Evangelism 101

Sermon Text – 08.20.2017
[John 15:1-16]

          What if I told you that I have the answer to all the problems of the world? What if I told you I know the solution, I am sitting on the cure to brokenness and darkness in the world around us? What if I told you I have good news for you this morning? See, so many of us have a desire to make the world a better place. We have a desire to reach out to those around us. I always talk about how we must spread God’s love out there in the world. Spread God’s love, Spread God’s love, Spread God’s love. And that sounds so great, it’s so inspiring, and you leave on Sunday morning, and you get to Monday morning and the question comes up – what the heck does that even mean? How do I share God’s love? Most of us interpret it as, you know, be nice to people. There’s an old quote that a LOT of people in the Methodist church love. It says, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Some people think that’s from St Francis, but there’s no actual evidence for that. And it sounds really cool – I’ll preach with my life, with my actions. The problem is, when you pull the words out, and you stop talking about Jesus – it gets watered down to just basic friendliness and that’s it. Just sorta, generic acts of kindness, be a good person. Anything more than that, and we get nervous – I don’t know how, I don’t have training, I don’t have time, I don’t have….whatever. But the gospel is not generic acts of kindness, it’s radical, life-changing good news. It’s words and action that transform lives. And a lot of us think – woah, that’s a bit much. I’m not looking to transform lives, that’s a little intense, I just want my watered down tiny acts of niceness. But my goal here this morning is to show you what you are capable of, to show you what God is capable of, through you.

So let’s get started with our scripture for today [read v.1-5]. It’s pretty basic imagery, grape vineyards were very common in Jesus’ world, the countryside he lived in – so he uses this imagery. But reading this passage made me think about when my son eats blueberries. My son Liam loves blueberries. He would eat nothing else, all day long, every single day. And so nowadays, in the summertime, we always have blueberries in our fridge. But sometimes we get too many, and Liam doesn’t get to them fast enough. Now what happens to blueberries when they get old? They wither, they shrink and wrinkle, and crumple. They become soft and gross. When a blueberry is ripe – it’s stretched taught, it’s full of life giving juice and water and when you bite into it, it explodes open with juice and tart flavor in your mouth. But the longer it is detached from the vine, from the bush, it starts to lose its appeal, it starts to lose its life. It becomes a wrinkled shell, empty of the nutrients and sustenance it once had. Because it is no longer attached to source which fills it with nutrients. Let’s read that again, [read v.4-5]. We wither when we are apart from God. When we are not attached to the vine, to the flow of God’s Holy Spirit into our hearts – we will wither. And the world around us has withered. I think that’s the perfect word to describe what I see in the world around me. A withered world. Jesus says, abide in me, and I will abide in you. That’s what the world needs for healing, for reconciliation, for redemption. For every single problem our world faces, from the disobedient teenager getting involved in the wrong crowd, to the college student who drops out of school because of drugs, to the husband or wife living in a broken marriage, all the way up to the great institutionalized societal evils like racism and sexism – God is the answer. God heals a broken life, forgives a life filled with shame and regret. Abide in me, and I will abide in you – if we stay attached to the vine we will be filled with life.
So the question that comes to my mind is alright – how do I stay attached to the vine? We can just keep reading. [read v.9-11]. Keep God’s commandments. The way we show our love for God is by following the teachings he gives us. Obedience is an act of love. It’s not because I’m forced to, it’s not because I have to. I want to obey you, God – because I love you. And I love that last line. [read 11]. Not only is God the source of life, and we stay attached to that life by following his commandments – but it will bring us joy. And not that fleeting joy from earthly things. Like getting a new car, or going on vacation, or sex or food or any of the temporary pleasures of this world that seem so great for a moment but really only give us joy that fades. It says, “my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.” Joy that doesn’t fade. We stay attached to God, through obedience – which leads to everlasting joy.
But the good news doesn’t stop there. There’s one more piece to the story. [v.12-15]. In the final step of this passage, we move from servant to friend. Let’s be honest, that’s quite a promotion. I would have been content to be a servant. In my experience with the presence of God, I have seen what God can do in this world, how he can transform lives and heal brokenness and lift us up to a whole new level of life, and it’s so awesome – I would do anything to be closer to God. I can’t tell you how many of my prayers start with, God thank you for letting me be a part of this. To be a part of God’s healing, forgiving, perfect love – sign me up to be a servant. But God says how about instead of a servant – I make you my friend. Jesus lays it all out on the table, because we are more than servants – we’re friends. He says, I’m not holding anything back. I’m going to show you what to do, and I’m going to tell you why. Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness and redemption – the kingdom of God, healing the world.


          The Good news this morning is that God is the vine. God is the source of life in our world. In a world that is withering, and shrinking and crumpling – this is very good news. There is a source of life available to breathe a breath of fresh air into our weary, withered souls. Do you ever feel weary of this world? Just so tired of the bad news? It’s like watching planet earth wrinkle like a saggy blueberry with all the life sucked out of it, and the longer we stay away from God – the more our soul withers. God abides in us and if we could just stay attached to that vine – we can grow and be ripe and full of life.
And so the first step is stay attached to the vine. Abide in God. Love God, follow his commandments. Three really easy ways to make that work. Read the bible, pray and get together with other Christians– we call that church. It’s in our ministry process – that little house metaphor – lay the foundation, set up the supports. Church. The next step is that after we make sure we are attached to the vine – our life starts to bear fruit. Our life starts to ripple outwards into our community, into our families, into our workplaces – and people will notice. In our ministry process, that’s the “shout it from the rooftop” part. First we lay the foundation, set up our support beams, and then shout it from the rooftop!   


          So, how does that work? How do we return people to God? How do we bring our family members and our friends to know who God is? How do we connect with total strangers who don’t know God? To share God’s love with the world – you don’t need a degree, you don’t need amazing talents or fancy words and you definitely don’t have to get up in front of big groups of people. You don’t have to be some super confident extrovert to reach other people for Jesus. Can I let you in on a little secret – I don’t know what I’m doing either. I’m the professional, literally this is my day job – and I have no idea what I’m doing. Every time someone asks, “Hey can I come in and talk to you about Jesus?” Or “Hey can I come in and ask you questions about my child’s death or the abuse I dealt with or my husband leaving me or my doubts about God?” Every time someone asks me, “Can I talk to you about God?” I am terrified. I get really excited, because I love those moments, but I am so afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing, that I won’t know what to say at all – how can I do this? Every time I counsel, or sit down to have these conversations I am drenched in prayer, and maybe a little nervous sweat. I watch people walk up to me and I know they’re going to ask me about God – in my head I am desperately crying out to God, “Help me, help me, help me.” I am on my knees begging for God’s help, and when they leave, I’m on my knees again – sometimes literally, “Please take my stupid, fumbling words, and do your work in their lives.” We don’t change lives because we’re perfect or because we have all the answers. We change lives because God takes what we do and does something bigger with it. When you want to reach someone, when you want to make the world a better place – drench your work in the presence of God, surround yourself in prayer. Stay attached to the vine. Abide in God.  
But before we engage, we have to remember who we are talking to. Because who you are talking to affects how you tell the story. God is the answer to a massive variety of problems in the world. Because God comes to us in our need, and we have different needs. When I’m telling the story of Jesus to an Atheist, my focus is different than when I’m trying to reach someone who has been a victim or survivor of abuse. It’s the same God, the same story, but we emphasize different parts to be the most effective. When I’m talking to an Atheist, I spend a lot time focusing on the reality that there is something bigger than us out there. Something that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. But when I talk to a victim of abuse, I spend a lot of time talking about how Jesus forgives our sins, and wipes away our broken past, and heals us and gives us a new life. A long time ago, I had the privilege of sitting down with a young lady who had been abused by her uncle. Uncle’s now in prison for years, it was a horrible thing she went through. She had gone through hell, and it broke her. She got into drugs, gained a bunch of weight, dropped out of school, she was suicidal and she said she hadn’t slept in days. And during the conversation, I asked if I could put my hand on her shoulder, and she said no. She couldn’t physically be touched by a man, she was so broken. I asked if I could look her in the eyes, just to connect, show her I cared – it was too intense. She stared at the floor for that conversation. And I didn’t know what to say, and so just I started talking about the cross – and how, because of what Jesus did, we can leave our broken past at the foot of the cross. She was so upset and so I started talking about how God hates evil, and how he’s going to wipe away every tear. How he’s going to fix this broken world. Just pieces of the story I could think of. I talked about repentance, and how it’s a complete turning around what the things in our past. A 180 shift. Jesus used strong language – he said we have to die to ourselves, and our pain and our past has to die, and receive a new life from Jesus. And finally it started to connect. She finally started to understand what God could do for her and her broken life. And the end of that conversation. She gave me a hug. She was petrified, shaking like a leaf trying to get her arms around me. I will never forget that moment. I gave her a very gentle hug, and she said, “I haven’t even been able to hug my Father, yet but now I think I can try.” Do you understand why I say I have the coolest job on the planet? No human could do that. To break through the wall of pain that girl was going through. That was Jesus entering her heart. I’m not telling you this story so you’ll be like, “woah, Pastor JJ really reached that teenager when he was a youth leader.” Because I didn’t do anything that night. I am nothing. If you stay attached to God, you can do more than I ever could. In your life, there are people who need you, people you can reach – that I never could.
I need you to realize that when you stay attached to God, attached to the vine, you can do anything. You can reach anyone. You can literally spread God’s love into the world – not a watered down version of generic niceness – but a life transforming gospel message that brings people back to God. The last thing I want to show today is the power of narrative. Earlier I said you don’t need fancy degrees, or clever words – and you don’t. The only thing you need to heal our world, to reach people for Jesus are two stories. You need two stories to reach our broken world. That’s it. You need God’s story and your story. This is the core of evangelism – two stories. God’s story is what we call the gospel, the story of Jesus, what God did in the world. Second, you need your story. What has your journey with God been like? What are your struggles, what have you overcome, what are your celebrations, how has God been present in your life? If you know those two stories – you can reach anyone. So this week I have a little homework for you. I know, get over it. This week, I want you to set some time aside and write God’s story, and then write your story. You have to actually sit down and write it. Sit down with a computer, or a pencil and pad and write everything you can come up with for God’s story. All the little details you can remember about the story of Jesus. Don’t be embarrassed if it’s incomplete – it’s harder than you think the first time. That’s why we have to practice, we have to write it down. Second, write your story. This one is actually more important. Sit down, plot it out. Write your story, write God’s story. It might take you a couple weeks – but it is so helpful. That’s as practical as it gets to be disciples of Jesus Christ preparing to transform the world.

            Are you tired of living in a world that is withering? Are you tired of watching the news and shrugging your shoulders, and shaking your head at the latest terrible thing that’s happened? Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed by a broken world, weary and exhausted from watching our community circle the drain? So why don’t we do something about it? Learn God’s story, write down your own – and then watch the power of narrative, the power of God’s narrative re-write the story of a broken world around us. Trust me, it’s a lot of fun. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you stay attached to the vine. May you abide in God and God abide in you. And may your story, the story of God in your life – transform the world. Amen.

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