Sunday, May 15, 2005

Forty Days of Purpose: The "E" Word, Made for Mission

Acts 1:3-8
Acts 2:1-21
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 15, 2005, Pentecost Sunday)

Shortly after we moved here, my wife worked as a classroom aide at Withamsville-Tobasco Elementary School. One day, a little girl approached a teacher there. The girl was upset. “So-and-so,” she said, “called me...the E-word.”

The E-word. The E-word? The teacher turned that over in her mind for a little while, trying to figure out what the E-word could possibly be.

Finally, she said to the girl, “What do you mean by the E-word? What’s the E-word?” The girl said that she wasn’t allowed to say words like that. Her parents wouldn’t let her.

“I’m sure that your parents would let you tell me what this other girl said to you. What’s the E-word?” After a little hesitation, the girl told her what the E-word was: Idiot.

We have an E-word in the Church.

It’s a word that we hate to hear.

And it’s a word that describes an activity about which we have great fears and apprehensions.

That word is evangelism.

It’s the word that describes the fifth purpose God has for all of our lives. The word comes from the Greek term euangelion, a compound word which literally means good news. When the Old English got hold of that Greek word, they translated as Good Spell or God Spell, from which we get our word Gospel.

The Good News or the Gospel that all followers of Jesus Christ build their lives upon is summarized in that passage in the New Testament book of John that Martin Luther called, the gospel in a nutshell, where Jesus said that God loved us all so much that He gave Jesus to us and whoever entrusts their whole selves to Him will be with God for eternity.

Every follower of Christ knows that we’re supposed to tell others this Good News. Most know that this is such an important part of our lives that the New Testament quotes Jesus in five major places commanding us to take up the mission of sharing the Good News.

But, let’s admit it: We’re afraid of doing it. We’re afraid that we’ll offend someone or get the words wrong.

But there are lots of ways we can share Jesus with others, fulfilling God’s fifth purpose for our lives--being evangelists. As long as we rely on God and our intentions are to honor God and help others, there is really no wrong way to do evangelism.

From our two Bible lessons for today, we extract several important points to remember about the E-word.

First: Evangelism--sharing the Good News of Jesus by our words, lives, and actions--is a nonnegotiable element of being a Jesus-Follower. Jesus repeatedly tells His followers not to hoard our relationship with Him, but to share Him with others. This was the command He gave in our first lesson to the eleven losers we now call apostles. Within twenty years or so of Jesus giving this command, those loser and their friends had established churches throughout the Mediterranean basin and through Thomas, tradition says, in India. Tradition also says that Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom Jesus exorcised seven different demons, preached the Gospel and established the Church in France.

We’re to share Jesus. People who hoard Jesus experience something like what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness when they tried to hoard the food, called manna, which God provided for them. God told them to only gather what they needed for a given day and twice as much on the Friday before the Sabbath when they were to rest and not do any gathering. (Just their “daily bread,” in other words.) Some dolts got the idea that they should gather extra manna and hold onto it. But all the extra they gathered rotted.

Our faith in Christ may be personal, because each of us must decide about Jesus for ourselves, but it is not a private matter.

When we turn our faith into a private affair, failing to share Jesus with friends, family, coworkers, classmates, business associates, and others, our faith begins to rot.

It becomes selfish.

It focuses more on rituals and traditions and the things that make us comfortable than it does on Jesus and our neighbors and making our faith accessible to those who don’t know Jesus.

Ingrown Christianity is a religion heading for hell.

Christianity focused on God and others is a living relationship with a living God.

Second: Anyone can do evangelism. If you know how to gossip or teach a child to tie their shoes or give someone directions to your house, you know how to do evangelism.

On that first Pentecost Day, one-hundred-twenty believers in Jesus, opened their mouths and talked about the most important thing in the world: How God loves us all and that everyone who will humbly turn from sin and let Jesus be the Boss of their lives can have a full life that starts now and keeps going through eternity. You see, when you evangelize, instead of misusing the gift of speech to gossip, instead of using it to just talk about everyday things, you use it positively to give the life and love of God away to others.

That’s what those first Jesus-Followers did on the first Pentecost and I guarantee that they were less well-groomed, less sophisticated, less wealthy, and less educated,than any of us here this morning. Anyone can do evangelism...including you and me!

Third: To be a faithful evangelist, you need to depend on God. Before that motley crew of 120 hit the streets of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost, they had been praying, helplessly begging God to send them the power to do the right thing.

They were afraid--afraid that the people who had killed Jesus might kill them, afraid that they might say the wrong thing, afraid that they’d look ridiculous.

God sent His Holy Spirit to them and filled with the fire of inspiration, they threw open their locked doors and were empowered to tell others about Jesus in ways that made sense to each listener.

God will do the same thing for us when we pray and depend on Him. We’ll be able to share the Good News in ways that make sense to the people with whom we share it.

Fourth: We can only fulfill this purpose for our lives by getting out of our Christian ghetto and establishing relationships with the bigger world.

In a way, this business of evangelism is the most important of God’s five purposes for us. God uses the other four purposes for our lives to prepare us for being evangelists, people who by sharing Jesus with others, reproduce themselves as disciples.

The Church really is the only organization in the world that exists for nonmembers! We need to be out there in the world telling others about Christ and living for Christ among them. My home pastor had a plaque in his office that said, “The holiest moment in the worship service is when the last song has been sung and the people carry Christ into the world.” I think that's true!

You and I are God’s Pentecost people. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re called and powered to share the life of Christ with a dead and dying world. We have a simple and important message to share. It’s the same message that Peter shared on the first Pentecost: “All who call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The mission and ministry fair happening after worship will challenge and call each of us to be God’s Pentecost people, committed to telling the world about Jesus. Let’s share the message of new life from Jesus and watch how God changes people’s lives--our lives and the lives of those we befriend in the Name of Jesus!

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