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Luke 4: 14-21
January 23, 2022
What do we do when we have good news? Expectant couples have a gender reveal party. People planning a wedding send out “save the date” cards. Someone with a new job or a new grandchild or a new puppy posts about it on Facebook! When we have good news, we want to share it!
What about the good news we have in Jesus Christ? We who are Christians have the best news in the world: the good news that God loves us, that God so loves the world that God put on flesh and came to live among us in Jesus Christ, to show us what love looks like, and in his life, death and resurrection, Jesus provides the path for our salvation.
Scripture tells us that central to Jesus’ ministry is the proclamation of good news, and as Jesus’ followers, we should proclaim the good news, also.
We see that in our lectionary passage this morning from the gospel of Luke. This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the event sets the context for Jesus’ work. In his hometown synagogue, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah, and then rolled up the scroll and said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
As Isaiah promised, Jesus was sent by God! The Spirit of the Lord was upon him. He would do what Isaiah proclaimed the Messiah would do: Bring good news.
We, too, are sent. Christians are people sent by Christ to carry on his work. Our identity as disciples, as followers of Christ, means that we have the same mandate: to proclaim the good news!
The early Christians did this. From small house churches in Israel, they began sharing the good news, with their family, their friends, their neighbors. From person to person, it passed, throughout the land, across Asia Minor, into Europe, and by 313 AD, more than 50% of the Roman Empire was Christian.1
Today, for the first time in history, Christianity is shrinking, instead of growing, and last year, church membership in this country dropped below 50% for the first time.2
We must reclaim our call, and that means we must learn to share the good news! At the beginning of this new year, we are looking at the seven marks of vital congregations as identified by our denomination. The PCUSA Department of Theology, Formation and Evangelism discovered seven characteristics that consistently are found in churches that are vital:
Today, we are going to focus on point number four: Intentional Authentic Evangelism.
When you hear the word evangelism, what comes to mind? Sometimes we Presbyterian are uncomfortable with the idea of evangelism. The term “evangelism” may bring to mind someone standing on a street corner waiving a sign that says, “Repent!” Or people knocking at your door at dinner time asking personal questions about your beliefs. I remember as a pre-teenager, being frightened one evening when I answered the door to a stranger who asked me, with a grim scowl, if I knew whether I was going to heaven or hell!
Those kinds of negative encounters can turn us off of the idea of evangelism, but that is not what we should think of when we think of sharing our faith.
The PCUSA Office of Vital Congregations stresses that Intentional Authentic Evangelism is very different than a pushy stranger at your door. It is authentic, not hypocritical, and it is not the job of just a church evangelism committee or the pastor---a small group of select people.3
No, Intentional Authentic Evangelism is the work of all of us who are Christians. The positive definition the PCUSA provides is “Intentionally sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, not just acts of kindness; Authentically sharing Christ because it is intrinsic to self-identity; overflow of Christ in our life; Relational, not programmatic or systematic.”4
The first thing to know about this characteristic is the meaning of the word, “evangelism.” Our English word “evangelism” derives from the Greek word “euangelion,” which is found in v. 18 of this passage, translated “good news!” Evangelism literally means, “good news!” When we have good news, we want to share it! In Luke chapter 4, we see that Jesus began among people with whom he had a relationship. He was in his hometown, and as was his custom, verse 16 says, he went to the synagogue. He began proclaiming the good news to people he knew, his family and friends. But the good news did not stay there. In his opening of Isaiah, Jesus made clear that the good news is for all people. He was sent to all of them, and so are we. We are called to practice Intentional Authentic Evangelism.
The second key is that our evangelism must be authentic, which means we need to look at our motivation. Why is it important for us to share the good news? If we think that evangelism is about us, we are missing the boat. Sometimes churches get caught up in wanting to recreate an image of the past. Church members think of the glory days when everyone was in church every Sunday, and the culture itself was Christian. As Tod Bolsinger said in Canoeing the Mountains, there was time when, if a person was not in worship on Sunday morning, on Monday, his boss was going to ask why.5
My friends, we no longer live in that world. And the truth is, we have not lived in that world for a long, long time. In fact, when we look back, we may be looking through rose-colored glasses, imagining those days as better than they really were. If our goal in evangelism is to try to recreate an imagined golden time, we will fail. Evangelism is not about us. It is not about making us feel good, by seeing more people in the pews, or by thinking that everyone on our block shares our worldview. Evangelism is not about numbers; it is not about satisfying our egos by having a certain number of members or a certain number of people in the sanctuary.
Evangelism is always about the other. It is about seeing the need of the people around us to know who God is and to have a relationship with God. It is about recognizing what God has done for us, and wanting other people to have the same kind of experience of love and grace. It is about giving thanks for the incredible, abundant, life-giving love of God in Jesus Christ and wanting to share that with the world.
That is what makes evangelism authentic: it is the love of God born in our hearts that grows to the point that we cannot contain it! We must share the love that we have experienced with others.
Finally, our evangelism must be intentional. It must be intentional. That means it’s not going to happen simply by accident! We have to think about how to tell the good news, to look for opportunities to share our faith. We know that as Christians, we are supposed to share God’s love in words and deeds. Like many other mainline denominations, we Presbyterians excel at the “good deeds” part. Presbyterians have created incredible and transformational social ministries: feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, housing the homeless. But we are not always as adept at the “words” part. Give us a hammer or a soup kettle, and we’re good, right? But we do not always explain why we do these things, telling someone that the food or clothing means that God loves them.
Here is the important thing to remember: it is not “either/or.” It is “both/and.” Vital congregations meet peoples’ physical needs, AND they are clear that those ministries are expressions of the love of God.
Vital churches share the good news in word as well as deed.
I know that many of you are familiar with Dr. Diana Butler Bass, because she came and spoke at this church a few years ago. Bass blazed the path of looking at vital churches to find out what characteristics those churches share, and one of those characteristics was testimony. Testimony is intentionally sharing the good news.
In her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us. Bass gave examples of churches that were transformed when members began sharing their faith stories. One pastor she interviewed said, “Words are an earthquake.” That pastor, Lillian Daniel, said, “People are changed by giving their testimonies, and we can see the Holy Spirit moving them along.” Bass related, “Daniel’s comments were like many I heard from mainline Protestants who could not stop speaking about faith, ‘testifying’ to God’s work.”6
We all need to speak our truth, to tell the story of how our lives connect with the old, old story of God’s love for the world.
When was the last time you told someone about Jesus? How can you share your faith story with others?
Do your children or grandchildren have any idea how you came to know Jesus? Tell them your story!
If you have a friend facing a difficult time, share about how God helped you through something similar.
If a co-worker asks why you made a hard decision at work, share how your faith guides your actions, to do what is right and just.
If you point out to a grocery cashier that she failed to ring up your steak, and she says, “Wow, most people would not have told me I missed it,” you can say, “That’s what I do as a Christian, because Christians practice honesty.”
If someone thanks you for your kindness, say, “God has been so good to me, and I want to share that love with others.”
We need to be intentional about evangelism so that we will be ready, when a moment occurs spontaneously like in a grocery store or at work. And we need to be intentional about thinking and praying about how to authentically share our faith stories with friends or family members who need to know the love of God.
Intentional Authentic Evangelism is transformational.
Alexander Maclaren was a prominent British preacher. He was delighted when a local professor who was a well-known agnostic began attending his church. Maclaren was determined to convince the man of the truth of the gospel through his brilliant sermons. He began devising a series of sermons that were so eloquent and philosophical and well-argued that he was certain he would be successful. One day the professor came into Maclaren’s office and told him that he had given his life to Christ and wanted to join the church! Maclaren was thrilled and asked the man which of his sermons had finally done the job.
The man said, “Oh, it wasn’t one of your sermons. One day I was leaving the church and this older lady who I see every Sunday was walking down the steps in front of me. She stumbled a bit on the steps and when I reached out to steady her, she turned to me and said, “Thank you. Do you know Jesus? He means everything to me.”7
We are sent to share good news. May the love of God that we have received so fill us that it overflows from our hearts into the hearts of others, as we tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Amen.
1.Mike Breen, Plenary Speaker, PCUSA Discipleship Conference, St. Petersburg, Florida. August 16, 2016.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church