Read Mark 1:1 – 14
We have Good News to Share and we can do that in a whole lot of ways. We’re not all evangelists though we are all called to share the Gospel, as best we can and in all the ways that we can. New York’s great preacher, Samuel Shoemaker was an Episcopalian minister who with Bill Wilson founded Alcoholics Anonymous. He wrote a poem, entitled: 'I Stand by the Door' for he had the gift of 'evangelism' - of introducing people to the Christian Faith and encouraging them to explore it and come to know Jesus - and he'd help them do that. He wrote: - "I stand by the door. I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out. The door is the most important door in the world. It is the door through which men and women walk when they find God. . . . my place seems closer to the opening. So I stand by the door." for the complete poem, see here.
A reading of Mark 1:1-14 reveals three aspects of Gospel. for there is the sharing of the Good News in these few verses. There is the Gospel of Isaiah, the Gospel of John the Baptist - and the Gospel of Jesus. They all speak of the One Gospel of God which is revealed in various times and places. They are all about the GOOD NEWS but they are comprised of 3 very different aspects and three different and distinct personages. There are difference of timing, setting and context in each story.
There’s Isaiah with his prophetic foretelling, with his writing full of warning and conviction, but also of promise and hope bringing the vision of new possibilities to a broken world and stirring in the hearts of God’s People towards a better world, coming. And there’s John the Baptist (weirdly wonderful like Elijah the prophet – so much like him!). Here comes the fulfillment also of prophecy and hope, for God is at the door; the promise is about to be fulfilled. And there’s Jesus: just one verse in our Mark text about why He’d come and what he was about to do. “The time has come,” Jesus proclaimed. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
I. EVANGELISM IS - THE GOOD NEWS WE SHOW AND TELL. When we read the Bible, we find that there is Good News streaming from all its pages. From Genesis to Revelation, it’s all about Good News. Even where there’s chaos, evil, darkness and disobedience, there are attending promises that ‘the seed of the woman shall overcome ‘the seed of the serpent’ in Genesis 3. Mid-way through Isaiah's prophecy there comes the promises about Messiah ‘And He shall reign for ever and ever!’ Throughout the New Testament Gospels and Epistles there is so much about the New Life in Jesus, lived by the presence and power of His indwelling Spirit in every believer. And then to Revelation - where there are the signs and sounds, the music and colours of God's victory in Christ. In all of it, throughout Scripture, God’s loving intervention and sure overcoming is displayed.
We find both ’good news' and GOOD NEWS - and we may show and tell it today too in many ways, through our own gifts, opportunities, challenges.’ Now, there is specific, verbal, content to the Gospel: we can say what the Good News is and what it is not. There is indeed something to be said by each Christian when asked - about the ‘reason for the Hope that is within us.’ Sometimes, in what we might
call Pre-evangelism, we find ways in which to create and open doors, giving context for pre-Christians to hear and receive the Gospel. We
might ask: 'What would be good news to these people, this person, in this situation? Where to start? How would that end up being good, in and of its own sake?' And perhaps, as God uses and blesses, how might that continue on to the person(s) involved actually coming to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
It involves being with people in work, in family, in neighbourhood, in this country or if called to another. It involves learning culture and language, being sensitive to the needs of others so that we can love God by loving them, serving them, in contexts where it needs to be about them (and not about ourselves). It involves creatively establishing programs and ministries of the church because evangelism like mission – and like Jesus, means showing up somewhere, to people, being actually present (not in a manger for us but perhaps in some other dark, dingy, dirty place). In such places refugees huddle, where there is poverty, violence, hopelessness and despair.
This is how the Gospel spreads – in such times and places. It's where and how ideas are spread, normally and naturally. We want to delight a few people with an idea worth spreading: - the love of God – His mercy. People tell other people and the word spreads - in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways. Tribes and movements are created as truth spreads horizontally. Change happens from person to person, rarely from the top down. These contacts in certain contexts grow into networks that are organic. When people asked Timothy Leary what they ought to do next, he said, "find the others."
But sometimes, we are to say nothing, as perhaps when visiting a funeral parlour when we’ve gone to be with the grieving friend. It’s not so much what we say – in fact it’s best to say little or nothing. What is being said by our presence, our simply being there, is profound. Such thoughtfulness and caring will be remembered long after, more than any words we might offer. People don’t care how much you know – until they know how much you care. Said one dear soul here, when my preaching was going through a dry spell, or I was pushing for some project or mission or another . . . ”Pastor, you are wonderfully creative, and you have all these great ideas, and I suppose we mgiht try them, or we’ll get to them, one day; but some of us are just wondering: 'Do you love us?” -- Zing! . . .
We are responsible to love people. Jesus does the saving and builds His Church. We are responsible to show up and enter opportunities and
challenges. Church growth, the fruit of evangelism, is a fruit of the Spirit. But it happens through us – as we show up, do what we feel led to do; say what we think we should at the time. So again, we ask of anyone’s life or situation, ‘What would be good news for them?’ What
could be the next step of God revealing His blessing, care and love to them, through us? For instance, what’s good news for the fleeing refugee? Well, we could sponsor and help in all kinds of practical ways. Then, and perhaps only then, in being and doing ‘good news’ – unless something dramatic happens earlier, do we share the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus. My friend says: 'Love is the killer app.'
II. EVANGELISM IS - THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO YOU. A recent article in 'Christianity Today' states that,"Too many of us roll our eyes at hokey and ineffective means of evangelism, rather than coming up with better strategies to share Christ." It's true: some of us are recovering from ‘hokey’ and canned approaches, and the upshot is taht we now say or do very little that might people even thing that we’re ‘religious – one of those types. So, our light, we have hidden, under a bushel. But the fact that it’s the Gospel according to you, fellow-believer and follower of Jesus is not something which we should fear.
We may feel afraid of offending others but that’s really about us: - we’re afraid we won’t be liked or appreciated, that we’ll be scorned or shunned. Author Seth Godin talks about the reluctance people have in business, even when they have a wonderful product; but they are afraid to tell anybody. But when we dare to, he writes - actually, it's far more likely that we make a human of ourself. “When you drop your guard, opt for transparency and make an honest connection with someone, you're right on the edge of foolishness, which is another word for 'human.' Most of the time, we persuade ourselves not to make a fool of ourselves and so, instead, we shut down a connection that could have become precious - for us and for them.
Evangelism is our personal role in the greater Mission of God. It's what we may do together as a local church. It’s part of the Mission of God – God’s huge reclamation project of bringing back to Creation purposes and joys – people, places and things. God has not given up on this planet; has not abandoned it. God actively loves and cares and is daily doing something about it, through His Church and through you and me. He does it through our loving, caring involvements in making our world a better place. It involves how we live, what we do, how we do it. It’s all of it – 360 degree Gospel living, as we love and serve God and love and serve people everyday and in all areas of life.
Is what you sharing in your spiritual life and experience up-to-date? Is your faith & Christian walk relevant and helpful – I mean to you, even, let alone as something to pass along and introduce to another. Perhaps your own candle’s never been lit and all you can do is hold out a cold stump of a candle, white wick never lit let alone gone black - holding out opinions and maybe lots of verses and even orthodox
theology, but you’re not passing on the Light and Life of Jesus.
You’ve noticed, of course, that there are ‘four Gospels’ in the Bible, though it’s all Gospel (good news). Each begins with a title) whether original or given later by the early Church: – “The Gospel According to - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.” (e.g. kata Johannis . . .) They all have a different slant and viewpoint; they all are looking at the birth, life, death, resurrection at the meaning of Jesus’ life from slightly different angles and sometimes with very different points of view. It’s like having four different witnesses to the same accident or incident from people standing on four corners of a busy intersection. From their place and perspective they give very precise, incisive views as to what happened, to what they've witnessed. And if asked, they may even say what they saw, but also give their thoughts on why it happened, how it happened and what was and has become the outcome of what happened.
Because their perspective was different, what they say may also be different. They all have the basic facts – nobody’s lying or trying to
confuse. They saw it themselves or they've gathered together eye-witness accounts of the stories, activities and teachings of Jesus. And they put them together in their own order and for their own Holy Spirited purposes.
Similarly, there may be perspectives and witness that we are uniquely to say: things that only you can do and say. You are to say and do them - not the pastor, not the teacher - not Matthew, Mark or Luke, or Paul or Peter or John. There is to be such a reality as ‘The Gospel According to You.’ ‘Preaching is ‘truth through personality.’ (I was taught at Seminary: so be yourself!) Just so – and evangelism is truth lived and told through your personality. It’s your thoughts, reflections, insights, experiences – as you have thought about, received from, been taught – and experienced God, yourself. You and I may have different roles in God’s purposes as we share the Good News. This is related our gifts in the Body of Christ. And also, perhaps, to our ability to write hymns or poems, or short-stories and novels . . .
An ability to write it, type it, paint it, dance it out . . . You’re a painter? A cartoonist – why don’t you paint it?! A dancer, an actor, an architect, an author – a poet? A blogger? Use these media.
The English poet, William Blake, wrote 'Jerusalem' based on the ancient myth that perhaps Jesus had visited Cornwall with his businessman uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. - And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on
England’s pleasant pastures seen? And he goes on with passion to say, what we might say is accomplished by diligence, prayer and 'being there' . . . I will not cease from mental fight . . . till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant Land.
Every Christian, wherever she or he lives, has the same passion I hope, to share the life of Jesus and to work toward the fullness of God's present and coming Kingdom.
III. EVANGELISM IS - ULTIMATELY GOD’S WORK. It’s been given to us - to share the Gospel with our world in our time, but it is ultimately
God’s work. It's not an impossible task nor one we should fear. It comes with our knowing ourselves, being ourselves and knowing the Good News of God - with living it out in Word and Deed.
When God's People, the new disciples of Jesus, were escaping Jerusalem because of persecution upon the death of Stephen, Luke writes in the Book of Acts that that God’s Spirit went ahead of the ones who had escaped to Antioch in Syria, ahead of them to prepare and open hearts and minds - just as a farmer prepares the soil so it will readily receive and nurture the life that is in the seed. The Spirit prepares the soil but it is our job to plant the seed! God invites Christians, his Church, to partner together with God as co-labourers in the Gospel. He could do it all Himself - or with angels’ help; but He’s chosen us! For whatever other reasons...
I think that it’s so also that we might get in on the blessing - of being godly and godlike – seeing, hearing and responding like God does to the world’s need and potential, still. We show His love and care, His Spirit doing it in and through us. We mostly don’t know where we fit in
the process whereby someone comes to know Jesus. There will be many cords of love that inexorably draw people to know and surrender their lives to Him as Saviour and Lord. We may start the conversation – again: plant a seed. We may continue the conversation – a comment or an action. We may be the one who completes the introduction. As St. Paul puts it, in Corinthians 3 - I planted, another watered, but God was causing the growth. Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters are the same; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labour. God is working at every stage – in and through us – and in the one He’s drawing to Himself.
Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and they’re all different! And, three unique, different examples of Gospel sharing: Isaiah, John Baptist – and Jesus. Borrowing a phrase - a question God asked, in the story of Moses as he was called to set God's People free from Egypian slavery, and he doubted he could be of much help . . . What is that in your hand? What’s handy to you? What in your life, your gifts and talents, your work setting, your house and locale, your family and contacts? Moses held a rod that became animated and then powerful in the deliverance. What could we take up that - like Moses rod, could be an inspired instrument of God’s blessing and power? - an instrument that would open doors and hearts, if not Red Seas, so people might cross over safely into God’s heart and home, into God’s bounty and blessing.
We are so privileged to have received the Good News. And now it is our privilege to share it: through our own life, our own life-purposeour and vocation - everywhere, everyday, in every way.
What Story – whose Story shapes you? What Story will you believe? Accept and share?