Saturday, May 31, 2008

Evangelism: Love in Action

The following is a sermon written by Fr Rob Whitaker of the Anglican Catholic Church's mission of St John the Evangelist in Virginia Beach, which he preached just last Sunday on the very topic we have broached:

Today I want to talk with you about evangelism. Now, I know that for many people, and particularly for those of us from Anglican, Episcopalian, or Roman Catholic backgrounds, evangelism can be a very off-putting word and a most uncomfortable topic. We may think evangelism is something that Baptists do, but certainly not something that proper Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Catholics do. After all, it just wouldn’t be good manners to evangelize!

But in our Epistle reading for today, we heard St. John say, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”

And so my question to you is this: must not this love that we are commanded to have for others also include concern for their souls and for their eternal destiny?

Earlier this month Kittie and I traveled to southern California for a retreat-meeting of various folks who are interested in planting new churches and building up current churches within the Anglican Catholic Church as well as other traditional Anglican jurisdictions. Our purpose in having this meeting was to share experiences and lessons learned, and to talk about what works in building up churches in our Anglican Catholic tradition.

It was interesting to hear some of the different stories that were shared. One of the priests there has helped lead his parish over the past 20+ years from a congregation about the size of St. John’s to a thriving congregation of several hundred members. They have progressed from renting space in a women’s club to now owning several acres of prime real estate in a very expensive suburb with a beautiful church building, fellowship hall, library, bookstore, two-story classroom building, and so on.

Another priest who was there has started two different Anglican churches over the past two decades, both of which began with only himself, his wife, and his children. Both are now flourishing parishes with their own buildings, and one of them is starting a classical Christian school for kindergarten through grade 3, and which they hope will eventually become grade K through grade 12.

A third priest who was there went to a parish about 15 years ago that was dying. Over the past decade he has helped shepherd that parish to growth and renewal. They have grown dramatically in numbers, paid off their building, and built two additional structures for Sunday School rooms and offices. And all of these structures are now completely debt free.

One of the things that was clear to all of us at this meeting was that the churches that are growing are churches that are clearly focused outward. Rather than being simply shrines or country clubs of the one true Church or the 1928 Prayer Book or the Anglican Missal, these churches are focused on evangelism and outreach, on sharing the Good News of God’s love for lost mankind through Jesus Christ, and making disciples of new people in their communities. They all do this in different ways, ranging from Alpha groups to Bible studies, from parties to Friday night dinners. And each of them is strongly involved in outreach—in doing things to genuinely help folks in their communities as well as throughout the world. They sponsor orphanages, crisis pregnancy centers, other churches, and mission trips for their youth. They provide outreach to military personnel, to unwed mothers and their babies, and to the homeless.

And what clearly characterizes each of these growing churches is a genuine love for other people.

St. John says in our Epistle reading that “the one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Love, as we Christians understand it, is not a human thing, but a divine thing. Love is a gift from God. When the Bible says that “God is love,” it means much more than “God is loving.” God loves not because he finds things that are worthy of his love, but because it is his nature to love. He loves us not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

Sometimes church people think of evangelism as a necessary evil: something that must be done to bring in more people because the church needs them to pay the bills. But this is not really evangelism, but a kind of bait and switch. The motivation for this is not love but selfishness. And most people will see right through that.

Real Christian evangelism is about love. In fact, I would suggest that true Christian evangelism is nothing less than love in action. Because if we truly love our brother or sister, then we will want the best for him or her. And that will mean a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, a relationship that must be forged and sustained within the Church, the body of Christ.

The apostle Paul writes: “‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ [But] how then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:13-14).

Today we are living in a post-Christian world. The vast majority of people in our nation do not go to church on a regular basis, do not have a genuine relationship with Jesus or with other Christians, and certainly do not believe in Biblical Christianity. I recently heard that only 4% of the young people in our nation are believing Christians. And so we are in real danger of losing an entire generation for Christ.

There’s a saying that “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” If the unsaved and the unbelieving, the unchurched and the fallen-away are to come to faith in Christ, it will have to be because of the efforts of Christian believers.

And so here’s my request to all of us here this morning. I ask that each of us here today begin to pray that God will open our eyes and our heart to the opportunities God gives us to share with someone in our life who does not know Jesus, does not believe in the tenets of the Christian faith, or who does not have a church. It might be a relative or a friend or an acquaintance. It might be a co-worker or a neighbor. Maybe it’s a merchant or a clerk in a retail store where we do business. Pray that God will open our eyes and our hearts to share the love of God through Christ with them. This will almost certainly take time, because we will first need to form a relationship with people before their own hearts will be open to hearing about Jesus from us. It will take patience and waiting on the Lord for the right opportunity. It will take courage. And above all, it will take love. As Jesus said, “as the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love of us, a love so great that you came to live among us and to share in all the temptations, trials, and sufferings of this mortal life. Open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts, Lord, to the needs of others in our communities, and give us the courage and the wisdom to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those whom you are in the process of saving. Help us to love them just as you love us. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Excellent comments. Thank you for sharing them.

Anonymous said...

Heres one:

Having no Anglican Church near me, I went to a Catholic service last night with my family. Everything in the Church was modern, almost new age looking. I talked with the priest after and he said he evangelizes by becoming relevant to those people today. He proclaimed himself as being Postmodern,NOT a Black/White kind of thinker etc. He even mentioned the Spirit as being female in his homely. AAAGH!
How can Rome allow this?


poetreader said...

Wonderful sermon, and just what I would expect from Fr. Rob.


And, oh, Timotheus, there's a good example of why I hesitate to call an RC parish "Catholic". It ain't necessarily so. "Is the Pope Catholic?" Well, yes, I fully believe this one is. Does one necessarily find the Catholic faith in an RC church? This experience hows otherwise.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I see that Fr. Whitaker has drawn out from I John some of the same things in his sermon that I had in mine (posted below this one). I am glad that Continuing Anglicans are not willing to live down to the image in the average caricature; you know, exclusively gray-haired, focused only on the Prayer Book, content with small congregations. I find that instead we have people very eager for evangelism and growth.

Albion Land said...

Fr Hart,

Is there something wrong with having grey hair?

poetreader said...

I used to have grey hair. White now. ;-)


poetreader said...

Oh, and Fr. Hart,
My rector also said some of the same things from the same Epistle. I think God wants us to hear something.


J. Gordon Anderson said...

Great sermon. A wonderful example of how one can get interesting and timely topics from the sometimes maligned "one year" lectionary.

I preached on evangelism today myself! One can also preach on evangelism during the Epiphany season (Christ being made manifest to Gentiles).

Alice C. Linsley said...

Very fine message. I hope the parishioners were listening and that they will act on these words.

God is love. To "put on Christ" is to put on the love of God.

Anonymous said...

Timotheus writes:

He even mentioned the Spirit as being female in his homely. AAAGH!
How can Rome allow this?

More importantly, how can any Continuing Anglican seriously contemplate union with Rome when its house is in such obvious disorder?


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Interesting that so many of us saw in the first Epistle of St. John, and his words about charity, the need to preach about evangelism as a duty to our neighbor, that is a manifestation of love. The old Charismatic that is still deep down inside of me can't help but come to the same conclusion as Ed: "I think God wants us to hear something."

Albion Land said...

Someone once likened the story to our discovering chocolate, and knowing there was an endless supply of it. Who would not be tripping over himself wanting to share the news with everyone?

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Hart wrote, "The old Charismatic that is still deep down inside of me can't help but come to the same conclusion as Ed: 'I think God wants us to hear something.'"

I was never a Charismatic, but I was once a mystic, in the form of a Friend (Quaker). The Friends have a saying about a message, such as this one, that seems to strike one as extremely timely and necessary: "It spoke to my condition". This implies that the Holy Spirit was guiding the speaker to say what the hearers needed to hear.

I think Fr. Rob spoke to our condition.

John A. Hollister+

Anonymous said...

I believe it is a sign of real health that we Continuers are even having a discussion of Evangelism, and I rejoice that "evangelism" is the topic, rather than the trendier term "church growth."

When this topic comes up, as it seems to more and more, it is necessary to ask why evangelism is important in the first place. In a recent "Rector's Forum," I gave a multiple choice quiz on the topic, which contained the question:

St ----'s needs to grow because (pick the reason most important to you):
Large numbers are evidence that God is blessing us;
New members can help us pay our mortgage;
New members can help us expand our program (Sunday School, choir, acolytes, etc;
We can feel that our church is important in the community;
Our members are getting older and we need new people to help with the maintenance;
We wish to share our Christian faith.

I am happy to report that most of our members gave the correct answer, but not all!

It has been fairly well established that churches grow when the membership wishes to grow. Laity who sincerely desire growth will find ways to invite their friends, family members, and neighbors, and make visitors eager to return. Where a church, on the other hand, is not growing, this may well reflect an ingrown culture which is resistive to growth. How soon is a new-comer welcome to become an usher or an altar guilder?

The Episcopal Church as we remember it so fondly prior to 1976 was frequently a rather exclusive little club. I wonder if God may be keeping us small for a generation or longer to cleanse us from some of the snootiness and prissiness which poisoned our atmosphere. Worshipping in borrowed facilities or storefront situations has surely had a salutary effect on many people.

When I preach that particular Gospel (last Sunday's), I like to focus on the role of the servant, who is sent forth time after time, with varying degrees of success. At the end of the parable, he is still running his little legs off. The parable is complete, but the story is on-going! This is where we should find ourselves in the parable: servants sent out, over and over, with an invitation to a banqet.
Laurence K. Wells

poetreader said...

Good words, Fr. Wells!

Anglicanism has had such a marvelous ability to build a pleasing environement (which is most certainly a good thing to do and a blessing we can offer to others) that it has often become very easy to hunker down in the pleasure of it all and get comfortable.

Should we be comfortable in our nice churches? Was that ever appropriate? What of the halt and the maimed and the blind and those hiding in the bushes? Can we really be comfortable if there is one person left on the outside?
It's not fashionable to talk much about Hell in this day and age, but we believe it to be a reality. We believe that salvation comes only through Christ. Our comfort, then, may sometimes be maintained at the horrendous cost of allowing those who are hell-bound to reach their destination without finding the Savior.

Do we, with the full Catholic gospel in our possession have less urgency in these matters than Baptists and Pentecostals who have only part of it? I'm afraid that is demonstrably true, and I'm not sure we'll be pleased with Our Lord's voice from the Throne.

Ah, yes, beautiful buildings and all the accoutrements for proper liturgy are good things, and should be sought, but, were I a priest, I would prefer that my parish remain in the storefronts and hired halls until such a time as I knew the people had caught the excitement of spreading what God has given them.