Evangelism and Church Working Paper (2000)

Note: I am adding posts of documents I have written or found helpful in my search for a way to communicate the Gospel that makes a difference in people’s lives that is observable in time. I welcome comment. JWS

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Over the past four years I have mentored an Education for Ministry group.[1]  As an experiment I formed an all men’s group.   There are now thirteen men in all four years studying Old and New Testaments, Church History and Theology.   Relationships have formed and deepened as the groups met weekly for thirty-five weeks per year in three-hour seminars.  I have observed that several of these men have developed into evangelists.  They “rush”, as they call it, people inviting them to church but also into conversation about faith.   Often the invitation comes because people notice how much these guys care about one another and enjoy each other’s company.  The question is asked, “How do you all know each other?”  When the answer comes, “we are in a church group together,” people are intrigued.

 Being in relationship outside the group is powerful but the consistent gathering as community for fellowship, worship, reflection and study has a powerful impact on the maturing of each member.   One of the group in Year One said, “I’ve been in the group six months and already I feel more comfortable suggesting grace before meals and leading it myself.  I would not have done that before.”  The work of evangelism has become a conscious part of these men’s life as they interact with friends and co-workers.  Recently I inquired as to how this had happened.   The consensus was that being together regularly and studying the Christian tradition gave them growing confidence in where they stood and in speaking a good word about the good news of God in Christ.

 Marks of Evangelism:[2]

  •  Evangelism will arise out of the community, which out the message of God’s grace.  “The church does not aim at solving all the world’s problems, it is not the community of those who are perfect. It does need to exist as a community of people who have found a key to a wholeness the world does not have. It lives as a community of people who are a unifying force in the world.”
  •  Evangelism involves proclamation and celebration.  Evangelism means communicating the gospel in act and also in word.  The first task of all the baptized: lay, bishop, deacons and priests is to “re-present” Christ in the world.”

The story is told of the man who wanted to witness by his actions rather than his words to his next-door neighbor.  He did just that and one day the man and his neighbor were talking.  The neighbor said he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that made him happier and healthier than the neighbor and would it be all right if he as him a personal question?  The man was thrilled thinking to himself, “here it comes the pay-off for my witness.”  “Yes,” he said, “ask away.”  “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor.  “Tell me, are you a vegetarian?”  Evangelism requires both act and word!

  •  Evangelism is specific, not general.
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“It is impossible either to love or to educate anyone whom one has not taken the trouble to know and understand.”[3]   Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed.  The matrix of evangelism is relationship.  Elton Trueblood once said to me that he believed in what he called the “principle of inequality” – the further in the Gospels one reads the more time Jesus spent with the twelve and less time he spent with the multitude.  The work of evangelism has always been done one at a time.

  Evangelism is oriented toward the kingdom of God.

“Evangelism is oriented not toward the past or toward some golden age of religion that once was. It is oriented toward the future.  It is the encounter with the grace of God NOW that points us to the unfolding lordship of Christ over all of life.  Evangelism is good news, not of the soul retreating from the world, but of the transformation of this world.”[4] Fundamentalism is looking for a past that never existed except in the wishful thinking of those who long for life to be simple without contradiction or mystery.  Such thinking makes those who think differently intolerable.  “Contrary to the dominant asceticism of the past few thousand years, Christianity is a world-loving religion, and not one based on dismissing, fleeing, or distancing itself from the world.   A church which claims to be opposed to the world is fundamentally alienating itself from God’s prodigious creativity at the heart of creation.  Little wonder that many people today are abandoning the church.”[5]

People are interested in knowing that there is a God and that God cares about them.

 “One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him.  Three clear examples are given by the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the Toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 1-: 17-22.  In each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the imitative of asking to follow him.”[6]

 Following the spirit of Jesus we invite people not to follow us but to join us in following him.  My suspicion is that we are sitting comfortably (more or less) in our pews waiting for people to come to us when they are waiting for a call that in many cases never comes.

 “Every child, and the child in every one of us, is ready to plead: Tell me a story.  For the role of stories is to explain life, and the good stories, in their very substance and in the structure of their language, become revelation.”  — Andrew M. Greeley

Being and Doing

 The EfM group spends time together in study, fellowship, reflection and worship but they also spend time doing.   Most of the group serves as ushers.   Four of the groups are vergers.  Five are lay Eucharistic ministers.   They also serve on the also unique parish organization the gravediggers guild.

 The Chapel of the Cross has an ongoing churchyard where members can be buried.  Almost a decade ago I began the practice of digging the graves by hand.  This has grown into a powerful “formational tool; no one could hire these men to dig a hole in the ground.  But what they could not be paid to do they choose to give as a gift.  It is a formational tool because it cuts through much of the cultural denial about death.  It is difficult to be in denial about your mortality standing knee deep in someone’s grave.  It is always good when the work of the church points people toward the eternal issues of life and existence.

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[1] A theological education for laity administered by the Program of the St. Luke’s Seminary,

Sewanee, Tennessee

[2] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[3] Can Christians Be Educated Morton Kelsey, ed. Harold Burgess p. 12

[4] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[5]Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

By Diarmuid O’Murchu [p. 75]

[6] A Marginal Jew Vol. III: Companions and Competitors    by John P. Meier, p. 50

Scripture Speaks to Scripture

Saint Maximus of Turin

One of the fun parts of research is that you happen upon really good stuff.  I am digging through the Church Fathers (at least in English) looking in particular at how they handled Scripture and the whole economy of following Jesus. Today I came across this passage from a sermon by Maximus of Turin on the Marriage Feast at Cana story recorded in John 2:1-11.

“Addressing the expectant servants, he said, “Fill the jars with water.” The servants promptly obeyed, and suddenly in a marvelous way the water began to acquire potency, take on color, emit fragrance and gain flavor – all at once it changed its nature completely! Now this transformation of the water from its own substance into another testified to the powerful presence of the Creator.

Icon of the Marriage Feast at Cana – John 2:1-3

Only he who had made it out of nothing could change water into something whose use was quite different. Dearly beloved, have no doubt that he who changed water into wine is the same as he was from the beginning has thickened it into snow and hardened it into ice. It is he who changed it into blood for the Egyptians and bade it flow from the dry rock for the thirsty Hebrews – the rock that, newly transformed into a spring was like a mother’s breast refreshing with its gentle flow a countless multitude of people.”

Sermon 23 Maximus of Turin

Gain Disguised as Loss!

Peace Pilgrim born Mildred Lisette Norman

The peace pilgrim was a woman who walked more than 25,000 miles, carrying on her body her only possessions.  She crossed America for nearly three decades witnessing to the simplest message, “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love.”  I’m told that she wandered through Jackson Mississippi at least once and I suspect that she came through Memphis as well

PEACE PILGRIM’S STORY

This story is in her own words.  “Let me tell you a story about an answer to prayer. I was picked up late one night by a young policeman as I was walking along a lonely highway.  I believe he was thinking in terms of protective custody.  He said to me, ‘Why, nobody in this town would walk out along this highway at this time of night.’ I said to him, “Well, you see, I walk completely without fear.  Therefore I’m not attracting things which are not good.  It says, “That which I feared came upon me. But I fear nothing and expect only good.”

He took me in anyhow, and I found myself in a cell.  The floor was littered with old newspapers and cigarette butts and every old thing.  The accommodations consisted of a single mattress on the floor and four ragged blankets.  There were two women attempting to sleep together on that single mattress. The told me there had been eight women in that cell the night before with those accommodations. There was a rather nice feeling among the prisoners in general.  They said to me, ‘You’ll need two blankets because you’ll be sleeping on the floor.’  So I took a newspaper and cleared a place on the floor, and put one blanket downs and the other blanket over me and slept comfortably enough.

It wasn’t the first time I had slept on a cement floor, nor the last.  If you’re relaxed you can sleep anywhere.  When I woke up in the morning I say this man staring through the bars.  I said to him, ‘What time does court convene?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.” I said ‘Well, aren’t you a policeman?’  “No,’ he said, “I just like to look at the girls.’ It was one of the town sports.  Anyone could come in right off the street and see what they had there today: ‘Let’s go look at the girls!’

One of the women was middle aged and was being held for being drunk and disorderly.  It was her seventh offense, she told me, so it wasn’t so hard on her.  But the other was an eighteen-year-old girl.  She felt her entire life was ruined because of this experience.  I said, ‘It’s my second time and I certainly don’t think my life is ruined!’  I got her all cheered up and we talked about what she’d do when she got out.  She was to get out that day or the next day.

Then they changed the guards.  I never saw a matron.  The new guard saw me and said, ‘What are you doing in there? I saw your picture in the newspaper.  I heard you over the air.’  Then they just let me go. But before I left I got a broom from the man who cleaned up around there and gave it to the girls so they could clean up their cell.  I also got them a comb; their hair was all matted.  They had been there about a week without a comb.

What I really wanted to tell you is that the eighteen-year-old girl was a deeply religious person.  She had been desperately praying for help.  I believe that I was picked up off the highway that night and set behind prison bars in answer to her prayers.”

PEACE PILGRIM – PAUL & SILAS

Paul and Silas in Prison – William Hatherell

This is the story of a woman at peace.  Peace is not the opposite of conflict it is richer than that. Peace is a growing oneness with God and that peace may produce a conflict that doesn’t look very peaceful.  I am struck by the similarity between her story and the story of Silas & Paul (Silas should first billing occasionally) in chapter 16:16-40 of the Acts of the Apostles.   Paul and Silas wandered around proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection.  When they cast out a demon from a slave girl her owners were furious and they wound up in jail. An earthquake opened the jail in the middle of the night and the jailer was ready to kill himself because if any of the prisoners escaped he would have been executed anyway.  But none of the prisoners had gone anywhere.  The jailer discovered in Paul and Silas a power beyond anything he had ever seen before.  He and his household were baptized.  Both the jailer and the slave-owners had a religious experience.  For the jailer it was good news and to the owners of the slave girl, who lost their investment it was bad news.

GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS

The experience of Paul, Silas and Peace Pilgrim could be described as GAIN disguised as LOSS.  Jesus dying on the cross and laid in the tomb was gain disguised as loss. How do we live into this “up-side-down” way of thinking which discerns gain disguised as loss?  In her writings Peace Pilgrim speaks of four preparations for a spiritual life which I think point toward gainful loss.

 A:     ASSUME RIGHT ATTITUDES TOWARD LIFE:

“Stop being an escapist or a surface-liver as these attitudes can only cause in-harmony in your life.  Face life squarely and get down below the froth on its surface to discover its truths and realities.”

Three young men hid themselves on a Sabbath in a barn in order to smoke.  The elder discovered them and threatened to flog them for their misbehavior.  One young man said, “I deserve no punishment for I forgot that today was the Sabbath.”  The second youth said, “And I forgot that smoking on the Sabbath was forbidden.”  The third young man said, “I, too, forgot.”  “What did you forget, he was asked?”  He replied, “I forgot to lock the door.”

Facing the truth about our motivations and what we are doing is essential to life in the Spirit.

B.  LIVE GOOD BELIEFS.

The word “good” comes from the same Indo-European root word as the words gather and together; it means being joined or united in a fitting way.”  Harmony and connectedness is a part of spirituality.  Peace Pilgrim said, “Begin by putting into practice all the good things you believe.”  Good beliefs are not just pious thoughts. To do the good is to see that all things, including you and me belong to a greater whole AND to begin to act like that is so.

C.  FIND YOUR PLACE IN THE PATTERN OF LIFE.

Peace Pilgrim said, “You have a part in the scheme of things.  What that part is you can know only from within yourself.  You can seek it in receptive silence.  You can begin to live in accordance with it by doing all the good things you are motivated toward and giving those things priority in your life over all the superficial things that customarily occupy human lives.”

When a man whose marriage was in trouble sought his advice, the Master said, “You must learn to listen to your wife.”  The man took his advice to heart and returned after a month to say that he had learned to listen to every word his wife was saying.  Then the Master said with a smile, “Now go home and listen to every word she isn’t saying.”

We must learn and find our place in the scheme of things. John quotes Jesus in chapter 21 of his Gospel where Jesus prayed for the disciples; “…that they would be one, as the Father and the Son are one.”   That is our place in the things of things.

D.  SIMPLIFY LIFE TO BRING INNER AND OUTER WELL- BEING INTO HARMONY.

The Peace Pilgrim writes, “Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens.  Many lives are cluttered not only with unnecessary possessions but also with meaningless activities.  Wants and needs can become the same in a human life and, when this is accomplished, there will be a sense of harmony between inner and outer well being.”

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Wendell Berry

That brought to mind the words of the Kentucky agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, “Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”

GIVING IS NOT LOSS BUT GAIN

The story is told of the time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill.  Each night they divided the grain they had ground together during the day.  Now as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family.  One day, the single brother thought to himself, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly.  I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.”  So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to insure that his brother was never without.

But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one.  What will he do when he is old?”  So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary so that he would never lack for anything.

As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.  Then one night the brothers met each other halfway between their houses, suddenly realized what had been going on, and embraced each other in love:

GAIN DISGUISED AS LOSS IS AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL

The longer I read the scriptures the more I am struck by the symmetry of the whole book.  We see this today in the reading from the Revelation to Saint John, which are the last words of the Christian Scriptures on matters of redemption and consummation.  The words at the end of the Revelation to Saint John are the antidote to the words in Genesis 3:24 which says, “God drove out the man; and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.”   Ever since our ancestors, Eve and Adam, were evicted from paradise, humanity has been trying to get back in. But the Bible tells us that we can’t go back only forward.

  • The Old Testament is the record of the journey from Eden to the Promised Land.
  • The New Testament is the continuing saga of the people of God who are joined by God’s Son in our pilgrimage to God.
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Painting Faith

Our Lord by his death and resurrection overcame sin and death.  In Christ Jesus God has reconciled the whole world to Himself.  Hear again the words that are the last words of God on the subject: “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”  And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”  And let everyone who is thirsty come.  water-in-wellLet anyone who wishes to take the water of life as gift.  The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

When we think of our lives, the regrets, losses,  brokenness and those things that make no sense to us it is important to remember that these events are the middle not the end of     the      story. The story is not over yet!

In Christ Jesus GAIN is disguised as LOSS. Let us never forget that in the end all will be well.