Friday, February 12, 2010

What Baptism Can Do For Us - Part III

You are an Evangelist of the Gospel

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
– Matthew 28:19-20
As baptized members of the Church, we also become Evangelists who spread the good news of God in Christ to others. The Greek word from which we get the word “evangelist” is euangelion – which literally means one who tells good news. Unfortunately, the word “evangelist” has become loaded with expectations and images that often bear little resemblance to good news.

Our present day culture has been greatly influenced by broadcast media and Christians of various denominations have used the media as a means to spread the Gospel message. Dating back to the early 20th century, preachers such as The Reverend Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple-McPherson, Billy Graham and others began to use radio, film and eventually television to spread the Christian message. These preachers were eventually called “televangelists” and they have influenced the spiritual landscape of the American culture. The approach of these evangelists can be quite confrontational in nature challenging us to make a decision for Christ and presenting the dire consequences of eternal damnation for those who do not. This image born of televangelism is largely how we have come to internalize what the word “evangelist” means. For some, this image of evangelism is distasteful and even offensive. If, however, we return to the root of the word evangelist, we can begin to reclaim what being an evangelist really means – one who tells the good news of Christ.

What is “the Gospel?”

To be an Evangelist of the Gospel requires us to first explore what the word “gospel” even means. The word “gospel” comes from the old English words “god” (meaning “good”) and “spel” (meaning “news” or “tidings”). The good news or good tidings is that God came among us into our human existence in the person of Jesus Christ in order to reconcile the world back to a right relationship with God. In essence, Jesus Christ opened for us a way back to God. No matter how far we stray, as Christians, we have a way back to God through Christ’s reconciling death on the cross to save us. This is good news!

Too often, we narrowly define the “gospel” as the accounts written in the New Testament: specifically, the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. While the written accounts of the life, ministry, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are important, it is also crucial to realize the gospel is more than just these written accounts. The gospel also includes the ongoing good news of what God in Christ is doing in our lives today. The only gospel we can authentically share is the good news of how we have experienced Christ’s redeeming love in our own lives. As baptized Christians, we are living, breathing, walking, and talking gospels. For those whom we meet, we may be the only gospel they have ever seen.

What Is the Work of an Evangelist?

If the Gospel is the good news of God in Christ, what is the work of an evangelist? The work of an evangelist is to tell the good news. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel always, when necessary use words.” Evangelists preach the good news of God in Christ by living authentically as Christians through all that they do and say. It’s “walking your talk” or as Father Richard Rohr calls it “lifestyle Christianity.”

There are many who can give “lip service” to Christianity by making intellectual assents to belief statements. But to really be an evangelist, you need to live the message of Jesus Christ – through works of love, mercy, justice and reconciliation. Living the message of Christ is much more challenging than just making statements about what you believe.

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Love is the mandate Christ gave us when he told us to “love one another as I have loved you.” Evangelists preach this in both deeds and words, reaching out in love to all people.

Evangelists need to have spiritual discernment in order to be effective in sharing the message of Christ. Just because you can tell the good news of Jesus Christ does not mean that every moment is an appropriate opportunity to do so. We need to be discerning and ask for God’s guidance before we share the message. Before you talk to a friend about Christ, it is critically important that you talk to Christ about your friend.

What Is Not the Responsibility of an Evangelist?

Evangelists are responsible for telling the good news of God in Christ. What evangelists are not responsible for is the outcome of telling the good news. That’s right – as Christian evangelists we are NOT responsible for the end result of our sharing the good news and that in itself is good news for us.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:3-9)
As Evangelists, we are responsible for sowing the seeds of the good news through our words and deeds. Notice how the sower did not worry about where the seeds fell in this parable – the sower was only responsible for sowing the seeds. We are likewise not responsible for whether or not the seeds sprout, grow, are snatched up or choked out. We are responsible for the sowing seeds of the Gospel message through our words and actions.

God only asks us to share the gospel message of our lives. We are responsible for that alone and we need to leave the outcomes to God. Often we will not know how our witness will impact another person. What we need to do is trust that God will use our witness to work a greater purpose. As God said through the prophet Isaiah:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
We do not always know the purpose of our sharing the good news and our vision of “success” is often different from God’s definition of it. God is responsible for the outcomes – we just need to sow the seeds.

Making Disciples

Through your baptism, you become a disciple of Jesus Christ and in turn also become an evangelist who tells the good news of what Christ is doing in your life by both your words and your deeds. Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of all nations.” By virtue of your baptism, you are called to share the good news of your faith journey with others who are seeking to grow closer to God so that they may become disciples of Jesus Christ.

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