This Opening Presentation on evangelism was given by Canon Frank Logue
to the 194th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia
In the brief time I have this morning to open up how we might spread the Good News of Jesus in a way that fits our Episcopal way of being, I must begin by acknowledging that as your Canon to the Ordinary, or assistant to the Bishop, my life might be atypical. After all, I work in an office where everyone on the staff is an evangelist. Let me show you what I mean:
Wait! That is not what I mean. Ignore that mean man. Strike that video from the record! No, here are the evangelists I mean:
Every one on your diocesan staff has good news to share about food, a music festival, a smart phone, a book, and even a pet. Maybe you have friends and co-workers like this too—people who recommend a new restaurant, book, movie, a type of wine, diet, social cause, presidential candidate, song, coffee shop, recipe, yoga studio, art class, form of exercise, and the list goes on. These folks share their discoveries all the time. Evangelism is all around us as we share all the many experiences we enjoy.
But when we go from sharing the joy of life to sharing the joy of Jesus, it can seem like we have gone from just talking, to preaching, or worse. This is because not all of our associations with evangelism are positive. In fact, Evangelism just doesn’t seem, very, well Episcopal:
Yet, there is a way to get evangelism right. We can talk about Jesus without sounding like a televangelist. What I am advocating is a way of talking about your faith that is just as natural and no more burdensome than sharing a new favorite book or restaurant. Speaking of your faith is not something you have to get perfect. You only need be yourself. Listen as a few Episcopalians from around the Diocese of Georgia talk about evangelism. What I notice most as how each person sounds uniquely like themselves:
We can frame this lots of ways, but the end goal is the same—that you feel comfortable talking about how your faith has made a difference in your life. And for this to work, the first person to evangelize is yourself. Begin by considering, “How has my faith in Jesus made a difference in my life?”
Notice I am not talking about church. Please know that none of this convention’s emphasis on Spreading the Good News of Jesus has anything to do with church growth. We can just set that aside. Because if you share your faith with grandkids in another state or a co-worker who gets inspired to go back to their Baptist church, that is fine and Jim Dandy. We are not talking about the church, is wonderful as church can be. We are talking about Jesus, and no matter how good church is, Jesus is better.
So the first step is considering how faith in Jesus has made a difference in your life. The second step is to see the need for sharing faith.
Everywhere you go, everyone you see is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Whenever someone else falls, remember that you don’t know what they were facing, how hard they fought it, or what you would have done under the same circumstances. Each of us is surrounded every day by people anesthetizing themselves. The anesthetic has many names—binge drinking, overeating, excessive exercise, illegal drug use, prescription drug abuse, hoarding, unhealthy relationships, workaholism, compulsive spending, gambling, the list goes on, but the dynamic is the same. It doesn’t matter if the crutch is good scotch or bad coffee, self medication can only mask the pain. Behind the façade, the deep hurt remains.
Perhaps the greatest human fear is that we will get what we deserve. Everyone else is okay, but I know that I do the right things for the wrong reasons. I know the secret sins, the hidden shame, the parts no one can ever see, the reason for the false front that masks the need for self medication.
Most people sometime between the age of 5 and 25 pick up emotional wounds that will remain festering and seeping poison into their psyches unless they can find healing. Whether the source was absent parents, physical abuse, rape, bullying, or just never matching the image in the magazines, never earning the favor of those who mattered most to you, betrayal by friends, a learning disability that caused you to always fear you couldn’t measure up. The sources are legion and layered. Without bringing true healing to the deep hurts, much pain will follow and will spread out to those we love.
True healing takes forgiveness and when possible reconciliation and my friends, while there are many sources of the shame and emotional pain that plague us, there is only one Balm in Gilead, one source of healing. We have all manner of ways of being destructive, but peace, health, wholeness, the abiding Shalom of God, only comes from Jesus.
For when our rebellion took us far from the God who made us and loves us, God did not stand back as a righteous judge, a big meanie hell bent on our destruction. God entered creation. In Jesus of Nazareth, the second person of the Holy Trinity came and dwelt among us. The Incarnation means that God knows, truly knows, and understands being human. Jesus came into this world with all of our mess, all of our pain, all the ways we let one another down, hurt each other and disappoint ourselves.
God entered into that complicated and conflicted creation to bring Agape love, love more concerned about the other person than oneself. We see that love God has for us no where more clearly than when Jesus spread out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, took in those who were killing him and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But sin is every present and so is redemption.
Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans what we know instinctively, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But falling short is not the Gospel. The Good News of Jesus is that we can find forgiveness. Paul also writes that “since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1-2).
Or as Jesus put it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
We know Jesus and so we know the source of healing, the means of forgiveness, the possibility of being truly known and truly loved. We know how to repent and turn to the Lord. We know not just the distant hope of a better life after this one, but the way to find true redemption now, wholeness now, love now. And when we understand how people we work with, know, love, might be hiding their shame behind a mask and seeking healing for their hurts in self medication that can never be the cure, we can find the courage to share our faith.
The first step is considering how faith in Jesus has made a difference in your life. The second step is to see the need for sharing faith. The third step is to be prayerful about sharing your faith and, when you feel a nudge from the Holy Spirit, don’t hold back. That’s it. Consider how faith in Jesus has made a difference in your life; see the need for sharing your faith; and don’t hold back when the opportunity arises.
And the beauty of this is that mostly you won’t even need to speak. Evangelism is far more about caring and listening than about speaking. Spreading the Good News of Jesus does not mean street corner preaching or handing out religious tracts or go up to strangers and telling them about Jesus. The best way to share the Good News of Jesus is to just realize what God has done for you and to see how others you care about might never have found that same love and healing. Then when the Holy Spirit nudges you, listen differently, speak gently.
Consider how faith in Jesus has made a difference in your life; see the need for sharing your faith; and don’t hold back when the opportunity arises.
You know you don’t have it all figured out, that you don’t have all the answers. That’s just fine. You don’t need to be a theologian. You just need to care and to listen and to love. These are not strangers we are talking about here. These are folks you already know well, and at the right time, God may just use you to share the love of God with your children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers. You are already willing to tell them about a book, recipe, movie, or restaurant. Be open to telling them how God’s love has helped you.
I want to close with a brief example of how one person’s willingness to listen and be curious changed a life: