Just Walk Across The Room: Evangelism 101

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 10: 8b-15

This Sunday Reeves’ begins an evangelism series using Bill Hybels’ text Just Walk Across The Room.  What prompted this study?  Reeves is participating in National Neighborhood Night Out in early August in partnership with the Colonialtown Neighborhood Association, which is right next door to the church.  This gathering promises to be a wonderful opportunity for the Reeves community to take another step forward in our inclusivity and hospitality by welcoming our neighbors and founding or nurturing relationships.

Evangelism – a swear word in some Christian circles.  Evangelism should not be confused with Evangelical.  Evangelism – simply sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.  Evangelical – a broad term to describe a global Protestant faith movement beginning in the 1730s.  In the early 20th Century in North America the word Evangelical was caught up with strict fundamentalist faith understandings.  I think this attachment of understandings is one of the elements that first started to push people away from evangelism; folks didn’t want to be thought of in that way…whatever that way is.  Another element is – to some degree – political correctness.  “My mama raised me with the understanding that I don’t ask a woman her age, that I don’t talk about salaries, that I don’t talk about politics, and I don’t talk about religion” – so the saying goes.  We don’t want to offend anyone, we don’t want to pry, we don’t want to push anything on someone else.

Well folks, we aren’t pushing.  If we are engaging in evangelism, then we’re sharing.  And we’re sharing because there is relationship present.  And the relationship is present because someone (hopefully you!) walked across the room.

Did anyone catch that 1730 date from earlier?  For the people called Methodist, this should grab our attention!  The 1730s are the starting block for the early leaders in the Methodist movement to walk across the streets, the fields, the prisons, the schools, the countrysides, even the oceans to share the gospel message.  This is in our denominational roots!  We need to embrace this.

Beyond denominational roots, walking across the room is our duty, heritage, legacy, and privilege as Christians.  Our text for this week (which happens to be one of the Sara(h)s favorite texts) reads “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  The feet folks!!  Now, those of you who know me well know that I’m not so fond of feet – shoes, yes – feet, no – but these feet!!  The feet that bring good news!!  They only bring good news if they go somewhere!

Hybels speaks of how Jesus walked across the cosmos to become human and then walked all over the Holy Land to teach and heal and love.  Jesus continues walking towards us through the movement of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ steps are persistent and intentional.  If he approaches us once and we are resistant he won’t respond, “Well, I tried…”  Jesus won’t let all the topics of conversation his mama warned him not to discuss hinder him from starting conversation.  We see from Scripture that Jesus was all about stirring the pot, making the comfortable uncomfortable, speaking truth in love, and proclaiming truth to power.

Jesus spoke with boldness.  Jesus walked with boldness.  And our bold Jesus invites us to join his ministry.

We can make evangelism as easy or as complicated as we want.  I don’t know about you, but my life is complicated enough as it is.  So I’m going with easy…and easy is walking across the room.  Founding a relationship.  Nurturing that relationship.  And being patient for the Spirit to lead me in what to say and when to say it.

I truly believe that every conversation I share with a person is a spiritual conversation, regardless of the subject matter.  It’s a spiritual conversation because I am a child of God and I am sharing with another child of God.  The exchange that occurs is the beauty of God’s intent for our relationships.  I desperately want to do everything in my being to create more of this beauty in God’s world.

So I’m going to walk across the room.

Prayer: Almighty God, we are “called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord, in freedom, may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

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Heritage: The Work of Living Stones

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10

This week Reeves’ concludes our Heritage series somewhat at the beginning.  In previous weeks we have been looking back to the foremothers and forefathers of our faith in Scripture, in both Old and New Testament times, to get our spiritual footing.  This week we turn to take the first spiritual steps as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

In order to go out as a person called by God I think it is first important to consider how you have experienced your call by God.  All people are called not just those persons who are set apart to be the clergy leadership in congregations.  I love the language contained in this Scripture passage because it supports that all people have been given access to God – to know, to seek, to understand, to question, to confirm.  Before the Protestant Reformation it was thought that only the priests had this kind of access to God when in fact we are a priesthood of all believers – meaning anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord has this access and is welcomed to engage.

I believe that people who call upon the name of the Lord have experienced God’s call on their life – whether or not they can easily articulate it.  It does not have to be some intense, dramatic scene.  Scripture attests that God can show up in a myriad of ways – full of pomp and circumstance or in a quiet voice.  But this call – this exchange with God – is the pivotal point that prompts a person to take that spiritual step.

In Methodist history, some scholars suggest that John Wesley’s on Aldersgate Day, the 24th of May 1738, while hearing someone reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, that he felt that his heart was “strangely warmed” and said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”*  Some scholars have understood this to be the pivotal moment of Wesley’s call.  Aldersgate led Wesley in his next years to begin an movement in the Church of England that led him out of the church to preach where anyone would listen – to preach in the world his parish.  His movement continues as The United Methodist Church.

I experienced my call at United Methodist summer camp the summer before 6th grade.  The last night in chapel I was up at the altar praying and I heard God calling me into a life of ministry in The United Methodist Church.  I had no idea at age 11 how that would look, but with trembling confidence I responded, “whatever your will Lord, send me.”  I continue to realize and live into that calling each day as I serve in the local church and grow in my relationship with God.

Maybe you are in a vocation outside the ecclesial or church circle?  What then?  How do you live into your call?  Well, don’t fear that you had the wrong call or no call because you aren’t living into your call in the church.  As I said before, God calls all people and God is calling you right where you are right now.  So what do you do about it?  Explore it.  See what it means.  Ask yourself questions.  Ask God questions.  Dialogue with someone you trust.  Do you know your call in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards?  Are you living into everything that God wants you to do?  Is there more God desires?  How can you start addressing that?  This self-reflection and call-exploration is crucial work needed to take further spiritual steps.

I resonate so much with a story Barbara Brown Taylor tells from her own experience about exploring and living into her call.  During her final semester of seminary she recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?!”  One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”**

Maybe your question is “what do I do with my call?!”  I think the same answer applies.  Do anything that pleases you and belong to God.  Doing so will help all of us take steps in knowing ourselves more as God desires us to be and positions us to take spiritual steps as God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.  I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.  Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?  Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.”***

http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=2465

** Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 110.

*** “Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hmynal, 593. 

Heritage: Birth of the Church

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 2:1-12

This Sunday the Christian Church celebrates Pentecost!  The great fifty days of Easter are complete – meaning the Season of Easter is complete – yes, Easter is a season as well as a day!  And now we cross the threshold into the season of Pentecost…which is many many many more days than the season of Easter.  In fact, in the liturgical year, the season of Pentecost is the longest season…lasting 27 weeks this year!  Woah!  That’s 189 days of Pentecost!  Good thing I like the color green.

(Extra points to the friends that catch that reference!)

Pentecost is the birth of the church.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is given to humanity, Peter preaches one intense sermon, and then Acts 2:41-42 tells us “So those who welcomed his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They devoted themselves to what we now know as the pattern of worship in the church – teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers.

Thomas Troeger – one of my all-time favorite authors, poets, and hymnwriters – likens Pentecost to a homecoming.  Folks are gathering from the corners of the earth in one central location to remember, to celebrate, and to reconnect.

When I think about my high school homecomings…I am overwhelmed with memories of friends running around in garnet and gold war paint, waving our arms as tomahawks to the driving and deafening beats coming from our marching band, and cheering our football team to victory.  “Garnet!  Gold! We Are!  Lake Gibson!”

We had one goal – one mission – win the game!  The players, coaches, cheerleaders, dancers, color guard, band, and crowd – one goal, one mission – win the game!  In certain moments it was like we moved as one, breathed as one, tackled as one, scored as one.  And when the game was over, winners or losers, we would sing our school song and go home.

The homecoming game wasn’t the only football game we played each year; the season was 12 games in duration.  But the other games didn’t seem to have the same spirit as the homecoming game.  They just were…when the homecoming game was.

So I think about this likening to Pentecost – as a homecoming for the church.  This one day we celebrate as one, sing as one, for some churches wear red as one, and for other churches (I hope Reeves does this!) eat cake as one!

Let’s face it…we all need to walk around with red-dyed mouths.  It will be awesome!

There’s so much spirit on Pentecost.  The church is overwhelming with energy. It’s a mountain top experience…and then (as it’s been my experience) the church falls hard back into the valley.  The spirit dissipates and it’s back to church as usual.  And I don’t know about you, but I’m over church as usual.

I want that spirit and energy of Pentecost every week!  Every Sunday is a little Easter – our remembrance of the resurrection – of Jesus defeating sin and death.  Every Sunday is also a little Pentecost – an opportunity for the church to come home, to remember, to celebrate, to collaborate, and to return to service in the world.  I’m not saying every week in worship needs to be a high-energy hoopla of a service.  God’s presence can be known in the mighty earthquake and a thunderstorm as well as a still small voice.  There is presence – mighty presence – in stillness as there is in loud exaltation.  What I am saying is that every week in worship needs to be an authentic reflection and response to the moving of the Spirit in our midst.

God is faithful in giving the Spirit.  May we be faithful as we are enlivened by it.  May our worship reflect our reception of it.  May our worship be a pleasing fragrance, a holy and living sacrifice to our God.

Reflection: How will we allow the Spirit to lead us?  How will our worship reflect the in-breaking and presence of God’s Spirit?  How will we be a Pentecost people every Sunday of the year?

Prayer: “Holy Spirit, wind and flame, move within our mortal frame; make our hearts an altar pyre; kindle them with your own fire.  Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways speak the tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.”* Amen.

* from “Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 538.

Heritage: Builders of Our Tradition

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 16:13-20

One of the first major milestones in any teenager’s life is driving.  I couldn’t wait to drive.  I remember my parents ordering the driver’s ed manual for me to study for my learner’s permit.  I remember my dad driving me to the bustling metropolis of Dade City to get my learner’s permit.  The DMV was on a hill way above the road and all I could think was…if I get my license, please don’t make me back down this crazy driveway!  I remember my parents insisting, impressing, requiring that my brother and I take driver’s ed in summer school or we would not step within 100 feet of the driver’s seat in the family vehicles.  But my most vivid memory was “the talk” my folks had with my brother and I after we turned in our learner’s permits and received our full licenses.

You know…”the talk”…

Keys in hand they said,

“You do not have to drive.  Driving is a privilege.  It requires responsibility and discipline and maturity.  And if you abuse this privilege, you will lose it.”

Then the keys were passed.

I think this is a pretty standard talk…wonder if you receive it in a script on a page of that elusive parenting handbook I keep hearing about…

In our Scripture lesson this week Peter receives keys from Jesus – keys to the Kingdom of heaven.  And much like receiving car keys, responsibility and discipline and maturity were required to receive these keys.  But in a little different twist, if the followers of Christ abused what they had been given, they wouldn’t lose the keys.  No.  How they treated what they received on earth would be reflected in heaven.

Jesus said, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  We have been entrusted with these keys to open up God’s word and God’s forgiveness to all people.  What we do matters.  What we say matters.  How we say it matters.  And what we don’t say matters.

How we respond to this great responsibility matters.

It has eternal effects.

I am continually amazed as I serve among the Reeves’ community that truly all means all.  I am amazed that Reeves is a community where we have agreed to live into the United Methodist motto of open minds, open hearts, and open doors.  We do not serve free of scrutiny.  We do not serve free of judgment or trial.  But in our service we acknowledge that we have received the keys from Christ.  We acknowledge that abuse has been done with them and by them before.  And we acknowledge our responsibility to stand in the gaps, returning to God’s word and God’s forgiveness for ourselves that we may seek the forgiveness of others.

It is a powerful place to be.  It is a place where I truly believe I am engaging Kingdom work daily.

The keys we hold are a privilege.  A privilege received from Christ’s own hand.  With them we are binding great things for God’s present and coming Kingdom.  And Lord, if in some folly we bind things unfit for the Kingdom, in your grace and in your wisdom, release them.

Prayer: “Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease, and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace.  For not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”  Amen.*

*from “Lead On, O King Eternal” from The United Methodist Hymnal, 580.