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Date: January 24, 2016 (Epiphany 3; St. James’ Cathedral)

1. Texts: Nehemiah 8:1–3, 5–6, 8–10; Ps 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12–31a; Luke 4:14–21.

2. Subject: evangelism.

3. Topic: our response to the reality of evangelism.

4. Aim: encourage.

5. Proposition: “God calls. God anoints. We evangelize.”

 


 

THE PRIVILEGE OF EVANGELISM

I always consider it a privilege to be able to preach here at the cathedral. I know it’s just another parish church. But it is my parish church, of which I am a canon. It’s a privilege.

It is also very exciting, because I can be certain that this Cathedral congregation of mine is going to be pushing the frontiers of ministry in the diocese. The cathedral was the first in the diocese to do the Consecration Sunday stewardship program. The cathedral was at the beginning of pre-authorized deposit systems for offerings. The cathedral works hard at balancing traditional and contemporary and spends considerable effort on behalf of the poor and homeless. The cathedral has spearheaded refugee sponsorship in Peace River. The cathedral was not only the first to sign up for the Athabasca Discipleship Training School, it is the first to complete its opening three modules. Oh yes, I can be certain that preaching at the cathedral will be a gateway to something exciting.

Today’s exciting and privilege-filled task is for you to rise above your fears and to follow Jesus in his ministry of evangelism. [Pause.] This is where the pin drops and we can all hear it, right? But you know I’m right about this.

You know I’m right because in your first ADTS module you discovered that the Bible is the authoritative and normative word of God, a word that guides our experience and practice of the faith.You know I’m right because in your second module you discovered that pastoral care meant the practical application of the word of God in ways that enabled others to experience God’s love.You know I’m right because you just listened to the challenge of that love as delivered through the life of Jesus.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’1

1 Luke 4:18-21.

 

Today, Jesus’ own ministry of evangelism was confirmed and we all heard it. All we have to do now is rise above our fears to embrace it for ourselves.

Now, I don’t think there is any doubt as to the evangelistic nature of Jesus’ ministry. Listen to the verbs in that reading from Luke: “bring good news… proclaim release…proclaim recovery of sight…free the oppressed…proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Jesus was given his ministry by God—that’s what the anointing part means—and that ministry was evangelism.

We all have a feeling about what evangelism is—and it is probably a bad feeling for most of us. We have this image of door-to-door salesmen for the Lord, who threaten us with damnation and coerce us with both tracts and little children. Or we think about those so-called “televangelists” who shout at people and then demand money from them. Most of us likely have a bad feeling about what evangelism is. But, if Jesus was an evangelist and we don’t have a bad feeling about what he did, then we likely have to uncover a more accurate understanding of evangelism.

Evangelism is not browbeating someone until they buckle in intellectual and spiritual exhaustion and say they believe what you believe. Evangelism is not the successful application of guilt so that you can force someone into doing as you do. Evangelism is not coercive, violent, oppressive or manipulative. So, as Archdeacon for Mission Development for the Diocese of Athabasca and Canon of the Stall of St. Saviour, I hereby forbid you to ever think of evangelism in such terms again.

As the participants of this weekend’s module discovered, authentic evangelism is so very different from all that. Evangelism is simply God’s love experienced and expressed in all its manifold complexity and power. The evangelist lives in the presence and power of God. The evangelist lives out the fullness of God’s love in his daily life and relationships. The evangelist communicates in words and actions the truth of God’s love as he or she has experienced it.

This is crucial. Please note that I did not say anything about converting someone else. I said nothing about the listener. Evangelism is simply testifying to one’s own experience of the presence, power and love of God in ways that invite inquiry. The evangelist illustrates and reflects the love of God without fretting about what someone else is going to say, think or do.

Of course, the evangelist must intend to so testify. Evangelism is not haphazard or accidental—“Oops! Sorry. I just evangelized all over you. I didn’t mean to.” That’s not it. Evangelism is the intentional proclamation in word and deed of the one’s experience of the love, grace, power and presence of God in ways that invite interaction. The evangelist has reflected upon his or her own experience of God and makes the decision to share that in conversation with others.

That most likely means that you’ll be evangelizing with people you already know. That’s kind of nice. Your existing relationships with family and friends can bear the weight of such conversations. Your friendships will enable better understanding and a more accurate assessment of your relationship with God. It’s kind of nice that we don’t have to worry about speaking to complete strangers about something as intimate and personal as our relationship with God.

In fact, let’s think about evangelism as being hospitable. We invite others into our lives so that they might see God at work in us. We share our emotional and spiritual space with others so that God might speak to them outside the Church building. We open up to others so that they might choose to be open to God. That doesn’t sound too bad.

Actually, it sounds pretty good. It’s nice being hospitable. I kind of like making coffee for someone and setting out a plate of cookies. I like being able to choose when to do that and with whom. Being hospitable is being kind to someone. Well, really, if you think about it, hospitality is a sign of brotherly and sisterly love.

That’s important, I think. Hospitality is a sign of love. In this case, it is a sign of God’s love for us and our love for others. It’s like what Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.2

2 Matthew 22:37-39.

 

In our evangelism we’re showing hospitality to others by opening up our spiritual lives and we’re acting out the love of God. That’s not so bad, is it? That’s not that hard, especially when we realize that we don’t have to worry about what people do with that sign of love. We just have to show it and leave the rest up to them.

I don’t think we’ve quite embraced evangelism with enthusiasm yet. But I do think we’ve come a long way this morning. We’ve not been frightened off by the fact that Jesus is our model for evangelism. We know for sure that genuine evangelism is never manipulative or coercive. We maybe even have begun to relax in the knowledge that evangelism just means inviting someone else to take a look at the relationship with God by looking into your relationship with God. It’s not that hard being hospitable, kind and loving. We’ve come a long way.

I suspect that the next step is to figure out how we, as a parish, will actively support our evangelizing hospitality and our hospitable evangelism. The content of our evangelism is clear—it is the love, grace, power and presence of our almighty God and Saviour. The form of our evangelism—that we will have to work out. As the Archdeacon for Mission Development, I hope St. James will rise up together to say, “We don’t know how, but we want to be involved in this.” It would be very exciting to so live in the love of God that others will experience that love and find it attractive.

I started out by testifying to the privilege you do me in allowing me to preach in your cathedral. I’d like to broaden that just a little. Let’s enjoy the privilege God does each of us in allowing us to be his evangelists. He has anointed each one of us to live out his love in word and deed in ways that others may appreciate. That’s a great honour. And it is a gateway to something very exciting.

 

 

 

AMEN.