Luke 17:5-10 Common English Bible
The apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”
The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’”
October 1-2, 2016
World Communion Sunday
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Sure Could Use a Little Good News”
This is our last Sunday in our sermon series focusing on spiritual gifts. Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the spiritual gifts of Mercy, Teaching, and Hospitality. Today, we will focus on the spiritual gift of Evangelism.
Evangelism is a Christian term that often gets a negative reputation. We often associate the term ‘evangelism’ with over-zealous preachers or others trying to convert people to the Christian faith with guilt or heavy-handed tactics.
But really, the term ‘evangelism’ means good news. It means sharing the good news of the Gospel…sharing the good news of our faith in how we know the love and grace of God through who we know Jesus the Christ to be.
The writers of the Gospels were known as evangelists because they were sharing the good news of God’s love.
It is not a coincidence that we are looking at the spiritual gift of evangelism the week after we looked at the gift of hospitality. Evangelism flows naturally out of hospitality. In fact, the relationship between hospitality and evangelism is found throughout scripture, but we have to be attune to it because it’s subtle. Yet, when we read the powerful stories of scripture we can easily see where the two go hand in hand.
Intentional hospitality is a beginning point and source of energy to share the good news of God’s love and invite others to experience faith in something far bigger than ourselves. It is the object of our faith that makes all the difference.
And as with the other spiritual gifts we have been talking about…Mercy, Teaching, and Hospitality… Evangelism is about a relationship with God and a relationship with one another.
We will use another story of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke to think about the spiritual gift of Evangelism.
The sermon title, “Sure could use a little good news today,” you may remember as the refrain from a song recorded by Anne Murray in the 1980s. Her song takes the listener through some of the negative and tragic news of the time and then the refrain repeats with, “Sure could use a little good news today.”
Even several decades later, we still find ourselves repeating that refrain. And that is why the spiritual gift of Evangelism is so important to us today as the church, known as the body of Christ.
The news of our day is frightening and stepping up to offer a word of good news based on our Christian faith can be frightening because we fear being met with resistance or rejection.
But fear and faith live simultaneously in the people of God…fear and faith live together in each of us. Jesus and his disciples understood this tension. Just before the scripture passage I read, Jesus has been preaching on the necessity to forgive others.
When the disciples find the teachings of Jesus difficult, they grow frustrated and ask for greater faith, saying to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” as if they are ordering faith at a drive-through window and wanting their faith super-sized.
Jesus responds by telling them they do not need more faith but only faith the size of a tiny mustard seed. Maybe Jesus even pinched his thumb and forefinger together as a visual of how tiny a mustard seed is. After Jesus uses the example of a mustard seed to say that just a pinch of faith will do, he tells the parable of the master and his obedient servant, who receives no special treatment for doing his job.
At first read the parable seems harsh. But if we had time to really look deeply at the culture and social practices of the first century in which Jesus lived, we would see that Jesus’ parable is really describing a relationship. What Jesus describes is a relationship between master and servant that is marked by mutual accountability and expectations. The master expects the servants to perform their duties, and the servants, in turn, expect that when their work is done, they will receive nourishment, rest and protection. To understand faith in this way, then, is to understand it as a way of life. Those who serve God do so as a way of life, without expectations of special rewards.
Jesus offers this story as a way of telling the disciples to be faithful because it is the right thing to do; faithful obedience is what we ought to do as our way of living.
Like a mustard seed needs soil, water, and sun to grow. Our faith grows and matures when we nurture it with worship, prayer, study, fellowship and service. And when living in faith leads to a life based on these disciplines, along with love and forgiveness, others will notice and ask why we are the way we are, and that opens an opportunity to share the good news of our faith.
Evangelism is not about standing on the street corner waving our Bible or strong-arming others into listening to us talk about God…Evangelism is about being mindful and intentional about finding the small, mustard-seed ways to share our faith through how we live our lives and how we talk about our faith.
Evangelism is about invitation that flows from our authentic relationships. For instance, it’s about establishing relationships with those who use our church building for community activities. Or, when we serve in the community, we serve in such a way that we build relationships and get to know the people we are serving. Sharing the spiritual gift of evangelism is about offering people a genuine experience that gives their life hope and grace.
When we share the good news of God’s love in ordinary, everyday ways, we see ourselves, our neighbors and the world differently. Once that happens we realize that the sharing of good news can transform us in such a way that God works through us so others can see and hear good news.
The scripture passage we heard from Second Timothy offers a word of encouragement as we share the good news of our faith with others. This passage connects us to the faith of the matriarchs…the women, and how that faith lives on in Timothy. This passage emphasizes building up the faith within us and among us by passing our faith on from generation to generation. The letter to Timothy reminds us all that the story of Jesus is alive among us and within us and sometimes this gift of God simply needs to be revived so that it can be shared.
The truth is, it doesn’t take much. A word, a simple touch, a gesture, a bit of faith the size of a mustard seed, or a question asked at the right time is all it takes sometimes to share about God, or allow others to hear a little good news.
For those with a deeper knowledge of the history of Methodism and the Methodist Church, you may know the name Harry Denman. Harry Denman was considered by many to be a mentor for evangelism. He used his spiritual gift of evangelism to become one of the most influential laypersons of his time in the denomination.
He was born in Birmingham, AL in 1893 and died in 1976. He worked in many capacities for the Methodist denomination including The Upper Room publishing company and the General Board of Evangelism. He was best known for his relentless sharing of God’s love through Christ in how he lived his life and interacted with others. His sharing came through his preaching and writing, as well as conversations or interactions with others, usually using stories from life around him.
Once when addressing a National Convocation on local Church Evangelism in Washington DC, he concluded with a story about a bishop in his home area, reading the pastoral appointments at Annual Conference. This was in the day when Methodist pastors did not know if they were moving until the Bishop read the appointments at the end of Annual Conference. Harry Denman said, “A church was to have a new preacher appointed as pastor. The members of that church had a beautiful sanctuary; they had a lovely educational building; they had a parking lot. I think they had air conditioning. They had a beautiful kitchen, lovely recreational facilities, and an outdoor barbecue place. They had everything, even a little debt! The talk of the conference was, ‘Who’s going to be pastor of this church? Who is the bishop going to send?’ A good many were willing to go, to put themselves on the altar! The name of that church was Calvary!”
When Harry Denman reached the climax of all he wanted to say, he asked, “Who wants to go to Calvary? Who wants to go to tell about a Savior, to tell about the good news of God, to tell about eternal life, to tell about the kingdom of God? Who wants to go to Calvary?”
I think what Jesus is telling us in our Gospel parable today is that we have what we need…that even with faith the size of a mustard seed, we can do amazing and miraculous things.
I hear Jesus saying that it doesn’t take much…it doesn’t take much to see the wondrous deeds God is doing among us; it doesn’t take much to respond to God with faith the size of a mustard seed; it doesn’t take much to respond to God by doing the things Jesus taught us to do; it doesn’t take much to gather around this Communion table and allow the bread and cup to nourish us in faith, so that in turn we can share a little good news with others.
On this World Communion Sunday our understanding of what it means to be the church as the Body of Christ is much larger. On this Sunday we let down our false barriers of geographical, cultural, racial, class, party, and lifestyle differences and remember that the core of our faith is that we are all servants and we are all served at God’s table.
This is the Good News of God this day.
Thanks be to God.