We finish our sermon series on evangelism this week by asking if this stuff really matters. In the big picture, is evangelism more important than other ways of serving?
SCRIPTURES – Matthew 28:16-10
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Me, An Evangelist?!? sermon series
#4 – Does Evangelism Really Matter?
August 29, 2010
I used to have a pretty standard nightly routine before bed, which included putting my keys, wallet, cell phone and wedding ring on the hall table, ready to be retrieved the next morning. One morning, however, I noticed that my keys were there, my wallet was there, my cell phone was there, but my wedding ring was gone…and had been replaced by a couple Barbies, that our daughter Sydney, who was four at the time, had named Kackey and Yay-yay. Kackey and Yay-Yay were very important to her, so she probably thought this was a fair trade. As calmly as I could, I ask her if she’d been playing with Daddy’s ring, which she knew not to do. She said she had, and she couldn’t remember where she left it. So I started off on a mad search around our house to find it. I looked in all the usual places – in between couch cushions, under furniture, in pants pockets – but when I didn’t find it, I realized I had to start thinking like a four-year-old. So I looked in the heating vents, in the toilets, in the garbage cans, in the VCR, in the “Pretty Pretty Princess” game. I finally found it one day in the potpourri bowl, because, as all four-year-olds know, that’s where you are supposed to keep your dad’s wedding ring. I still remember both the feeling of panic while it was lost and the feeling of joy after it was found.
Today we conclude our sermon series on evangelism by asking why this stuff matters in the first place. If you remember, the first week we came to the conclusion that all we have to do to be evangelists is be ourselves, because we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In our second sermon, we made our impact lists with the names of some people with whom we could share the good news. Last week, we talked about what we would talk about with them, and determined that all we really need to do is to tell our story and offer the simple invitation to “Come and see.”
So we know who we are, we know who they are, and we know what we say, which brings us to today’s question: So what? Why is this important? We know that inviting people to church should be something we do, but why is it any more important than, say, providing snacks at Coffee Fellowship or attending worship or helping with Sunday School? I’m not spending four weeks preaching about doing those things. So why is evangelism more important than those things or anything else we do in church?
It’s especially ironic to spend so much time talking about the importance of evangelism because there are also a lot of costs involved. Evangelism takes time and energy, as you build relationships with people and walk beside them as they begin to explore their own faith. It requires time for prayer as you prepare yourself to help them. It can cost money – lunches, long-distance calls if the person lives far away, maybe even monetary assistance to help meet their needs.
Evangelism is also costly in the sense that you make yourself vulnerable to the other person as you tell your story. And it can be complicated, as your life and faith gets entangled with someone else’s, as you trade your independence for the interdependence of a growing relationship with another person.
Evangelism is not a cost-free, risk-free venture. But our scriptures today give us a glimpse of the rewards. Our first reading is the Great Commission, where Jesus tells his followers to make disciples of all nations. A more literal translation turns this into a verb; the passage literally says to go and “disciplize.” Evangelizing is an active verb, sharing your story requires intentional action on the part of the disciplizer. Sharing the good news with others is so important that Jesus uses his last teaching moment on earth to instruct his disciples to go, be themselves, and tell their story of their time with him.
Our second scripture has Jesus telling two parables about lost things being found. He actually follows these up with a more famous third parable which we didn’t read, the parable of the prodigal son, which is also a parable about something lost being found. A shepherd leaves behind 99 sheep in search of the one that is lost. Hebrew women were given 10 silver coins as wedding presents, coins that were both monetary and sentimental value, like a wedding ring. And when the woman loses one of these coins, she searches every nook and cranny until it is found. A father’s son takes his inheritance and leaves, only to return penniless and penitent, and is welcomed with open arms. The lost son is found.
What these stories tell us is that until we are in God’s arms, until we are resting in the comfort of God’s presence, God is looking for us. Until we are found by God, we are lost. And like the shepherd and the woman and the father, God will not stop searching for us until we are found. Now most of us here today, we’re the 99 sheep, we’re the nine coins. Praise God for that, right? But there are still a lot of people out there who haven’t been found. And God is looking for them.
Why would the God of the universe, the Creator of the Milky Way and the hummingbird and Mt. Everest, care about one little lost person? Wouldn’t the more prudent choice be to cut your losses and tend to the 99 sheep? That just makes more sense. Because surely not everyone matters the same, do they? Does everyone matter? The gas station attendant, the waitress, the guy driving the slow-moving car in front of me, the neighbor with the dog that won’t stop barking, the relative who lied to me or hurt me deeply, the pedophile, the prisoner on death row. They don’t matter that much, do they?
The fact is: they do matter, whether we think they should or not. We all matter to God, every one of us. If our value in God’s eyes was determined by how deserving we are or what others think of us, we would all be lost. But our value is not determined by our worthiness; it’s determined by the expansiveness of God’s grace. God’s grade and mercy are so wide that every single person can fit. We are as valuable to God as the sheep was to the shepherd, as the coin was to the woman, as a child is to a parent. You have never looked at another human being who isn’t valuable to God. That’s why we can’t let evangelism slip, why fulfilling the Great Commission should be our top priority; people matter to God, so they should matter to us, too.
In “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” Bill Hybels lists a number of benefits for sharing the Good News with others: the sense of adventure and purpose, the feeling of fulfillment and your own spiritual growth, the honor of serving as God’s agent in the world. But there was one benefit of evangelism that spoke the most to me. Hybels tells about a survey that asked people who were 95 years old or older what they’d do differently if they could live their lives over again. If they could do it all again, knowing what they know after 95 years, what would they change? Three things stood out.
First, they said they would reflect more. They’d spend less time in the daily grind and more time looking at the direction and meaning of their lives. And in doing so, they said they would make sure the majority of their time and energy was spent on things that truly matter. Second, they said they’d risk more. Given another chance, they said they’d be more courageous about stepping outside their comfort zones, in order to raise their accomplishment levels and make life more interesting and fulfilling.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the elderly people said they would do more things that will outlive them. They would leave a legacy, not of possessions and wealth, but a legacy of changed lives. Helping to change someone’s life by bringing them into a relationship with God – by helping God find them – has eternal significance.
Share our faith, telling our story and investing in relationships can be costly. It can cost time and energy and money, it may make you vulnerable; it can complicate your life. But so does being born. And growing up. And getting married. And having children. And buying a house. And, for that matter, becoming a Christian. And yet, knowing the costs of those things, would you choose not to do them? Of course not! Why? Because the rewards are so great. Same with evangelism. Whatever costs you incur are minimal compared to the overwhelming reward of knowing you helped change someone’s life by opening the door to a relationship with God. There’s no greater legacy than that.
I love how the parables in Luke 15 end. In each case, the finder calls their friends together and says, “Rejoice with me!” Instead of punishing his wayward son, the father throws a big party when the prodigal returns. Hybels says, “Retrieval results in rejoicing.” Jesus says there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God when even one person is found.
You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You have people in your lives who don’t know that God is looking for them. You have a story to tell them. Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, to help find the lost, just as we have been found. Making disciples doesn’t mean converting people to a philosophy or a belief system. In fact, it doesn’t mean converting people at all. That’s not in our power. Only Christ can do the big things, like conversion, repentance, or moving a person to a decision of faith – all authority and power is his, not ours. But in order for Christ to do his thing, we have to do ours. We can and must do the little thing of “disciplizing” others – listening to them, spending time with them, serving them, loving them. Our task is not to change their lives; that’s up to God. Our task is to show them that their lives can be changed, just as ours were, and to invite them into that new way of living. That’s why evangelism should be at the top of our priorities as Christians.
We have this amazing opportunity to participate in God’s saving work. We don’t have to help find all the lost sheep, only one. You never know when the simple invitation you are offering will make a difference in someone’s life that will have eternal significance. And then we can join God in rejoicing because one more sheep that was lost has been found.