Sermon from Sunday, June 18, 2023
Speaker: Rev. Michael Cloud
Scripture: John 20:21-22
Our scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 21 and 22. Hear these words:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This is the Word of God for the people of God.
So Micaiah and Gabriel have just started doing jujitsu at Triad Martial Arts across the interstate. And something I have noticed about the big kids class is one of the reasons we signed them up in the first place. So the instructor, they show Micaiah what she needs to know to do the exercises when it comes to the shoulder rolls and the drills and all the other fun little jujitsu things that they do. But a larger part of exercise time is watching the other kids and learning to do what they do and just kind of repeating what they are doing.
And see, the interesting thing about jujitsu, even for adults, is that the instructor can demonstrate a move all day long, but it’s a completely different story when you try to do it yourself. It’s not until you’re out there with your partner attempting the move that you realize how much you missed during the lesson. While the instructor gives you space to figure it out with your partner, they are also right there alongside you, ready to help you refine your understanding as you go.
What I love most about Gabriel’s class is that there’s one head instructor, but the other teachers are not adults. They are some of the kids from the big kids’ class. Those who have learned have now been tasked with teaching those who are just starting out. That’s why we’re there. It’s an atmosphere of learning not just for ourselves, but also to be able to teach others. It’s a community that passes down wisdom and instruction from one generation to another.
That’s the same question we should ask ourselves in each generation of the church: Why are you here? What have you learned? And with whom are you sharing that information?
Now, disclaimer number one this morning: we’re about to go all over the place in Scripture. But that’s okay. Stick with me. I want to show you how all the threads are connected. Our passage this morning may be short, but it carries significant implications for who we are and how we’re supposed to live as Christians.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The weight of that statement brings along some of the most humbling realities that Jesus calls us to live into as His followers. And there is absolute joy and strength in the next words of Christ. After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Do you remember the words of our Lord’s teaching in Luke 4, where He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”? As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.
Second Corinthians 5:20 reminds us that Christians are supposed to be ambassadors of the Gospel. As ambassadors, we are official representatives of a given nation. And as Christ has a kingdom that is not of this world, and as we are heirs with Christ, we too belong to the Kingdom of God. Therefore, we can only present the message and the example given by Christ our King.
So what is the message of Christ that we are bound to? John’s gospel makes it clear that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
And so, let us not get confused. Jesus calls people to repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven is here. He teaches that if a person rejects him, it separates them from God (John 14). Jesus also teaches about the eternal separation between the sheep and the goats, the good seeds and the weeds (Matthew 25, Matthew 13). However, Jesus’ ministry was not solely focused on hellfire and damnation. It was about new birth, life-giving spirit, and eternal restoration with God. In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he reminds us that God reconciled Himself to us through Christ so that we might have a ministry of reconciliation. Through the salvation of Jesus, we become the righteousness of God.
Now, I want to unpack a word for you this morning that has become negative in the church and in the ministry of the church. That word is evangelism. Just like Wesley insisted on using the term “Christian perfection” because that’s the word the Bible used, you’re going to hear me use and insist on the term evangelism.
Here’s why. In the Bible, the Ministry of Evangelism is directly tied to the gospel. Let me share a graphic for those who are visual learners. There it is. The gospel, the good news, was originally written in Greek in the New Testament. The Greek word for the gospel, the good news, is “Euangelion,” and the word for proclaiming that gospel is “Euangelizō.” A person who proclaims the gospel is called “Euangelistēs.” So, the Ministry of Evangelism is the act by which the good news, Gospel (Euangelion), is proclaimed by an evangelist (Euangelistēs).
Now, disclaimer number two: I don’t care if you know Greek, and I don’t think God cares if you know Greek. But I’m showing it to you because I believe it can be helpful for your understanding and your growth in the knowledge and love of God.
When we look at our English Bibles, the connection between “good news” and “evangelism” may not seem apparent. But it’s right there in the original language of the Scriptures. So, evangelism (Euangelizō) is the act of proclaiming the good news (Gospel, Euangelion) by an evangelist (Euangelistēs).
To put it another way, to get rid of the Ministry of Evangelism is to get rid of the gospel itself. One compels the other. In Mark 1, Jesus heals several people at Peter’s house, and they want Him to stay there and heal more people. It would seem reasonable to continue the successful healing ministry in that place. But Jesus answered them and said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I have come out to do.”
Now, I understand your hang-up. Evangelism is often associated with proselytizing people using aggressive tactics, such as the street corner approach of “turn or burn” or “get right with God or go to hell.” But these preachers have blatantly ignored the teaching of Matthew 9:13, which says, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
When we narrow our vision of evangelism to coercive conversations, we run the risk of spreading fear and damnation instead of the grace and love of God. The foundation for our proclamation of Jesus Christ is the redemptive, grace-filled love of God. Therefore, inviting people into the redemptive work of God requires us to explicitly proclaim the Gospel. This means verbally and explicitly expressing it.
What sets the church apart from any other humanitarian organization is the life-transformative power of Jesus Christ. It is through acts such as offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name that we make a difference. While Jesus often met people’s physical needs before addressing their spiritual ones, it was the spiritual healing that truly spread the Kingdom of Christ and distinguished it from any other earthly kingdom.
As ambassadors of God’s reconciliation, we are naturally inspired to become agents of change toward the Kingdom of God. In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that we can no longer assume that people know Jesus or the Gospel as they may have in the past. Our nation is becoming more unchurched and biblically illiterate. This is not a condemnation but a reality of the mission field we face.
Many individuals today believe that they have to meet certain criteria before they can come to church or be accepted by God. Our mission is to counter this lie propagated by the adversary. The truth is that you do not have to be a certain way before coming to church. Rather, we come to church to be transformed into a certain way in Christ.
Here’s a key point to remember: The world won’t start coming back to church until the church starts going back out into the world. This highlights the importance of missions and evangelism. One reason churches struggle with these endeavors is because they believe they must be called to a specific mission field before engaging in evangelistic efforts. However, evangelism should be seen as a way of life rather than a specialized calling or program. By virtue of our Christian identity and baptism, we are all called and commissioned by the risen Lord to spread the Gospel. The Ministry of Evangelism and Mission is not limited to those with seminary degrees or a particular department of the church. It is entrusted to the entire priesthood of all believers.
First, Peter 2 and 3 teaches “because when he had said this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” And this gift is not just for professionals or vocational missionaries. The Holy Spirit is a gift for each and every one of you. Our salvation in Christ is not an end, but a beginning. You are a conduit through whom the life-saving power of the Gospel is meant to flow to someone else. We need to understand that evangelism does not stop with an invitation to accept Jesus. That’s only half of it, maybe. Evangelism also invites people into a community of faith.
So, as people begin to respond to the saving invitation of God’s free gift through Jesus Christ, it becomes the church’s responsibility to engage with them in an ongoing relationship of discovering God’s grace together. Wesley and Professor Howell Knight teach that in the Methodist tradition, evangelism means developing relationships with people and bringing them into a different type of community. In the spirit of John Wesley, we might call that relational evangelism. Perhaps it would be better to talk about what we’re after here as relational evangelism. Just as our relationships with Jesus took time, so will our relationships with one another. Yet, even though we grow tired, weary, stumble, and fall in our walk with God, greater grace remains.
As God walks with us through the journey towards Christian perfection, He never gives up on us despite our mistakes. And what that teaches us is that we should express nothing less to our neighbors as we create and form relationships with them by sharing God’s love from one experience to the next. Relational evangelism is a holistic journey of faith whereby we grow in the knowledge and love of God and commit to living out God’s love in the world.
This is probably one of the main reasons why we are so hesitant to engage in our evangelistic calling. We are insecure about telling the story, so we don’t want to do it right. But people ask me, “Why did you go to Cambodia? Weren’t you scared? What kind of training did you have? Weren’t you nervous?” And I have to plead ignorance there. The only training I had was what God had done in my life and my response to what God was calling me to do. The only other reason I went is that I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to.
There’s nobody in this room that needs me to teach you how to talk about your kids or your grandkids. Heck, there’s nobody in this room that needs me to teach you how to talk about your pets. You’re going to tell us about it, whether we ask you or not, right? Why? Well, our stories are how we tell people who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And we must tell the story of God in our lives gently but also boldly. Telling the story of our lives without talking about Jesus is not an option for those who live by His Word and those whose lungs are filled with the breath of His Spirit. We are the living narrative of God’s unfolding love, and the aim of our living narrative is to bring a declaration of the good news in such a way that the world understands the nature and character of God’s transforming work on the human soul to be radically different from anything else claiming to bring fulfillment and meaning to their lives.
As I’ve written in one of my seminary papers, let me give it to you again. The aim of our living narrative is to bring a declaration of the good news in such a way that the world understands the nature of God’s transforming work on our human soul to be radically different from anything else claiming to bring fulfillment and meaning in our lives.
We have not only been saved for eternity, but we have been given new desires, new passions, and a new purpose for this life. We no longer look within ourselves for fulfillment in life; we look outside of ourselves to a well that never runs dry. And what we find is an assurance that we are forgiven and redeemed in order to do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).
And some of you have been hung up on something since I started. And you’re right, it’s not all about talk, right? You might even quote to me James 2:17: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Good. And so this quite naturally brings us to the third anxious question we use to avoid our evangelistic passions that God places on our hearts.
Well, as I walk through all this stuff in my life, are there certain actions, Pastor, that Christ would have me pursue as I grow in love with God and neighbor in this world? That’s not what you all sound like. Just. Just look. And I’m glad you asked. Yes, there are certain actions, certain things we can be doing as we grow in love with God and with neighbor.
That’s why last week, during our Wesleyan lesson, we looked at the works of piety. And that’s one side of the means of grace. Those help grow us in love with God. And this week, Wednesday, 6:00 in the confirmation room, we’re looking at the other side of the means of grace, the works of mercy. These are the ways that we express God’s love to the world. They are the work that we do in the world as a result of the work that God has done in our hearts.
Interestingly enough, Wesley, with all his insistence on the Holy Club meetings and his insistence on the works of piety, would say, “Be zealous for the works of mercy.” That when one would interfere with the other, when it came to your Bible reading or your neighbor, when you choose the neighbor, choose the works of mercy over the works of piety. But Wesley would undoubtedly point you to this one fact, lest you all come to me arguing, “I couldn’t go to church, Pastor. I was at my neighbor’s house.” Sorry. Wesley would remind you that the only reason you can love your neighbor as yourself, the only way you can love them as God has loved you, is precisely as a result of your personal time with God. One compels the other.
Remember, you have been saved here and now expressly so that you might be the hands and the feet of Christ to a hurting and broken world. But it is in Christ where we get our strength for the journey.
And so throughout this disaffiliation process, many of you have asked about the ramifications that our decision would have on the larger institution, the broader institution of the United Methodist Church. And the fact of the matter is that the calling that compels us to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth does not have denominational strings attached to it. And as we remain a church in the Wesleyan tradition, we know that one of the core tenets of Methodism is its connectionalism. It’s our ability to come alongside one another and to do ministry with one another.
And so, Trinity is going to continue to support ministries like the United Methodist Children’s Home or UMCOR. But we are also able to use our remaining resources in new ways, discerning and discovering other organizations that we can partner with to share the love and grace of God to the ends of the earth. We are still working with TMS Global to develop our strategic plan for outreach, identifying ways to strengthen our impact in the local community.
One of those local organizations is The Well, right here in Ruston, which will provide support for foster care families. We have also recently entered into a new partnership through Compassion International. We will be supporting a local church in Rwanda, providing educational opportunities, spiritual growth, and healthcare to the children in the surrounding villages. Today may be the last day to get involved, so if you want to support one of those children, make sure you talk to Marie today and get signed up for everything that’s going on in our new Rwandan venture.
Now, that’s not an exhaustive list. This is only the beginning of what God has planned for the ministry and missions of Trinity Methodist Church of Ruston. The God who saves us is a God of relationship, and we cannot live this life or this life of faith in isolation. Each of us has a unique reflection of the image of God within us, and this is all tied together by the foundational love of our Triune God, who is the author and perfector of our life and faith.
So, part of thinking relationally about evangelism means seeing our everyday interactions as part of the mission field. It means forming relationships with people and allowing God to use us as the guiding light that points people to the way that will bring them from death to life. It means sharing the story of our faith in word and deed, with bold humility, and creating communities of discipleship that transform our lives with God and one another, from one generation to the next.
I pray to God, we love you. We thank you for the work you have already done. Continue to open our hearts and minds to the work you are continuing to do within us. Raise within us a passion and boldness to tell our stories, to spread your Gospel to the ends of the earth, and to do it all in the name of Jesus Christ, who has overcome every obstacle we could think or imagine. Amen.