Sunday, November 24, 2013

Let the Word Go Forth

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 23:33-43:

I’m sure the passage we just heard from Luke was probably not what most of you expected to be hearing this morning.  It doesn’t exactly scream out Happy Thanksgiving, nor does it serve to move us into Advent and Christmas.  Instead, this is one of the passages we normally only think of hearing during Holy Week, in preparation for our Easter Celebration.  But we heard this passage today because today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year, and typically on Christ the King Sunday we will hear one of the eschatological passages from the gospels, of passages dealing with the end of times in preparation for Advent.  In some ways today’s passage does that because one of the criminals, given the name Dismas in the 4th century, the other criminals was named Gestas, asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, an eschatological claim.  We also have this passage because it is the moment on the cross, and then more importantly Easter morning which makes us who we are as Christians.  Even though Christmas appears to be a bigger and more important holiday, we are not a Christmas people, we are an Easter people. And so this text also serves as our jumping off point for today’s message which is about proclaiming Jesus to the world, because, as Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, we are to proclaim Christ, and him crucified.

In the United Methodist Church we vow to support this congregation with what?  Prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness.  We have been talking about each of those things to talk about the expectations that the church has for you, that we have for each other, and that we have for the church and its leaders as well. And we conclude by talking about the great commission to go make disciples, an emphasis found in all four of  the gospels, after all they are Matthew, Marketing, Luke and John.  Once we have become disciples of Christ ourselves, we are called to go out and make new disciples, to tell others about Christ.  And it is that issue that makes people nervous.  For many of us, evangelism is one of those scary words.  We don’t want to have anything to do with evangelism, and there are several reasons for this.

Probably the biggest one is that when we think of evangelism we often picture people knocking on our door or standing on street corners asking us if we’ve except Jesus as our Lord and savior.  Most of us don’t want to be that person, and most of us also don’t want to have to talk to perfect strangers about our faith.  But evangelism does not have to be something scary.  The word, evangelist, comes to us from the Greek word euangalian.  In the ancient world, a eunagelion was a messenger who brought good news.  We get the word angel from this root word, because angels were messengers of God.  The word was later translated in the vulgate, which is the Latin translation of the Bible as evangelium, from which we get evangelist and evangelism, and then into middle English as godspel, from which we get the word gospel, or again, literally, good news.  An evangelist is a bringer of good news, but messengers can be both effective and ineffective based on the information they provide and most importantly who they provide it to.
By a show of hands, who here has ever recommended a book, restaurant, TV show or a movie to another person? If there are any marketing people here today they would tell us that this is word of mouth advertising.   It’s normally the type of advertising you can’t pay for, and it is the most powerful form of advertising possible.  Several years ago the movie Little Miss Sunshine rose from nowhere to box office success, and four academy award nominations, because people who saw it told their friends they should see it, and they did, and a small film became a major hit.  So again, by a show of hands, who here has come to a church or come to Christ because of a revival you have attended?  Who here has ever come to a church or come to Christ because of something you have received in the mail?  Who here has ever come to a church or come to Christ because of someone who has knocked on your door?  Who here has ever come to a church or come to Christ because someone, a friend or relative, asked you to or told you about it?

One of the things people fear about evangelism is having to talk to total strangers, but that is not where the most effective evangelism takes place.
  The most effective evangelism is done when talking with people who know us, who trust us, and who are willing to act on the information we tell them, in other words our family and friends.  It is word of mouth advertising at its best.  I know this is not what we often hear or witness, but it’s true.  If you were to be invited to attend a party from a total stranger or from an acquaintance, whose party are you more likely to attend?  I suspect that all of us would say from the acquaintance.  The best and most effective evangelism takes place with those we already know; people who know us are more likely to trust us and to accept an invitation from us.  In a poll done of unchurched people in America, they were asked how likely they would be to attend a new church if they were invited, and 25% said they would attend a church if they were simply invited

Now the problem with this is that we obviously don’t know in advance who those people will be in advance, so we need to invite more than just one, but we know that the odds are that for every four we invite one of them will probably attend.
  But we also have to be ready for them, ready to greet them, ready to introduce them to others, and ready to have the best worship service we can for them to participate in, and you also have to be committed to whatever it is that you are inviting them to.  If you say, “would you like to come to church with me?”  What do you think the response is going to be?  Versus if you say, “I am attending the best church and it’s made a difference in my life, and I would love it if you would come with me sometime so you can experience it as well.”  What do you think the response to that would be?

The two easiest times to invite people to church are Christmas and Easter, and this is true for several reasons.
  First is that most people have some experience at some point in their lives of having attended these services so there is something familiar for them there, they know what to expect.  Second, these are also the two times of the year in which our culture gets caught up in the pattern of the church.  Third is that non-churchgoers know there will be others there who don’t usually attend.  And finally, at these times of the year the number of people who are thinking they should attend church and would go if they were invited is even higher than 25%.

So as we move into Advent next week I invite you to make a list of 4 or 5 or 6 people you want to be in relationship with Christ and a church and then begin praying for them every single day.
  Just like everything else, evangelism begins with prayer.  But we should be praying selflessly for them.  This is not just about getting them into this church, because this church might not be where they are being called to be, or obviously might not be even where they live.  Instead we simply pray for them to be attending church, any church.  We know that God has already invited them into relationship, we are merely being conduits for the work that God is already doing in the world, because here is the easiest part of evangelism, it is not about us. It is about God and allowing God’s grace to flow through us.   When we try to spread the word of Christ without trusting in God and the Holy Spirit we are bound to fail.  When we try and tell people about our faith in Christ but don’t live that faith out in the world, we are bound to fail.  When we try and send out the word on our own without being filled with the Holy Spirit then we are bound to fail

Next, we have to be present for them and we have to be present at worship.
  Because the best invitation is not “I want you to go to my church,” but instead, “my church is doing this thing that I think you might enjoy, and I want you to come with me,” or “would you come with me.”  Offer to pick them up, or to meet them at the doors at a certain time, so they won’t feel lost when they show up.  And then we as a church have to be prepared to receive them as guests, and treat them as we would any guest that came to our house, which means we also have to move past thinking this is our church, and this is our seat, and instead remember that this is God’s church.  That means we need to move beyond our comfort zones, to do different things to get people excited about Christ and about the church, and we need to step outside of our buildings.  As the perfect illustration of this, I want you to watch this video from Britain’s Got Talent.  I don’t know if America has talent, but Britain does, and I apologize in advance for Simon Cowel’s rudeness….

Now we might talk about the secularization of American society, but we have nothing compared to England, where the vast majority of people are unchurched.  And yet here is a religious group, notice that they did not choose a non-religious song in order to be more acceptable, they sang what they knew, and they received a standing ovation from the crowd.  David Williams says they made him want to go to church, and anyone who can make Simon Cowel say “praise the Lord,” has to be doing something right.  And I don’t know this, but I am making a pretty good assumption, that everything there began in prayer, and that they were bathed in prayer in preparation for, during and after by their congregations, and God accomplishes amazing things when we begin with prayer, and when we are willing to step up and step out and trust God.  We are an amazing church, and God is not finished with us yet.  Our best years are not behind us, they are in front of us and we need to remember that as we close out one Christian year today and begin a new one next Sunday as we make straight the pathways and prepare once again for the coming of the Christ child.  People don’t want to be a part of something that is mediocre or dying.  People want to be involved in something that is alive, that is full of spirit and life, something that will change their lives and will set them on fire.  We can be that church, we are that church.

We are enjoined by Christ to go make disciples of all the nations, and I hope that you want to share your faith with others who are important to you, and it doesn’t need to be you walking up and asking people if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their savior or if they know where they would go if they died tonight.
  In fact, I would implore you not do such a thing, because that is, in my opinion, not good or effective evangelism, because it is not the good news nor is to true to the Gospel message.  Instead tell them the difference that Christ and the church have made in your lives, and invite them to be a part of it, invite them to come with you to experience the difference that God and this congregation have made for you and are making for the world as we make disciples of Christ for the transformation of Taylor Ranch, the west mesa, and the world.  I pray that it is so my brothers and sisters.  Amen.

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