter.

That's where we will find Jesus.

That's the Jesus Movement.

That's evangelism.

That's the Good News.

That's God at work in the world.

Amen.