The Good News about Evangelism, Part 3 – Show & Tell, Luke 10:1-12, 9/29/13

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Sep 292013
 

Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church

1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.

2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.

8“Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.” (Luke 10:1-12, NRSV)

“The kingdom of God has come near you.”  This is the succinct summary of the good news Jesus gives his followers to share with those in the world who are hospitable to hearing good news.

 

So what does it mean?  Well, let’s begin with the word “kingdom.”  A kingdom is, as the word implies, ruled by a king whose will is sovereign and supreme.  What the king says goes.  If the king wishes for everybody in the kingdom to wear purple, he doesn’t have to launch a campaign to convince everybody that purple is really the best fashion choice, he simply decrees it and it is so.  If you don’t conform to the sovereign king’s desires and choose instead to show up the next day in yellow, you will be banished from the kingdom, either exiled, locked up, or killed.  Put simply, a kingdom is the domain where the will of the king is realized.

 

Kings have absolute authority and power.  This is why monarchies are not very popular these day, because at the human level absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I recently watched a movie portraying the life of England’s Henry VIII, a king so corrupted by power that he had several of his wives executed or exiled because they could not bear him a male heir to the throne.  All human kings are fallible.  Even the best kings in history have been far from perfect.

 

Which leads us to the difference.  The kingdom Jesus speaks of, the kingdom of God, is ruled by a King who is absolutely good, loving, generous, kind, and merciful, and is all of these things for all time, never changing.  On top of that, in the kingdom of God there is a King who does not come near to his people to rule over them, but instead comes first to serve beneath them, even to die in their place.  This King does not come to enslave us; this King comes to set us free.

 

This is the Gospel.  The Gospel is the announcement that such a King has come near and that such a kingdom is close at hand.  The Gospel is the story of this King, the good news story of what he has done to establish his kingdom here on this earth, a story that can be told in four remarkable chapters.[1]

 

Chapter 1: God, who is infinite in power, goodness and holiness, created the world and all that is in it.  Since God is also triune, existing in the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, relationship and community are at the heart of God’s creation.  Created in God’s image, humans are made for loving community with God and with one another.

 

Chapter 2: All humanity has rebelled against God and turned to worship created things rather than the Creator, and that rebellion has led to total decay.  A world once created to be free has fallen into spiritual, psychological, social and physical bondage to sin and death.

 

Chapter 3: God, in the person of Jesus Christ, left heaven and came to earth as one of us to suffer and die in our place so that the consequences of human rebellion could be satisfied and all creation could be restored and renewed.

 

Chapter 4: And this, of course, is the chapter which is still being written.  Human beings are now invited to transfer their trust from created things back to their Creator, known to us in Christ.  As we do, we come to fully participate in the permanent restoration of creation, enjoying all the benefits and blessings of God.

 

This is the good news we have to announce.  A good and loving King created this world as his perfect kingdom and even though the world rebelled against this King, he has come in love to give his life so that his kingdom, and all who choose to dwell within, can be restored in all fullness.  The coming of Christ signals the inauguration of this kingdom, this reality where everything will finally and forever exist according to the perfect will of God, the King.

 

Luke 4 records the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, they day he stood up in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth, and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read words that every Jew in the place knew were written to describe the day when the Messiah would come to usher in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus read,

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

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[2]

 

Those present that day went berserk when Jesus, the carpenter’s son they’d known all his life, sat down and then concluded his remarks by saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in its hearing.”  In other words, Jesus was boldly declaring that his coming marked the opening pages of chapter 3 in the great story.  Jesus had come to usher in a kingdom where he reigns as King.  This kingdom, God’s kingdom, was about to descend to earth through him, and that means that a time is near when the poor, people who do not have what they need to live, are finally going to receive very good news.  Those held captive, people who find themselves trapped or stuck in life or in death, will find release.  The blind, people who cannot see what they were always meant to see, will have their eyes, their minds, and their hearts opened.  The oppressed, people who have been pushed down, by other people, by disease, by discouragement, by addiction, will at last go free.  And on all of them, all of us, God’s favor, God’s kindness, and God’s grace will rest.

 

So let’s put this all together.  When Jesus sends us, his disciples, out into the world with good news he tells us to be on the lookout for people who show us hospitality and, even though they know our identity as Christians, welcome us into their lives.  We are to go and be with those people, building friendship and sharing life, and then, in time we are to declare to them this good news, that this kingdom of God has come near to them.  It’s close.  Right at the doorstep.  Within walking distance.

 

Specifically, Jesus tells us to declare God’s nearby kingdom in two ways.  First, we are to show people.  “Cure the sick who are there,” Jesus says.  In other words, help people experience God’s kingdom in tangible ways.  Second, we are to tell people.  “Say to them,” Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  When God opens up the opportunity to do so, tell people what the kingdom actually is.  First we show; then we tell.

 

Linda Wilson-Allen is a muni bus drive in San Francisco.  She drives the morning shift on the 45-Union line and does so in such a way that her story recently caught the attention of the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.[3]  For 26 years now, Wilson-Allen has treated her bus-line as a community.  Every passenger is greeted warmly and with a smile, the regulars all by name.  Many of them, over the years, have received much more than just a friendly greeting.

 

There was Tanya, for example, who Wilson-Allen spotted huddled in a bus shelter one year just before Thanksgiving.  Tanya was new in town.  She was lost and alone.  But the next thing she knew, she was joining this unusual bus driver and her children for turkey dinner.  The two of them are now good friends.

 

Ivy, who is in her 80’s, rides the 45-Union often, a bus driven by an extraordinary driver who actually gets off the bus to help her when she is carrying heavy grocery bags.  What’s more, Wilson-Allen regularly takes Ivy grocery shopping after she’s done with her shift.  Ivy now lets other buses pass on by, much preferring to wait for the one Wilson-Allen is driving.

 

When a regular rider is not at their stop on time, Wilson-Allen will honk the horn twice and wait as long as she can, giving them every possible chance to avoid missing their bus.  When she sees people in a bus shelter looking lost and studying the map, she just tells them to hop on and assures them that she will help them reach their destination.  If a first-timer puts a $5 or $10 bill into the fare box, expecting change, she will make change herself, with a hand-to-hand cash transaction that involves the next few paying customers.  And at the end of her shift, before she leaves the bus, Linda Wilson-Allen offers her riders this blessing, “That’s all,” she says.  “I love you.  Take care.”

 

The article points out that this may be the most beloved bus driver since Ralph Kramden of the Honeymooners.  Apparently, passengers offer her use of their vacation homes.  They take her to lunch on her shift break.  They bring her potted plants and floral bouquets.  And when Wilson-Allen recently announced that she was retiring, her customers mounted a mini rebellion and eventually succeeded in talking her out of it.

 

Though I have never done it, I can’t imagine that driving a bus all day long for 26 years would be easy.  In fact, I imagine few jobs are more thankless.  Same route every day.  All that traffic and noise.  Rude customers.  Engine breakdowns.  Gum on the seats.  If your bus driver is cranky, can you really blame him?  But not this bus driver.  And why?  When asked how she does it, Wilson-Allen, who is a member of GladTidingsChurch in Hayward, said that her whole mood is set when she gets down on her knees at 2:30 every morning to pray for 30 minutes.  In her words, “There just a lot I have to talk about with the Lord.”

 

If you go down to San Francisco tomorrow morning to the corner of Union and Powell and catch the number 45 bus, when you get on that bus you will experience the kingdom of God come near.  This woman is stuck in the driver’s seat of a public bus all day long and yet she is doing whatever is in her power to show people the kingdom of God, to show people what the world looks like when God’s will is carried out.  And if she can do this, so can you.

 

God is calling you, wherever you go, to likewise extend peace to people who will receive it.  If a neighbor is sick, care for her.  If a family you know is struggling to get by, buy some groceries.  If your friends are exhausted, offer to watch their kids for the night so they can have a break.  If a co-worker is alone for Thanksgiving, include him around the table.  If somebody you know is out on the street, give them a place to stay.  Each time you do this you show another person that the kingdom of God has come near.  You give them a glimpse of the world God came to restore, the world one day God will fully restore.

 

Now, I can guarantee you that after years of showing all here passengers the kingdom, God has opened up opportunities for Linda Wilson-Allen to tell some of her passengers about the kingdom.  In the same way, as we also serve others and help them experience God’s kingdom in tangible ways, there will come opportunities for us to articulate for people what it is they are experiencing.

 

There’s an old popular saying that goes like this: “Preach the gospel all times; if necessary use words.”  The point is that as Christians, we should lead with our actions, not with our words.  As a friend of mine likes to say, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

 

The problem with this old saying, however, is the word “if”.  You see, the “if” here wrongly suggests that our actions might just be enough, that our evangelism mostly ought to be about loving and serving people with our good works.  And the problem with this is that there are actually lots of people in our world who are doing good things for others and many of them are not followers of Jesus.  Christians simply do not have a corner on the market when it comes to helping others.  And that means that our “showing” is not enough.  At some point we are going to have to tell.  At some point we are going to have to use words.

 

In Romans 10, Paul is declaring that those who place their faith in Christ will be saved.  He also points out, however, that for someone to place their faith in Christ they must be told who Christ is and what he has done.  In verse 14 he asks, “How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim to them?”[4]  How indeed?

 

I do not believe that most of us are called to go out into our neighborhood and preach in the streets.  Most of us aren’t even called to preach in church.  However, every follower of Jesus is called to go out and extend peace to those who do not know Christ.  In those instances where your peace is returned and hospitality is offered, then we are called to enter into friendships and begin to show people, by serving people, that God’s kingdom has come near.  Finally, as we show people God’s kingdom, opportunities will open up for us to tell people about God’s kingdom.  So really, the saying ought to read this way: “Show the gospel at all times; when the time is right use words.”

 

Which leads to this question: How will we know when the time is right?  How do we know when we should actually sit down with somebody and tell them about Jesus?   Well, sometimes it will be obvious.  I have had people come into my office and tell me straight away that they are lost and desperate and they need to find God.  Not long ago, another dad and I were standing watching our kids at baseball game and he told me right in the middle of the 4th inning that he has been doing a lot of soul searching in his life and he wondered if I would ever be willing to meet with to talk about Christianity.  Even somebody as slow as me knows that when these sorts of things happen the time is right.

 

Other times, however, it may not be so obvious.  Usually, in fact, I think we have to do a lot of listening before we speak.  Mostly, we have to listen to other people’s stories.  As I listen to your story I begin to see how your story, at points, connects to God’s story.  I hear you speak of the deep guilt which eats at your soul and I see an opportunity to speak to you about the even deeper mercy of God.  I see the passion you have for caring for the world around you and I take the opportunity to point out how it was God put that passion in your heart because the same passion exists in his heart.  I hear you struggling with self-hatred because you have believed what others have told you about yourself and I take the opportunity to declare to you that in the eyes of God, the only one whose opinion of you matters, you are a beloved son, a beloved daughter, a soul of priceless and eternal worth.

 

As I heard someone recently say, we must be “storycatchers” before we are “storytellers”.  We must listen hard before we speak carefully.  But in the end, the time will come when every one of us must be prepared to speak, to tell the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But here’s the thing, the Gospel is meant to be announced!  That’s it.  Our job is not to argue with people, or persuade people, or manipulate people.  The Gospel is not advice we give to people.  The Gospel is not some rehabilitation program that we offer to people.  Once again, what is Gospel?  The gospel is good news, and good news is meant to be announced!  God has created.  We have rebelled.  God has rescued.  You are invited.  The kingdom is near.  It’s come.  It’s coming.  Now is the time.  This is the year of God’s favor!

 

Many of us get very queasy when it comes to evangelism because we think evangelism is sales.  It is not sales.  We are not called to be salesmen and saleswomen.  We are not trying to get people to buy something.  We’re not even selling something.  And we’re certainly not trying to get people to do something.  Instead, are telling people about something God has already done!

 

Evangelism is like finding a soldier desperately holed up in foxhole and telling him that he can come out because the peace treaty has been signed and the war is over!  Evangelism is like going to a prisoner wasting away behind bars on death row and announcing that the judge has overturned the sentence and he is free to go home.  Evangelism is like a doctor revealing to her patient that the cancer they once believed was terminal is now in total and permanent remission.

 

Please get this straight.  We are not called to go out into the unbelieving world and tell people, whether they want to hear it or not, that if they would only start living a certain way, and believing certain things, and go to church, and stop sleeping with so-and-so, and get sober, that then there is a God who will forgive them and love them and take them to heaven someday.  No, we are called to go out into the unbelieving world looking for those people who are willing to hear what we have to say and then, in God’s timing, we are to announce to them that regardless of what they believe and regardless of how they live, there is a God who already loves them, has already died for them, has already forgiven them, and is now ready to welcome them home.  This is the good news we have to announce.  And when it is announced, the only thing left for us to do is to pray that those who hear this good news will, in the end, believe that it is true and come home.

 

“The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  This is the good news Jesus has given us to announce.

 

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield was a tenured professor at SyracuseUniversity.  She was also, in her words, a radical feminist who had no real belief in God and who saw Christians as dangerous, anti-intellectual people.  At one point several years ago when a Christian group came to hold a rally on campus she decided to write an editorial to the newspaper urging the people of Syracuse to have nothing to do with, in her words, “this patriarchal cult” which was coming to campus.

 

Well, as you might imagine, her editorial generated quite a response, most of all it in the categories of either hate mail or fan mail.  All except one letter which Dr. Butterfield couldn’t fit into either category.  It was a letter from a man named Ken Smith, a Christian in town who, unlike other Christians who had written, did not write to argue with her or condemn her.  His letter stood out because it was kind and gentle.  Mostly, it was full of questions, genuine questions which he asked but then, to her surprise, did not answer for her.  In Jesus’ terms, you see, Ken Smith was a man who was simply extending peace.  And Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, for some reason, was at a place in her life at that time when she was ready to offer peace in return.

 

Understand, by no means was she interested in Christianity.  She was not.  In fact, at the time she was working on some research aimed at debunking the Bible and she thought that Ken Smith might prove helpful in her research.  So she responded to his letter.  That led to a conversation on the phone.  Shortly thereafter she accepted an invitation to dinner as the guest of Ken and his wife.  And in the context of this mutual hospitality, eventually a friendship developed, a real friendship, with no strings attached.

 

Looking back, Dr. Butterfield describes it this way:

 

Here’s what I discovered in Ken’s house.  That door was always opening and closing.  People, from all walks of life – I met them at that table.  I did not meet Christians who shared a narrowly-bounded, priggish world view.  That is not what I met.  I met people who could talk openly about sexuality and politics and did not drop down dead in the process…

 

Ken and his wife did two startling things the first time I had dinner at their house – two things that were against the rule book that I believed all Christians followed.  They did not share the Gospel with me, and they did not invite me to church.  But, at the end of our dinner, when Ken extended his hand, and I closed mine in it, he said, “We’re neighbors.  Neighbors should be friends.”  And I found myself in complete agreement with Ken.[5]

 

Through this mutual hospitality, through this extending and receiving of peace, through this friendship, through this demonstration of God’s kingdom, God did eventually open up the opportunity for Ken Smith and his wife to tell Rosaria Butterfield about Christ, to tell her the story of what God had already done, even to invite her to their church.  In the end, as she puts it in her own words,

 

One day, I got up; and I got out of bed…I brushed my teeth, and I walked the dogs.  An hour later, I was sitting in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I came there to meet God.[6]

 

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the field.  When he sends you, go like lambs among wolves.  Go depending on God and others to provide.  Go to whoever God puts in your path.  Offer them peace.  Those who return your peace, go and be with them, leaving the others alone.  Eat what they offer you.  Make neighbors into friends.  Do whatever you can to show them the kingdom of God.  Treat the passengers on your bus like Jesus would treat the passengers on his bus.  And when the time comes, after you have listened carefully and patiently, boldly and clearly proclaim this good news: “The kingdom of God has come near…to you.”

 

Amen.

 

 

The Next Step

A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application

 

Read Luke 10:1-12.  What do you notice this time through this passage?

 

Jesus wants us to tell people, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”  What does that mean?

 

How have you experienced the kingdom of God near you in your life?

 

How do you know when the time is right for you to tell somebody about Christ and what he has done?

 

When God opens up the opportunity, do you feel prepared to tell people the story of the gospel?  Can you share an example of when this happened?

 

What did you learn from the stories of the bus-driver, Linda Wilson-Allen, and the professor, Dr. Rosaria Butterfield?

 

How has this series on evangelism changed the way you will think or act from now on?



[1] Timothy Keller lays it out this way in Center Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), p. 32-37.

[2] Isaiah 61:1,2, as quoted in Luke 4:18-19.

[3] Read the full story at http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Muni-driver-will-make-new-friends-keep-the-old-4797537.php#/0  I was inspired to use this illustration after hearing the following a sermon delivered by John Ortberg at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church on September 22, 2013.  Find the sermon at  http://mppc.org/learn/sermons

[4] Romans 10:14, NRSV.

[5] Excerpt from the Family Life Today radio program, “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”, aired September 16, 2013.  Read the entire transcript at http://www.familylife.com/audio/topics/faith/essentials/becoming-a-christian/secret-thoughts-of-an-unlikely-convert/20130916-a-train-wreck-conversion#.UkN-wp3n-Uk

[6] Excerpt from the Family Life Today radio program, “What is Truth?”, aired September 18, 2013.  Read the entire transcript at http://www.familylife.com/audio/topics/faith/essentials/becoming-a-christian/secret-thoughts-of-an-unlikely-convert/20130918-what-is-truth#.UkRvlJ3n-Uk