The Big E: How well are we following Jesus’ commandment?

given Sunday, February 26, 2012

During LENT, let’s open our minds to the Big Evangelism through scripture, worship, prayer and discussion.  The bulletin and quotes will be from The Message translation.  Consider reading your favorite translation and study notes to compare the ideas being discussed.  This is the first of the Lenten series.

Ephesians 2:1-5  Paul’s letter explaining the nature and purpose of  the church

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!  (the Message)

Additional verses referenced in today’s sermon:

  • John 3:16  Apostle John writing to New and searching Christians
  • Matthew 28:19-20  The Greatest Commission
  • Matthew 22:37-40  The Greatest Commandment
  • Matthew 25:34-36  from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

Today is the first Sunday in the Lenten season, and during this Christian season tradition establishes these 40 days—excluding Sundays—as a time for deep, personal reflection.  Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and marks the beginning of the process.

Methodists do not have any requirements for the season, but suggestions do include giving up something for Lent.  Over the past few years, I found that adding something for Lent is another way to add focus to the season of reflection and evaluation.  In fact, one possibility is to carry your personal Bible to church each Sunday.

With that suggestion, I challenge each of you to bring your favorite translation with you during the remaining Sundays.  The scriptures provided are from the Message, but each one of us has our favorite language to read.  We may have a version with study notes that help us to hear the message.  Just bring your own Bible each Sunday; and during the week, read as often as possible.

Now that the challenge is issued, it is time to begin working through the discussion of “The Big E,” which is a subject that can strike horror in one’s psyche.  Evangelism has evolved into one of the scariest words in church language, and it is one that causes many to run away from the church.  Why?  Just what is evangelism?

Go back to Jesus’ greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37-40:

37-40Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  (The MSG)

The Greatest Commandment turns out to have two parts, really.  Love God, but then also love one another.

The question for our personal reflection is “How well are we following Jesus’ commandment?”  Stop and review what has happened over the past year.  Has there been a time when life got in the way of this command?  Has something hurt you causing you to focus on yourself rather than on others?  How many times have you recognized someone’s need and worked to meet that need?

These are tough questions and we are human.  So many times we walk right past someone in need—and we really do not see the need.  We pass right on by, caught up in our own thoughts.  The disciples wanted to understand how they were to know when they were following God’s laws.  The answer is found in Matthew 25, not just once, but repeated twice:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’   (the MSG)

The answer Jesus gave the disciples is the same answer he gives us today.  Look at those needs and then review whether or not you have served others in any of those ways.

This list is not complete, but it is a list that covers the basic needs of all humans:  food, shelter, and clothing, as well as healing for those who are sick or in prison.  Each of us surely can think of other times when we have identified a need and then worked to see that it is met.

How does the Big E fit into this discussion?  A definition of evangelism is needed.  Evangelism, according to the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, is ”. . . proclaiming the good news about God’s Kingdom and about Jesus the Christ . . . “  Those words sound familiar, and they echo the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  (the MSG)

The echo continues to be heard across the centuries and nothing has changed Jesus’ instructions since then.  During this Lent, we need to include or possibly conclude our reflection with the question How well have we shared the good news with others?”  The Great Commission is Evangelism.

A language search makes the connection much clearer.  Evangelism is the gospel.  The gospel is the good news.  The good news is found in John 3:16:  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.  (the MSG)

The Big E should be the “Big Easy,” but in our harried, full, fast-paced lives we are frightened of evangelism as we think it is another job for us to do.  We see evangelism as imposing our views on someone else.  We see evangelism as a specific process to get others into church.  We do not know how we could possibly evangelize, as we do not have that talent.

These are reasons I know personally.  I did not get it.  I could not see how evangelism was something I could do.  I did not understand that evangelism as a process was simply living my faith openly.  Evangelism is easy; evangelism is Christian life.  What do we do to take fear out of that word—evangelism?

During the weeks of Lent, the Big E needs a makeover.  We need to conquer the fears that evangelism creates in our own minds and find ways to apply the gospel in our lives today.  Why the word evangelism did not even surface until the early to mid 1600s!  The word is certainly not as old as the faith, so surely we can tame it for our 21st century lives.

Evangelism can be studied and analyzed by theologians, but the simple fact is that evangelism needs to be as natural to us as breathing.  The question really becomes how do we share the love, the joy, and the peace that our faith provides us in all that we do in our earthly life.  How can we demonstrate to others the power of God when we just casually live with it?

First, review your own daily life.  Look at how your faith is woven into each and every little facet of the day.  As you prepare and eat a dinner, do you see God’s role in your life?  Is God in your life at work, whether in an office or out in the field?  When you look out at the birds, the sun, the thunderstorm, or the woods, do you see the wonder of God’s world?  In the doctor’s office, in a hospital, or even during a funeral, is God with you?

Second, think about the times you have been asked how you manage all that you do or have been through.  Don’t you say that you do it because of your faith?  Don’t you tell others that that is just life so you take it one day at a time—knowing that God is with you?  And, despite all that you are struggling to manage, when someone else is in trouble, don’t you put them first?  You are evangelizing.  You are living your faith.

As the Big E continues to loom over us, let’s continue with our personal reflection and a congregational discussion.  If living a Christian life is the good news, how can we share that with others?  Once you see the gospel in your life, now you will look outward seeing how to share it.  The final issue is defining the kingdom of heaven and then how to explain it to others.  This is our Lenten task.

Dear Loving Father,

Our lives are so full of family, work, and fun

     we are guilty of overlooking the Great Commission.

Forgive us for knowingly avoiding evangelizing.

Guide us through Lent as we review our own faith,

      as we struggle to understand our own good news.

Open our minds as we look at how our faith is evangelism

     and search for ways to openly share with others.

Teach us through the words of the Bible, the hymns,

      and the prayers how the Kingdom of Heaven

     was, is and will forever be available to all.

Thank you for this community of faith who join

     in worship, study and practice together.

Amen.

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