Sunday, September 30, 2012

Evangelism Is

Ephes. 4:1-6 (ESV)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [4] There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— [5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

I therefore, a prisoner for the lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
“Have been called” this short 6 verse passage of scripture is so filled with theological insight for the life of the church and evangelism that it is no wonder it has been turned into one of the most beloved hymns of recent history in “The Church’s One Foundation.” Yet the full import of this passage is hardly realized in Christianity today. It is probably best realized in the pen of Martin Luther when he writes his explanation to the third article of the Apostles Creed. “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith….” I tell you, I read theology, I’m a glutton for it, I’ve learned several different languages in my pursuit of great theology, and yet I never tire of Luther’s Small Catechism. You don’t get better theology than what is presented in that little gem, and when you know your scriptures, it doesn’t take much to realize that Luther is all but just quoting it, as he uses the tenants of Ephesians 4:1-6 to explicate the third article of the creed.
The calling to which you have been called, the life of grace, life in the church, the sanctified life you have been given when the gospel, the forgiveness of sins Jesus Christ won for you on the cross was applied to you in the one holy baptism our Lord Jesus Christ instituted for this purpose, that having been baptized you would know you have been sanctified, you have been forgiven, made holy , justified, born again, renewed, regenerated, and a bunch of other words all which mean you have been called, you have been saved.
Paul starts there. This is to what you have been called. It is yours. And from there he urges the church to maintain the unity of the Spirit the bond of peace. This because the gospel calls us to a life together, as Pres. Harrison would say. A life together in the church, where the Holy Spirit carries out his work of calling by the gospel, baptizing, and feeding the baptized, nourishing us. Our life together is based on the gospel, based on a baptism into the name of one Lord into a single shared faith in one God who is over all and in all. It is the life of the church.
The church, today it is maligned, this beautiful bride of Christ, washed and made pure, sanctified in the washing of the water with the word, that is baptism, the love of our Lord, she is maligned. I often don’t understand it. I understand it when it is non Christian who hate the church and back bite and gossip like cheerleaders who made runner up do about the home coming queen. That I understand. I don’t understand when Christians do it. And Christians do today. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. You know where I see it most? I see it in that realm of theology we call “Evangelism.” Oh I see it in people who say, I don’t need to go to church, I can just stay home and read the Bible. How is that for maintaining the unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace? But I see it most often in the realm of Evangelism, where rather than inviting friends to church, and to be baptized, we give them a tract and send them off to say some prayer by themselves after we guilt trip them for going to a restaurant on Sunday, or drinking a beer before they are 21, or having the audacity to ring your door bell and yell with a cheer face of joyful expectation “Trick or Treat!” Today we think it is evangelism when we pass a billboard sign that says “What part of thou shalt not, don’t you understand?” Those billboards frustrate me. The frustrate me beyond measure. I know how much one of those things cost. I would love to advertize first Lutheran on one. And here is some jerk guilt tripping the nation with a billboard in the name of Christ, who thinks he is doing “evangelism.” No name of a congregation, no address, no indication of where the person might go to be welcomed into the family of Christ, made a member of the bride of Christ, no mention of the forgiveness of sins, or where one might find it.
Then I read these articles about the lack of evangelism in the church, that the church is dying, fewer people go. Is it any wonder? Not to me. Not when we make evangelism about sending some ten year old off in a corner with a tract to say a silly prayer by himself, mind you a prayer that one can’t rightly say unless they already believe. When we say that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, we mean it is not up to us and a silly prayer. This is actually counter to the gospel itself. This does not help the Holy Spirit, this frustrates his work. It gives the impression that salvation is dependent on something we do, and not on something Christ has done for us, and does for us in baptism, and it completely separates the work of the Holy Spirit from the church where any faith that might be kindled by a tract is fed and nourished by the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the word and sacraments.
Actually I find it disturbing. I actually read articles on evangelism which fail to mention the evangel, the gospel. The words are synonyms, they mean the exact same thing, good news. And the good news is that Jesus Christ died for your sins. The good news is Jesus died for sins and you qualify. I get whole articles telling me that the church isn’t evangelizing enough, that we need to be more proactive. Infact what I get are articles supposedly about the gospel that are full of nothing but law. And why? Because for the most part, Christians have forgotten that church is about the gospel. This is the problem with evangelism today. It is divorced from the life of the church to which the Holy Spirit calls us, a life of grace, forgiveness, peace and love. We think evangelization is for the “unchurched”, but people come to church Sunday in and Sunday out only to hear how they should improve their lives, and hardly ever hear the gospel themselves. We denigrate the gospel. We take it for granted. We think people have heard it. We become bored with it. This is most true where the sacraments are concerned. The sacraments are part and parcel of the gospel. The word and the sacraments cannot be separated. Drives me nuts when I go on vacation, show up to church, and the Lord’s Supper isn’t offered.
See the thing is the gospel is for believers, it is for Christ’s Sheep, it is for his bride the church of Christ. You want to know what evangelism is? It is getting your lazy behind out of bed and coming to church. Evangelization is taking your kids to church. Evangelism is having your children baptized. Evangelism is coming up to the altar and partaking in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, communing in the forgiveness of sins. Evangelism is playing the organ on Sunday morning. Evangelism is teaching Sunday School. Evangelism is putting money in the offering plate. Evangelism is coming to a work party. Evangelism is merely sitting in the pew. Evangelism is attending Bible study. Evangelism is the life of the church! That is evangelism. Evangelism is hearing that your sins are forgiven. Evangelism is living the life together, walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called, in humility, and gentleness, bearing with one another in love, being eager to maintain the unity and sharing the bond of peace, the bond of peace established between us, when it was established between you and God in the waters of baptism where the forgiveness of sins Christ won for the world was applied to you, the forgiveness of sins given for you in the body and blood he shed for you on the cross. That is evangelism. Evangelism starts when you yourself have been evangelized, when you yourself are evangelized, called, to the forgiveness of sins the Holy Spirit still calls you to, over and over again in the church where the gospel is preached and the sacraments administered according to our One Lord’s institution. Evangelism is the work of the Holy Spirit who calls by the gospel, enlightens with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith, and this happens in through the church, the bride of Christ sanctified in the waters of holy baptism. This happens for you who are that bride of Christ, pure and holy. Reality, it isn’t a personal relationship with Christ alone, but a personal relationship lived in a life together, in peace and unity, a familial relationship with God our Father in Jesus Christ who establishes peace for all of us.
This is the life, this is the gospel, this is you, this is us! The bride of Christ, one body, one head, living together, this is church. And this is why I love church. This is not something to be maligned but celebrated. Because the church is you, and you are the church, forgiven sinners in Christ, the love of Christ.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 comment:

compendum said...

Wonderful sermon, heartfelt, and heart-warming to me. Thanks!
Sue J
(Reblogged to Compendium of Christian Blogs)