This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached today, the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. For twenty weeks, my sermon themes will have to do with twenty Spiritual Gifts. Today’s gift is “Evangelism,” and the associated scripture passage was Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.
“Welcome back.” Many of you have said that to me today. “Welcome back. How was your vacation?” It’s very nice of you to say that. And thanks for asking!
I’d like to say the same thing to you today. “Welcome back.” Not because you’re returning from vacation, though perhaps a few of you are. But because you’re returning here. You’re returning to worship. Now perhaps a few of you are here for the first time. You are most certainly welcome here as well. But today I am speaking mostly to those who worship here regularly, every week, or every month, or something like that. Those of you who left this place not long ago with the words “Thanks be to God” on your lips, and who have returned here today.
Welcome back. While you were gone, I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. Jesus said that to the seventy when they returned, and I think he meant by that that they had faithfully done his work in the world. They had faithfully fought against the powers of evil. I say the same to you. You have faithfully done God’s work in this community, in this world, since you were last here for worship. Like the seventy before you, you have shown the world that the kingdom of heaven has come near. The spiritual gift we’re talking about today is Evangelism, the gift of sharing the good news with those who don’t know it.. And that is what you have done. You have been excellent evangelists.
You might think I’m wrong, because you haven’t been out there knocking on doors, telling people about Jesus. Neither have I. That’s often what we think of when we hear the word “evangelism.” That is indeed one type of evangelism. But I have a secret. Evangelism is much more than that. And thank God it is, because otherwise Pennsylvania Dutchmen like me would ever, ever fulfill Christ’s command to share the good news with others. Because most of us are not good at talking about our faith in that way. I mean…let’s be honest. We love to sing, “I Love to Tell the Story,” but we don’t really love to tell the story.
Now I know that a few of you are actually pretty good at telling that story, at telling people about Jesus. And that’s because a few of you have the spiritual gift of evangelism. And thank God for you! You are doing amazing work! You are telling people that God loves them, that Jesus died for them! You are bringing them to worship, to hear the good news proclaimed here, to receive the good news through bread and wine. Thank God for you. We are so grateful to you, so awestruck by you. Can I get an amen?
But many of you are more like me. Believe it or not, I’m not very comfortable talking about my faith outside the church. I’m not very comfortable telling people I meet, or even friends that I know, about Jesus. I can communicate very well about Jesus with people like you, people who share my faith, but with others? Me no talk so good with them. Anybody else have that experience? Can I get an amen?
I just don’t feel equipped to do it. Maybe my faith isn’t strong enough. Or I don’t feel Christ in me well enough. Or I don’t know what words to use. Or I’m fearful of being ignored or mocked. I just don’t have that gift. I’m not equipped to tell the story to others.
But nonetheless, I am an evangelist, and so are you. And I am equipped to do it, and so are you. The secret is, evangelism, sharing the good news about Jesus, is more than telling the story. And we are equipped. When Jesus sent out the seventy disciples to go and share the good news, he said this: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide.” You see? They are equipped with nothing. Nothing at all…well, not quite nothing. For one thing, they are sent out in pairs. They are each sent out with another person. Plus, Jesus says this to them: “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me.” So they are equipped…just not with particular things, or with particular skills, but with people, and with Jesus himself. That’s what you have. You have each other. And you have Jesus. Can I get an amen?
And that is all you need. All you need to share the good news of Jesus with other people is the support of a faith community, and Jesus himself. Still doesn’t sound like enough, does it? But it is. Because here’s the secret. The secret to sharing the good news with the world is this:
Be yourself. Be the person you were made to be. Be who you are. God made you to be exactly that utterly unique and utterly strange and utterly imperfect person you see in the mirror. Be that person. Go to your job, and be you. Go to your school, and be you. Spend time with family and friends, and be you. Enjoy your hobbies, and be you. Have a cookout, enjoy the fireworks, celebrate independence, and be you. Remember who you are. And remember whom you belong to. You are God’s child, through and through. Can I get an amen?
And remember what God has done for you. You are forgiven for all that you’ve ever done. You have received salvation, salvation from death, salvation from fear, salvation from worry. And you are good enough. God did that for you. Can I get an amen?
Remember this, and be who you are. I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he told the disciples, “Don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, “Don’t rejoice that you did good work out there. Rejoice that you have a relationship with God.” Don’t rejoice at things that look like success. Don’t rejoice because your church is doing well, or your country is doing well, or your bank account is doing well, or your children are doing well. Rejoice rather at this: God loves you, and God is with you. Can I get an amen?
God loves you. God is with you. Rejoice in that! Rejoice in that, and that’s it.
That’s evangelism. Remember what God has done for you, rejoice in it, and be you. The harvest is plentiful, my friends, but the laborers are few. Go on your way. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals. Whatever house you enter, say, “Peace to this house!” And know this, the kingdom of God has come near.