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Something to Share

September 10th, 2010 No comments

“Something to Share” (Mark 5:1-20)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
August 1, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Guilty Evangelism?
Growing up, there were two Sundays out of the year that I didn’t like going to church: stewardship Sunday, when we learned that we weren’t giving enough to the Lord, and evangelism Sunday, when we learned that we weren’t inviting enough people to the Lord.

As a 3rd Grader who had a knack for mathematics, I observed that if we invited more people to church, that would also solve the stewardship problem, and we have two birds with one stone. Fortunately, the good Lord led me to repent of my 3rd grade mathematical cynicism.

But there was still that guilt that I wasn’t “doing enough” evangelism-wise. And let’s face it, going up to someone and saying “Pastor says I should invite more people to church. Services are at 9:30. Don’t be late.” – that’s not sharing the good news. Guilty evangelism just doesn’t work; actually, it’s a contradiction in terms.

In the ancient world, when the king was going to visit a village under his reign, he would send ahead a messenger, called an angelos (angel). And the messenger would announce to the people: “Good news (eu+angelion/evangelism/gospel)! The king is coming. Turn from what you’re doing (repent) and go out to meet him!”And the villagers would prepare a celebration and run out of the village to meet the king and usher him in.

So, the messenger, or angelos, would come and evangelize, or announce the good news (euangelion) that the king is coming. And the people were to stop what they were doing and prepare to meet him.

Well, if you’ve read the beginning of Mark’s gospel lately, this probably sounds familiar. John the baptist, the messenger, went ahead of Jesus to prepare the way; then Jesus himself became both the messenger and the message, saying, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news!”

So, evangelism means announcing the good news that the king (our Lord and Savior) is coming, and it should sound nothing like “Pastor says I should invite more people to church. . .”

No, this isn’t a guilty message, it’s a message of joy and salvation because the king is coming, and we’re supposed to go and join him! That’s great! But unless we actually know how to do it, we’re still left disempowered and uninspired, proclaiming a strained and guilty gospel. And I think that’s the big reason why I felt guilty on evangelism Sunday.

Creeds and Tracts?
You may remember how, in the weeks after Easter, we looked at how the apostles proclaimed the Good News of the resurrection, and how their lives were witnesses to the resurrection, and what their message was. In the next two Sundays here, we want to just begin thinking about some practical ways that we might do the same.

Listen again to the end of this morning’s gospel reading. The man who had been delivered from the demons wanted to stay with Jesus. But Jesus said, “Go home to your family and friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And the man went away and began proclaiming how much Jesus had done fro him, and everyone was amazed.

Now, I’m guessing that when he went home and people saw he was healed and asked what happened, he probably wasn’t reciting any creed; he probably didn’t go home and start saying to people, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ,” etc. etc. etc.

And I’m pretty sure he didn’t go preaching the ABCs of salvation either: “Admit that you’re a sinner; Believe in Jesus Christ; Confess that Jesus is your Lord.” And I’m certain he didn’t say, “Well Jesus told me I was supposed to talk about what happened to me.”

No, I think he went home, and people saw he was healed, and he had something personal, something real, an exciting, amazing story of his encounter with the Lord. He had something to share!

I bet everyone wanted to know what happened, and I can imagine him talking to the folks in town: Have you ever felt bound, out of control, in chains? Well, I was until Jesus freed me from my demons! And I was among the tombs, unclean, an outcast, but Jesus healed me, and now I can come home to my family and faith again. That’s what I found in Jesus: healing, a new beginning, a place to belong, a family.

Or, since the region where the man lived was occupied by legions and garrisons and detachments of Roman soldiers, who were living off the local communities, maybe he said, I was occupied by a legion of demons, but Jesus cast them out, and now I have new hope. Or maybe after pointing out the pig mascot of one of the local Roman regiments, he talked about how the swine went rushing into the sea, just like Pharaoh’s army did at the Exodus, because the Lord was once again acting to deliver a people in bondage.

And he could say all this, he could make all these connections, he could start and turn all these conversations, and the people were amazed, because he had a story to tell; he had something to share. Think of the apostles in Acts – they had something to share: they had witnessed Jesus raised from the dead, and the Holy Spirit had descended, and people were being saved daily! And Paul, he loved to tell the story of his own conversion on the road to Damascus. They all had something about their faith in Jesus that they were excited about; they all had something to share.

Something to Share
We can’t be evangelists – that is, we can’t share the good news – unless we’ve got some really exciting good news to share! So, today or this week, make a list of three things about your faith in Jesus or your church that are exciting, or that you’re grateful for, or that are simply amazing because of what God has done!

You may remember that we got a start on this a couple of Sundays back with the Western District Conference reporting. Here are some ideas to get you started. Some of you were really excited that you’re never alone because God is always present and accessible, even in our down times. Even though we may feel isolated and alone in the world, God is always there and will never leave us. Wow! Think of that! God’s not a distant idea some folks cooked up, but a present reality who holds us up and gives us hope!

The youth aren’t here this morning, but a lot of you think it’s amazing what God is doing in their lives and how involved they are in the church. Wow! Think of how God is preparing for the future and calling young people to faith commitment and how they bless us!

Some of you mentioned how there are lots of dedicated members here, or how generous the people are, or a good community spirit, and that our faith gives us a common ground. And I’ve gotta say, it really is amazing how God nurtures and cares for and calls his people, and what happens when God’s people respond! And a lot of us look kinda the same here, but there is some real diversity in our congregation, and yet it’s exciting that our faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done gives us a common ground and brings us together! That’s something the apostle Paul was really excited about too.

Some of you are really excited about the peace that is in Jesus Christ, how when we follow him, peace is possible, in our homes, our churches and communities, and even in our world. The challenge, the beauty, the depth of Jesus’ upside-down teaching and way of peace goes with the grain of the universe and calls us to faithful, joyful, missional, witness-discipleship. How amazing and hopeful is Jesus’ message of peace for a hurting, broken world!

Isn’t it amazing that most of the time, when Paul and other New Testament writers talk about God’s giant cosmic restoration, set-all-things-right-plan through Jesus Christ, especially in his death and resurrection, they also mention peace. A lot of you see that playing out right here in in our own community: 5th quarter, homeless shelter, MDS involvement, people who do service, and much more! And that’s good news!

Some of you are really excited about God’s plan for our lives, because it’s more amazing than anything we could come up with by ourselves. Think of that! Because we have faith in Jesus Christ, we don’t just wander and drift through life aimlessly from one unfulfilling passion to the next; we have a real, exciting purpose in our lives, and we have a real, exciting destiny for our lives. God’s gifts put all of our best dreams to shame. Great news!

A lot of your are passionate about the power of prayer. We can bring our brokenness, we can bring our pain, we can bring our hopes and fears and dreams and wishes to God in prayer, we can bear our whole lives at the foot of the cross, and God listens and responds and gives us strength and hope and joy and peace for our lives and the lives of those we care about and even total strangers we pray for!

Our faith gives us hope! And what’s more, when we sin, when we turn away from our relationship with God and go our own way, God invites us to turn back, and when we do, God not only always forgives, but even rejoices, and all of heaven with him! That’s exciting!

And a lot of you are really excited about spending an eternity in the presence of our Lord, because there is more to look forward to than what’s happening right now. Wow! God’s not just working to set creation to rights and restore all things, but just as Jesus was raised as the firstfruits of the grave, so to will we get to share eternally in God’s restoration of all things! Even when we’re surrounded by pain and brokenness and confusion, we know that God is working to redeem us, to call us home! Good news! Great news! Gospel!

These are just some of the things that you already shared. What are your top three things about faith in Jesus or your church that you’re excited about, or grateful for, or that are simply amazing because of what God has done in Jesus Christ?

God Chooses Rascals Like Us
I think sometimes when it comes to sharing our faith or inviting people to church, we get distracted by the challenges our congregation faces, those things that might make a person not really want to come.

And we wrote a number of those things down as well two Sundays ago. By far the most common challenge was that we don’t have many young families, and it’s difficult to invite more young couples when you don’t already have a group of young families, and you need to invite young families in order to have young families to invite young families, etc.

Also, a number of you mentioned the need for healing in some relationships in the congregation, and sharing our faith with one another.

Well, I think there’s actually a lot of hope and opportunity behind a lot of these challenges if we pray and think about it, but that’s for another time. James Kraybill, who spoke here at Grace Hill in June, likes to tell the story of a congregation where it would be difficult to find even one thing to get excited about, let alone three:1

Now this church had four different pastors, and each sort of had his own group of members – the one’s he’d baptized were his, so the church was really divided four ways. One of the members had actually moved in with his step mother, and not it in a just needing-a-place-to-stay sort of way. And of course, folks in the congregation found people who agreed with them and talked about this pair behind their backs rather than talking to them.

Then there were the two couples who actually went to court over some property issues, and you can imaging the tension that created on Sunday morning. And then there was the group who routinely turned the Lord’s Supper into a party of inebriation and less-than-appropriate jocularity.

What would your top three exciting things be if you were a member there? Well, there was one person who was really, passionately excited about this little church. Paul the apostle dearly loved this church at Corinth, and he was excited about what the Spirit was doing there.

Maybe the fact that God chooses to use a bunch of rascals like us and shape us into a community, transform us, and empower us to join with him in God’s mission in the world – who knows, maybe that alone is something that is unimaginably exciting!

Let’s learn to recognize our challenges, and then also to look beyond to see the many exciting things that God is doing. What are your top three?

Why are You Here?
As we ponder what’s exciting about or faith and why that’s important, I want to close with a story I shared with the regional Mennonite Disaster Service (or MDS) gathering here at Grace Hill back in November, which will also carry us into the topic for next Sunday, which is faith conversations.

I was a student at Bethel when hurricane Katrina struck. A group of us from Bethel went to New Orleans over spring break to work with MDS. I was removing the last of the drywall nails of my team’s third house of the week when the owner’s sister stopped by with some refreshments for us. She picked up a hammer and a dust mask and joined me with pulling nails.

“Where y’all from?” she asked.

“We’re college students from Kansas,” I replied. “We’re on spring break.”

She looked me up and down. I must have been quite a sight covered with mold, dirt, and drywall dust. “You folks would give up your vacation and come all the way down here to help us and do this?” she asked, indicating the work around us. I pulled a couple more nails and though about what to say. Like a lot of the other students on the trip, I signed up without giving it a second thought. It was what we Mennonites did, after all. “Well,” I said eventually, “it’s part of our faith. Jesus loved us and taught us to share his love. It’s how we try to live.”

“Yes it is,” she said. “That’s wonderful. Yes it is.”

I’ve often wondered how that conversation might have been different if I’d thought about why I was going ahead of time, about the things about my faith that were exciting and amazing and led me to be there, in that place.

There were a lot of groups helping with cleanup in New Orleans. A lot of groups, I think, were there because they enjoy doing nice things for people. And that’s great, and God was working through those groups. I certainly like doing nice things for people too, but that’s not why we were there with MDS.

I think a lot of folks were in New Orleans helping clean up because it’s just the right thing to do. When someone needs help and you’re able to help, you help. And that’s great too. In fact, I bet there were a lot of Christians in New Orleans who were there out of faithful obedience to Jesus, who said to do those sorts of things. It’s amazing to see the face and hands of Christ at work in the lives of those who do what’s right. Well, I sure hope it was the right thing to do, and that’s why I had said I was there, but I don’t think that’s the big reason why I was there either.

I was there because I knew how much Jesus loved me, and how much Jesus loves the whole world, and I wanted to share that love not because I was following the rules, but because that kind of love is so exciting that it overflows our imaginations and we want to share it. I was there because faith had become something more than a bunch of ideas in my head, but a real, daily experience of walking with the Lord, and that was exciting, and I wanted to be there. I was there, yes, because of a vibrant faith tradition of radically following Jesus, and I saw something exciting in it and wanted to be a part of it. I was there because Jesus Christ was doing and is doing exciting things in the world and in our lives!

Why are you here? What do you have to share?

Notes:
1 James Kraybill, Is It Insensitive to Share Your Faith?, 60-62.

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Mennovangelism: Sharing our Faith

September 10th, 2010 No comments

“Mennovangelism: Sharing our Faith” (John 4:1-26; 1 Peter 3:8-17)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
August 8, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

NOTE: THIS WAS POSTED OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE SEE HERE FIRST.

Outline/Insert
In 1 Peter 3, Vibrant Christians are. . .

Alternative to the ways of the world by following Jesus Christ (vv. 8-9, 13-14)
Authentic followers of Jesus Christ in faith and life (vv. 10-14, 16-17)
Articulate in sharing the their stories of hope, faith, joy, and excitement in Jesus Christ (v.15)
And, because they are alternative, authentic, and articulate, they are. . .
ATTRACTIVE (1 Peter 2:12)!!
(Adapted from Mark and Mary Hurst)

In John 4, Jesus shares his Story by. . .

Connecting with the Samaritan woman (v. 7)
Opening her curiosity by being counter-cultural in actions and words (vv. 8-10)
Bridging the conversation to faith (v. 10ff)
Meeting her where she is (vv. 16-18)
Revealing who he is (v. 26), which. . .
Invites her to take a step toward faith (vv. 29, 39-42)

As you go, therefore, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” ~Matthew 28:19

Recap. . .
Today we want to continue thinking about the ways that Jesus calls us to share our stories and our faith with those around us. You may recall that last week, we thought about what it is that we have to share about our faith that’s important and exciting to us, and over this past week, we’ve been thinking about our top three things about faith that excite us.

You probably remember how some of you had shared that you’re excited that God is always present, even in our down times, and won’t ever leave us. A lot of you were excited about our youth and what God’s doing in their lives.

Several people mentioned how there are lots of dedicated, generous people in our congregation, and how faith gives us a common ground. Some of you are really excited about peace; some of your are passionate about God’s awesome plan for our lives.

A lot of people are grateful for prayer, and about spending an eternity in the presence of our Lord!

What were your top three things about faith that you’re excited about? Well, this morning, we want to think about how we might go about sharing those very things that we’re excited about, those joys about faith that we have to share. We want to think about how we might have a conversation about faith.

Jesus was, of course, the master of faith conversations, always having the right message for the right person or group. In this morning’s reading from John 4, Jesus shares his story, the Good News, with a Samaritan woman.

Connecting
First, he connects with the woman – a simple request. He’s tired, and he asks her for a drink. We all have lots of connections at school, at work, in our families and communities. Jesus makes the simple effort to initiate a relationship.

A simple, warm greeting, an acknowledgment of someone’s presence often opens the door to a conversation that wouldn’t otherwise happen – both with total strangers and with old friends. I recently said hello to someone at the gas station and completely unintentionally (and somewhat inconveniently) ended up having a 15 minute conversation at the pump.

Stirring Curiosity by Being Counter-Cultural
Now, you may have noticed that as soon as Jesus connected with the woman – the very fact that he acknowledged her presence, that stirred the woman’s curiosity.

Jews and Samaritans don’t associate, John reminds his readers. Jesus, a Jewish man, had crossed some major cultural lines to talk with a Samaritan woman, and that alone really opened the woman’s curiosity. Jesus was counter-cultural.

You may have noticed something similar in 1 Peter 3, which we heard earlier. Peter encouraged his churches to live in alternative, counter-cultural ways, by living at peace with one another, by suffering for doing good, and by not fearing suffering or buying into any other sort of fear-mongering that was going on. And, both in 1 Peter and here in John 4, such actions arouse some form of curiosity, and curiosity becomes the open door to sharing, and, ultimately, to faith.

A few weeks back, I got a call from someone who needed some help with rent. And our openness to helping her out with our care fund not only opened the door for us to have a meaningful conversation and develop a relationship; but when I contacted the rental company, which isn’t exactly known for its flexibility with this sort of thing, they were surprised and impressed and curious too! Following Jesus means being counter-cultural, which opens curiosity.

One of the primary ways that God invites us to participate in the divine mission is to be a model.1 As a model, we embody God’s intention for the whole world, as we love one another and forgive one another, as we seek reconciliation, and as we serve. Being a model is an important part of sharing our faith as a counter-cultural community and stirring curiosity.

And notice how Jesus makes the woman persist in her curiosity. He doesn’t answer her question, but rather starts talking about living water, which gets her wondering who he is anyway! Jesus opened the woman’s curiosity, and also her heart, I think, with his words, and with his counter-cultural actions.

Bridging
Now, this is the place where I think we Mennonites get “lost in the conversation.” We’re generally happy to connect with people and get to know folks and have conversations.

And we love to think of ourselves as being counter-cultural – loving people who are different from us, loving even our enemies. And we love supporting and participating in all our service organizations that put that counter-cultural love into action in truly inspiring ways – MDS, MCC, MVS, etc., etc. I shared last week how when I was in college serving in New Orleans with MDS, I was at a loss of words when someone asked me why I was there.

We love to recite the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words” as though it were Scripture – I know I do. Interestingly, there’s no reliable record of Francis saying that, and I’m almost certain Jesus never did.

In fact, the very next thing Jesus does in his interaction with the woman is to bridge the conversation to spiritual issues. And in 1 Peter, Peter advises his congregations to be ready to give an account of their hope. That’s why last Sunday, we thought about what it is about faith that’s exciting to us.

Now this doesn’t mean that being a model is unimportant, or that serving and being counter-cultural is any less important. It just means that the other primary way we’re invited to participate in God’s mission in addition to being a model is by being a messenger.2

They’re both equally and vitally important. Looking back to 1 Peter, we can’t be articulate messengers in any sort of an authentic way if we’re not modeling the alternative, counter-cultural way of Jesus. And, if we’re not articulating what we’re modeling and why, then people are left in the dark as to the “ultimate source and deeper meaning of our actions.”3 Both modeling and messaging are equally important and mutually dependent.

Notice how Jesus bridges the conversation every so slightly and gradually toward faith. It begins with a simple request for water, then a curious mention of living water, and continues to move toward sharing who he is. Sharing faith means much more when there’s a relationship that has been established.

I think part of the reason why we as Mennonites aren’t always seen favorably in light of our peace witness is that we don’t develop relationships and share the message along with it. We hardly ever say we’re excited about peace because it’s part of what the New Testament says Jesus accomplished on the cross, and it’s how he taught us to live, which makes peace possible, and that hope is good news!

Making this bridge can seem kind of difficult at times – most of us have gotten used to not talking about faith. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify what God is doing in our own lives, much less articulate it for someone else. But there are actually many opportunities for making these bridges to faith conversations.

Following Jesus’ alternative, counter-cultural way often provokes curiosity and questions, and it’s a perfect opportunity to build a bridge to a spiritual conversation. Like I shared last week, when I was in New Orleans with MDS, the woman I met was surprised that a bunch of college students would give up their spring break. It was an opportunity that I mostly missed.

Or when the land lord was curious about us helping out one of their tenants and asked if we do that often, that was an opportunity. The person who had contacted us for help continually expressed her deep gratitude; that was an opportunity to share why we have a care fund, because Jesus has love us, and we want to share his love with others and learn to love people the way he does.

There are other ways to build bridges also. We can drop hints that we’re followers of Jesus. When someone asks how your weekend was, that’s an opportunity to bring up that you went to church and experienced God’s transforming presence in the body of Christ.

Or maybe someone invites you out, but you have a conflict due to church – there’s an opportunity to drop a hint that you’re a follower of Jesus. It might not lead to a faith conversation at the time, but opens the door to the future.

Open-ended questions can be good bridges to faith conversations too. Jesus asked his followers, “Who do people say that I am?” Invitations to informal events like the pig roast we had can start to build those bridges.

Meeting People where They Are
It’s also important to remember that Jesus wasn’t just building a bridge to a random destination; he was building a bridge to where the Samaritan woman was. Jesus knew she’d had a lot of pain and brokenness in her life, and he met her where she was without judging her. She wanted living water, but perhaps Jesus knew she wasn’t quite ready for it. Jesus knew where she was and met her there.

Now, in recent years, a lot of missionaries and missiologists and theologians have been helping us to take our context seriously. That means that how we share our faith and the good news of Jesus (these stories we came up with) look different in the city or in the country, or in Africa or in Kansas, or at work, or with friends, or even from one person to the next

This has really helped us to be more faithful to the gospel, I think. Unfortunately, when we think about what it might look like to share our faith, sometimes we kinda talk about how it’s different in every situation or context, and we become tentative when thinking about real, practical ways to share our faith – in our own context or any other context.

Well, I think that what all this important talk of context means in practical terms is that the first thing to do when sharing our faith is to listen. As a church, we need to listen to our community as we ask, “Where does our community need the love of Jesus? Where is God at work?” And with individuals, we need to listen to discern where God is working in their lives, that we might connect to what God is doing now.

Jesus knew his context and engaged it – he knew he was in Samaria, and that Samaritans and Jews had little that was friendly to say about each other, and he crossed those borders to spark interest and initiate a conversation. Seeing that he was at the well, he used water to create a conversation.

Revealing who Jesus Is
And finally, Jesus has the opportunity to reveal who he is, but it took a while to get there. People don’t sign up for membership classes the first time the hear about Jesus. When we know what it is about our faith that’s important and exciting to us, we’ll be ready to share that as well.

A number of years ago, I met a former MCC worker, who said that he’d never claim to be serving in the name of Christ (which is a little ironic since all of our meet cans say that). He said he would never presume to make such a claim. Given how often we do get things wrong, I understand the hesitancy, and I honor the humility, and yet, God has chosen and empowered us to be a part of his mission to set things right, and as far as we know there’s no backup plan. And we do serve because of Jesus Christ and in his name because of his great love and because he sent us to do so.

Well, an interesting thing happened with the woman. The disciples kind of interrupted the conversation, and John says she left her water jar and went back to town. Had she found the living water? At the same time, it doesn’t appear that she was entirely convinced. Could this be the Christ? she asked.

An Invitation to Take a Step
At any rate, Jesus had invited her, and she was taking steps. A person’s journey to Christ often includes many steps; sometimes we walk along at the very beginning; every once and a while, we’re at the end; usually we walk along somewhere in the middle. Most people don’t respond the first time they hear the gospel; in fact, it takes several times of hearing usually. That means most of our interactions come somewhere in the middle steps.

Well, it seems like the Samaritan woman did find the living water Jesus was telling her about. And what a joy it is when that happens! And that’s what sharing our faith can be as well when we find out what we’re excited about, so that, like we talked about last time, it becomes more of a joy and no longer a guilty duty; after all, guilty evangelism is hardly good news at all.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging or even a little scary and uncomfortable to try something new. Family and friends are a good, safe place to start practicing, and they’re the people we already have relationships with. There is no one-size-fits all model to sharing our faith or having faith conversations, but Jesus gives us a good place to start by connecting, stirring curiosity through counter-cultural living, bridging conversations to faith and meeting people where they are, revealing what our exciting stories are, and inviting steps toward the light.

And the Lord will be with us all as we embody and overflow with his great love for us and for the world. Amen.

Notes:
1 James Krabill, Is It Insensitive to Share Your Faith?, 68-70.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., 70.

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