This September 15th is National Back to Church Sunday, and this annual special Sunday gives us an occasion to focus on “evangelization” as an essential Christian practice.
John 3:16-17 says the following: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This is the good news of God’s self-giving love revealed in Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. And, as disciples of Christ our Lord, we are responsible to share with all others this good news of God’s self-giving love revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
Of course, the Holy Communion Meal (a.k.a. the Lord’s Supper) that we receive together is a celebration of God’s self-giving love revealed in Christ. In addition, the hymns and spiritual songs we sing at worship are offered in praise and thanksgiving for God’s self-giving love revealed in Christ. Moreover, the charitable service and advocating for justice that we do are in response to the self-giving love revealed in Christ. HOWEVER, receiving Holy Communion, singing hymns, engaging in charitable service and advocating for justice are not all we are claimed and called by God to practice.
We are also claimed and called by God to share with all others the good news of God’s self-giving love, forgiveness of sins, and renewal of life, which have all been revealed and communicated to us in and through Christ Jesus our Lord. This evangelization is an essential Christian practice, and every single one of us Christians must participate in sharing the wonderful good news of the Son of God for all people everywhere. We must, in Jesus name, INVITE and WELCOME and INCLUDE. We must INVITE OTHERS to know Christ within the community of Christ, and we must GENUINELY WELCOME and FULLY INCLUDE all of them.
But, as we continue to invite, welcome and include all people in Jesus name, we must commit to be a community of Christ that truly reflects the temperament of Christ. People who have answered our invitation must not find a community characterized by in-groups, out-groups, cliques, gossip and backbiting. Rather, they must find among us Christians a culture of Christ that is characterized by openness toward everyone and characterized by a commitment to build up everyone in Christian love and support for one another.
Toward this goal of evangelizing our neighbors, friends, coworkers, family members and others, the evangelization we practice needs to be according to the following four principles:
1) HUMILITY – This means that Christ must be the center of our attention, not our own selves. The Church of Jesus Christ is not about building a social club of similar, like-minded people. It is about gathering a diversity of people together into an interdependent body of believers whose members give to and receive from the whole body. Humility recognizes this interdependence, and humility recognizes God’s activity within people who may be very different than us. Befriending and sharing close fellowship with those who are very dissimilar and differently-minded than us, as well as with those who are similar to us and like-minded, is a sign of the Spirit of Christ within us. This is an especially important insight for this time of hyper-partisanship within the USA right now, where far too many people have become rigidly liberal or rigidly conservative.
2) FAITH MUST BE PROPOSED, NEVER IMPOSED – When we practice sharing the good news by inviting, welcoming and including, we must never impose our faith on others through argumentation or coercion. Nobody has ever evangelized another by winning the argument. As best we can, our Christian faith must always be proposed from the heart and in a spirit of lovingkindness and compassion. In addition, while keeping our intellects firmly standing on the solid ground of science — acknowledging the scientific reality of evolution for instance — we can simultaneously keep our hearts firmly rooted in the subsoil of spirituality and religious faith. This allows us to propose our faith in an enlightened way to those who identify themselves as either agnostic or as strictly atheist. Lastly, proposing (not imposing) our Christian faith (with humility) grants us the freedom and joy of learning about the One Universal God from other faith traditions (Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.) while simultaneously sharing the good news of Christ Jesus with these very same children of God from these other faith traditions.
3) NEVER GIVE IN TO PESSIMISM – As we walk the path of evangelization in Jesus name, we cannot give in to pessimism or discouragement. By faith, we can be confident that God is leading us. And, by faith, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit bestows upon the Church of Jesus Christ the courage to persevere and the inspiration to seek new methods of communicating the good news of God’s self-giving love revealed in Christ to the ends of the earth. It is as it says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
4) HAVE A GODLY SENSE OF HUMOR – For one reason or another, many people these days are just plain grumpy. There is chronic malcontent within society these days, and the rigid hyper-partisanship in the USA is a characteristic of our malcontented culture. Consequently, when someone or something does not fit into the rigidly liberal framework or the rigidly conservative framework, then there is immediate suspicion and a beating of the war drums. And, even humor can be perverted into a weapon when it becomes a biting, corrosive and hurtful sense of humor that tends toward divisiveness and disunity. A godly sense of humor, on the other hand, makes light of the human condition we all share, while at the same time honoring the inherent dignity of all people. Lastly, a godly sense of humor allows for a playful and constructive sense of humor regarding our own faith. Yes, a faith tradition you cannot laugh about is not worth having. It is as it says in Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”
May we always engage in the work of evangelization for the sake of the world — a world God so deeply loves that God gave us God’s Eternal Love in human form (Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord) to reveal to us God’s amazing grace and wonderful truth. What amazing and wonderful good news this is!
Together in Christ’s Mission, Pastor Tim