May 20, 2018 – The Rev. Pamela Moore

Pentecost 

A Time for Evangelism

“Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy Holy Name”

Jesus told the disciples,26 “The Helper will come—the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God and who comes from the Father. I will send him to you from the Father, and he will speak about me.27 And you, too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning. (Good News Translation).

There are, in that passage, two very important ideas. One is that Jesus will send to his followers a spirit that will help us understand the truth of who God is. The second idea is that we are expected to share our experience of Jesus with others.

Yesterday morning, I was unexpectedly awake in time to see the entirety of the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Although I admit to being mildly interested in their nuptials, it was not enough of an interest to be intentionally awake at 3:00 in the morning. I am however happy that things turned out the way they did because it gave me the opportunity to witness firsthand how the spirit of truth, the telling of one’s experience and understanding of the ministry of Jesus and the ability to share them both with love and passion can be a foundation for moving forward as a people. I am, of course, talking about Bishop Curry’s sermon. He spoke truth to power in the most loving way. His was a message of evangelism, reconciliation and care of all of God’s creation.

I have been blessed to hear Bishop Curry preach in person. He is a passionate man who speaks truth to power in a way that let’s you know he cares deeply about this church and its people. His words are infused with love and he is evangelical in his approach to living the Good News. This should not surprise us. He encourages us to participate in what is known as the Jesus Movement. This is how he explains the Movement:

“We’re following Jesus into loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, with each other and with the earth. First, we follow Jesus. We are simply the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, seeking every day to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). Just like Jesus. The Jesus Movement takes you places. For the Episcopal Church, it calls us to focus on three specific Jesus Movement Priorities: Evangelism, Reconciliation and Creation Care. Evangelism: Listen for Jesus’ movement in our lives and in the world. Give thanks. Proclaim and celebrate it! Invite the Spirit to do the rest. Reconciliation: Embody the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus with each other and Creation Care: Encounter and honor the face of God in creation.” Source: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/jesus-movement

Before I go any further, let me just say that I know that talking about evangelism in the Episcopal Church is risky business. We are not known for talking about our faith with passion and exuberance. However, the time has come to rethink that strategy. We live in a time when evangelism, the understanding that the essence of the Gospel consists of the belief that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, is in danger of being hijacked by folks who are too willing to accept behaviors that are not faithful to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t believe that one can lie, cheat, wage war on the poor, be disparaging of others, intentionally cause harm and disregard the commands to love God and one another and call themselves a Christian. Folks, we are in a time, when as disciples of Christ, we need to step up and embrace our call to evangelize, reconcile and care for all that God has created. We need to share our story in ways that are inclusive, faithfully loving, and compassionate.

I am about to share with you excerpts from a letter entitled, “A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.”  You can find more information about the statement, who wrote it and why at reclaimingjesus.org.  One of the signers of the statement is our own Bishop Curry. The statement begins:

“We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake. It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else – nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender geography – our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35) …

The question we face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does our loyalty to Christ, as disciples, require at this moment in our history? We believe it is time to renew our theology of public discipleship and witness…

Therefore, we offer the following six affirmations of what we believe….

I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God. Our participation in the global community of Christ absolutely prevents any toleration of racial bigotry. Racial justice and healing are biblical and theological issues for us, and are central to the mission of the body of Christ in the world…

II. WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. When we fail to overcome these oppressive obstacles, and even perpetuate them, we have failed in our vocation to the world—to proclaim and live the reconciling gospel of Christ…

III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46) “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not “good news to the poor,” it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18) …

IV. WE BELIEVE that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Truth-telling is central to the prophetic biblical tradition, whose vocation includes speaking the Word of God into their societies and speaking the truth to power. A commitment to speaking truth, the ninth commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. Falsehood can enslave us, but Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The search and respect for truth is crucial to anyone who follows Christ…

V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the world) lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26). We believe our elected officials are called to public service, not public tyranny, so we must protect the limits, checks, and balances of democracy and encourage humility and civility on the part of elected officials. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not. The authority of government is instituted by God to order an unredeemed society for the sake of justice and peace, but ultimate authority belongs only to God…

VI. WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18). Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives…

The statement concludes, in part, as follows:

“We believe it is time to speak and to act in faith and conscience, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ—to whom be all authority, honor, and glory. It is time for a fresh confession of faith. Jesus is Lord. He is the light in our darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12) …”

In closing, let me just say that I believe that The Spirit of Truth will help us discern what to do, what to say and when to say it. Our experience of Jesus, who he is to us, his message and his faith in us to be faithful to him, shapes our understanding of how to evangelize, reconcile with one another and care for all that God has created. We share the Good News of Christ through our ministries and in the way, we care for one another. We have a story to tell that is as powerful as the stories we heard this morning about the first disciples. We have a story to tell about how we, working with all of God’s children, work to fulfill God’s vision to align heaven and earth. And we have a story to tell that is based in truth, that is authentic and that is powerful.  Come Holy Spirit, come!

Post Sermon Note: This sermon was written to encourage us to share how we understand and live our Christian faith according to the teachings of Christ and the tradition and beliefs of the Episcopal Church, through our ministries and experiences. It is designed to promote thoughtful conversations that help others see evangelism in a way that is inclusive, socially just and respectful.