This past Wednesday I preached at Woodlake Lutheran in Richfield, MN (where my spouse Timothy works) for their first Lent Wednesday service this year. Fred asked me to start off their seasonal focus on evangelism, so I got to share what I think about it. It was strange preaching now that I’m taking a preaching class. Now I’m super insecure because I’m thinking “did I do it right according to that big preaching book I read last week?” But I’m not too worried. That whole priesthood of all believers thing; God speaks through all of us, no just pastors, oh noes! So here’s what I said.
So as you might have heard from Pastor Fred and Pastor Diane, Woodlake is going to be walking through the book Unbinding the Gospel during Lent. It will guide our ways in worship and discussion after worship on Wednesdays (in the fireside room). They asked me to share a reflection on the first chapter – it’s called “Breaking the Curse.”
It refers to the Boston Red Sox losing the World Series (the last game in the national tournament for major league baseball) for 86 years in a row, until October 2004 came, and the curse was broken. This East coast team finally won the World Series (a title the Mariners will soon clench someday soon, I can feel it).
The author of Unbinding the Gospel says that much like the Red Sox’ long-waited-for victory, evangelism is, “about breaking the curse. It’s about untying the knots that keep us from living exciting lives in the Spirit. It’s about unbinding the good news that God adores us and everyone else, that God has shown this to us through Jesus Christ.” She says that the book is about the “E” word. Evangelism! But don’t say it! It’s the “E” word.
Since I like words and the story of how they came to be, I have this online dictionary website tacked to my Chrome browser. I typed in “evangelism” and discovered that it defines it as “preaching the gospel” or “spreading the gospel.” Its root in Greek is translated to “good news.”
I can feel you waiting for it: “When is she going to tell us we have to go across the street, knock on the brown house’s door and convert them to Christianity?” That’s what I secretly dread when I hear sermons or reflections on evangelism. Oh gosh, when do I have to do it? Now? I didn’t bring a good coat, I don’t have my 10-second Jesus story ready.
But before we freak out, let’s take a second. What’s the point of evangelism? To make everyone else Christian too? I think if that was the point, God would point us strait back to 1st Corinthians 12 which says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The gifts of Christians are different than the gifts of Muslims, which are different than the gifts of atheists. We’re all needed. The spirit works through love, peace, compassion, through all of us, for the common good.
So is the point of evangelism to make everyone in the world Christian? No.
So what is the point? Honest, I don’t know what the point is. I just know that most people stop thinking about it because 1. It has no point & 2. They’re scared of what it could be.
If we’re asking what the point is, we aren’t getting it.
It’s not a have to: it’s a get to.
Evangelizing is all about letting God use your voice to share God’s ongoing story in the life of creation; in your life. Letting God use your voice is not a “have to”. You get to experience God speaking through you. It’s not a, “Man, I have tell how God’s story and my story intertwine.” No, it’s, “I get to tell my story about how God showed up even though I didn’t expect God to.”
It’s saying, “I didn’t expect it, but when didn’t think I would get into college, God said, nope, I’m not giving up on you yet, and I got accepted to college.” It’s saying, “I don’t live in extreme poverty, or have experienced my mortgage plummeting, or know first-hand daily racial injustice, but I know that it’s a privilege to respond to them by letting God use my voice to lift other voices to the surface.”
There’s no return in these stories. They are stories told, with nothing expected back – there’s no transaction. There’s no gratifying even-ing-out. You don’t get Jesus brownie points for telling how God’s story spilled into yours.
That’s why evangelism is so hard to grasp. We don’t receive compensation for doing it – we just dwell in that space of knowing and feeling God’s presence, and feeling so grateful for it, that we can’t do anything but share how it has changed our lives.
Sharing a story of God’s story spilling into your story – this doesn’t just happen. I know that. I’m an extrovert, and if I don’t feel compelled to do this to my neighbor down the street or to my friendly Target grocer, I have a feeling that would be challenging for you too (Although she was really nice on Monday).
What if those closest to you knew your story? What if those at your church knew your story? What if those in your family knew your story?
What if your daughter knew your story? Your best friend? What if your Dad knew your story?
Like, really knew, like knew when you were ready to quit and somehow God’s voice spoke through yours when you said, “Yes”?
Like, really knew, like when you stared at the application that could take you to a new place and as terrified as you were, you felt God’s voice speaking through yours saying, “Yes”?
As we think about this time in Lent – during that dark time, who did Jesus eat with at his last meal? Strangers? No, with his closest friends. People he journeyed with. People who got it right and people who sometimes didn’t get it right.
These are the people that long to hear your story. Those who have been on your journey. Those who have gotten it right and those who sometimes didn’t get it right. They want to know you, and you want to know them, like God knows you. Loved. Whole. Imperfect. You.
God’s story spills into your story. Over and over again, in moments that we see it, and in moments that we don’t. We get to share our stories, and realize that evangelism isn’t converting the universe to Christianity but is telling honestly and truthfully our stories and God’s story together.
We get to break the curse of saying, “eh, they really don’t want to know,” and “they’re going to think I’m lying,” or “I don’t want be a bother.”
Who knows what story might come after your story. You get to tell your story. They thirst to know you. The world is listening. What’s your story?