Sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/12/2010
[Sign on all the pews: Hey there! This pew is recommended for people who sat on the other side of the church during the last celebration they attended, or for first time guests. Thanks. Signed, Jesse Wilson.]
This week and next we'll be kicking off two new sermon series for the fall. One is called "Nudge" and it's about evangelism. It will center on Luke 24, where the first evangelist awakens human beings to their first awareness of the living presence of the God who they thought was dead. We'll start that one today. The other is called "Seeds and Soil: Spiritual Growth for Carbon Based Life Forms." It will center on Mark 4, where the first farmer tells a story about seeds and soil and how real life takes root in us and thrives, and how it doesn't. We'll start that one next week. The two series will work hand in hand together - I hope - like graceful dance partners to bring the music of the good news of the kingdom to life in us and through us.
So let's start with Nudge, the series about evangelism.
For some of us, evangelism is a dirty word. And I'd agree, it is a dirty word. Not in the sense that it's made out of unholy stuff, but in the sense that it's gotten dirt on it, to the point where many can hardly stand to be around it.
Some of us hear "evangelism" and we think about the pressure tactics that can be exerted on people to get them to agree to a new way of thinking, a new way of living, whether they want to or not. We think about converting people, or proselytizing people.
And the pressure and manipulative tactics in that kind of evangelism make us go, "ick."
Or we think about how some people think they are better, or more right than some other people, and how those people invest their energies in relationships with those people in order to "win them over" or "get them on their team" or "close the deal", abandoning them if they don't get with the program fast enough or on the right terms.
And that false way of relating - pretending to love, but really just using people to accomplish some ulterior agenda - makes us go, "ick."
Some of us hear "evangelism" and we think about the skills and giftings of people who are so much better than us at that kind of stuff - whatever that kind of stuff is, maybe bold and persuasive talking, maybe super-spiritual evangelism gifts, maybe being good at memorizing and regurgitating things like the 4 spiritual laws or the Roman road.
And that gap between us and them makes us feel inadequate and inferior, and we go "ick."
Or we think about how much we long for others to experience the wonder and beauty of the good news, and how unsuccessful we feel about our attempts to invite them in, or about how scared we feel to say anything at all that might make us come across wrong or dumb or hypocritical.
And that tension between what we long for and what we feel like we should be doing makes us feel guilt and shame and we go "ick."
But evangelism doesn't have to be dirty. It doesn't have to make us go "ick." Whether we are on the outside of the inside of faith in Jesus, or whether are singing with the choir.
Not if we understood what it really is, and how we are meant to participate in it together. Not if we could see it before it had been dragged through the mud.
The word "evangelism" comes from a greek word (euangelos) used in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Eu = good, angelos = messenger. So evangelism just means "bringing good news."
That doesn't sound so dirty, does it?
Casualty Notification Officers in the military have one of heaviest jobs in the world. When a soldier falls in the military, Casualty Notification Officers have to knock on the door of his wife or her husband or mother or father and deliver the news. They bear painful witness to devastating news. They have front row seats to the breaking of hearts. They are filled with grief themselves at the news they bear, and they are unwelcome guests at every home they visit.
Evangelists are not casualty notification officers.
We bear witness to good news, news that fills us with joy as we carry it. We have news that people who were long thought dead are now alive. We have news that the war is over. We have news that what was lost has been found. We have news of hope against all hopelessness. We have news of mercy triumphing over judgment. We have front row seats to broken hearts being mended.
No, our problem is not with the news we bear - not usually. Not if we really understand the good news.
Our problem is far more often with how we've understood what it means to deliver it.
We've gotten the notion that somehow we've got to convince people that they are dying so that they will want our prescription for living. That somehow we've got to convince people that they are wrong about everything we've figured out the right answers to. That somehow we've got to persuade people what they call good is actually bad, and what they think of as bad is actually good. That what they call smart is actually stupid, and what they call ignorant is actually insightful.
That's not our job. That's not the work of an evangelist.
Leonard Sweet recently wrote a book called "Nudge." The subtitle is "Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There."
That's what evangelism is really all about. Nudging each other into an awareness of a God who is already at work in our lives.
There's no manipulation or pressure in a nudge, is there?
Our job is to nudge.
Nudge. Wake up. Look.
Nudge. Hey, did you see that?
Nudge. Look at you! Well done.
Nudge. I'm here, how's it going?
Nudge. Shhh...something's happening.
Nudge. Wow, can you believe that?
Nudge. Woah, careful there.
Nudge. Woah, did you feel that?
Nudge. Oops, did I press to hard? my bad. Please forgive me.
Nudge. Do you need a hand?
Nudge. Here he is. The one you've been waiting for, right there.
Nudge. Your number just got called. It's your turn.
Nudge. Go for it. I'm cheering you on.
The best news finds its home in people through a series of nudges.
Nudging affects both the nudger and the nudge-ee.
Nudging is an act of friendship, of love.
Nudging is up close and personal.
Nudging is invited, welcomed.
Or sometimes it's not - but even when that happens, or especially when that happens - it can open the door for more honest relationship.
Nudging happens at the right time, in the right place, and it can happen anywhere, at any time.
Nudging isn't rushed or forced, yet nudgers never hesitate or sweat bullets either, because nudges happen naturally, instinctively.
Nudges produce smiles and embraces, not narrowed eyes and clenched fists.
The good news of the Kingdom of God arrives first with all kinds of nudges, and gets people nudging each other in wonder.
Luke 24 tells the story of the best news in the world being delivered through a series of nudges - all initiated and commissioned by the first evangelist. It takes place a couple of days after Jesus has been executed on Roman cross, and everyone who loved him is despairing and despondent.
Notice all of the nudges...
mysterious signs - Nudge.
a question: why do you seek the living among the dead? - Nudge.
a reminder: remember what he said to you? - Nudge.
a report of experiences that lands at first as nonsense. -Nudge.
nonsense that leads to investigation - Nudge.
investigation that leads to wondering and conversation - Nudge.
Jesus pays attention to them. Asks them a question. -Nudge.
Notices their expressions. Asks another question. -Nudge.
Listens to their answer. Surprises them with a very different perspective, an unexpected viewpoint - one that speaks to what they already know, but tells a different story about it. - Nudge.
stays with them. doesn't make himself a nuisance, acts as if he's going on. - Nudge
accepts their invitation. blesses their meal. serves them. - Nudge.
their eyes are opened, and they see him. and they see themselves. they see that God has been at work in them through him all along.
And they turn around.
And they tell their story.
This is the fruit of many nudges.
And he shows up with a simple word of peace. - Nudge.
And he offers himself for examination. - Nudge.
And he eats some fish. - Nudge.
And he disrupts their minds. - Nudge. [thus the pew switch...]
And he shows them the truth - shows them what they've seen all along but couldn't see. - Nudge.
And now they are witnesses.
Now they have eyes to see.
Now they can join in the nudging.
This is the fruit of many nudges.
This is how good news is delivered in the kingdom of God. A nudge here, a nudge there. There is no wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. No techniques. No systems.
Just people paying attention to the resurrection-infused world around them.
The appearance of signs that nudge them to consider that everything isn't as they expected. That something is going on beyond their awareness.
Jesus accompanying them along the way. Paying attention to them. Paying attention to signs that God is at work.
Suggesting this or that when the time seems right. Helping them connect what they know to what he knows so that they can see it, or at least be open to it when the time for seeing comes.
Never pushing, always responding to their hunger and invitation. Patient. Never frustrated or angered at the slowness of the process.
Joining them in the normal, unexceptional things of life, looking for the right time to reveal the holy and divine present in the midst of the mundane.
Willing to open himself up for inspection, scars and all.
Never defensive about their doubts of him.
Never cursing them. Always blessing them.
Until all the nudges make a landing pad for the good news to happen, until all the nudges open the curtains enough for the light to flood in.
Everything you need to know about evangelism can be found in Luke 24. Things are not what they seem. Jesus is alive and present everywhere without boundaries, often unrecognized. We are often reading the signs wrongly, but the signs are there to be read. Every nudge is a part of long process. There is a bigger story to be told, if we can see it with God's help. The very things that disturb and frustrate and sadden us are sometimes the very things that bear witness to the good news, if we have but eyes to see it.
Next time we talk about nudging, we'll talk about the God who is already there. Everywhere. I think we'll call it "Even the empty tomb isn't empty."
1. Get nudged.
Put a target on your shoulder. Invite people close to you who love you and know how to pay attention to the God who is already there to nudge you. To point out something they see God doing in your life that maybe you didn't notice. Or to point out something they see God inviting you to join him in that you maybe haven't yet said yes to. Or to point out something they see God doing through you that you didn't notice was him so that you can cooperate with it more fully. Or to tell you a different story - a kingdom of God story - about the facts of your life than the story you've been telling yourself.
If you do this, you've just invited people to evangelize you. And isn't it true that none of us has all the good news we can use?
2. Repent of Sales Tactics and Shoves
You notice how nice people who work at good stores are to you when you come in? It feels good, but deep down, you know they might be being nice just because they want you to buy something. Not because they actually love you. Is that why you're being nice to an unbelieving "friend." Because you want them to buy something? Ick. That's not how God relates to us. He calls us to love people because he loves people. Because it's a family he's inviting us into, not a pyramid marketing scheme.
And shoves miss the point as well. We shove someone when we think we know better than they do where they should be at a particular moment in time. God surely knows better than we do where we should be at any particular moment in time, and how often does he shove us? Most of the time God seems more content to let us fall flat on our face, or even let us get hit by a train, than he is to shove us off the course we choose for ourselves, doesn't he? Because he's inviting us into a life of following him, not a life on a leash.
So do some business with God and make a settled decision in your heart to get out of the business of selling and shoving.
3. Do a little homework.
Read Luke 24 this week and ask the Holy Spirit to teach you about nudging like Jesus nudges. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how Jesus has nudged you in your life so far.
resource link: Nudge, by Leonard Sweet