Jane Wood Delivers Laity Address

Sharing Jesus

JWood1Tell me the stories of Jesus
With those few words, a cherished melody begins its dance through our hearts and minds – doesn’t it?
First let me hear how the children stood ‘round his knee
And I shall fancy his blessing resting on me:
Words full of Kindness
Deeds full of Grace
All in the love light of Jesus’ face.

(Source United Methodist Hymnal)

 

I have the best job in the world!  Now don’t get me wrong, I go home some afternoons and say to my husband, “you simply aren’t going to believe what happened today!” But still I have the best job in the world … because my field is evangelism.  And you know, I think each of you is workers in the field of evangelism too – I might even say with great assurance that because the fact that you are here makes it highly probable that you, like me, are evangelical.

Now that’s a pretty bold statement.  Maybe I should tell you more about  what I mean?

Evangelism and Evangelical

Evangelism is for me the act of sharing the truth of God’s transforming love through Jesus Christ.  I know that for some among us the word evangelism conjures up the excitement and powerful preaching of a Billy Graham crusade.  For others it brings to mind uncomfortable encounters when questions about how you would spend eternity were exchanged.   For others it might be a crystalline moment when your life was changed forever.  Or perhaps it was when you received a Bible or a small piece of paper was thrust into your hand and there you read for the first time about Jesus Christ.

There are so many ways in which Christ can come into a life!!

It makes me sad that in many places in our church and society today the word evangelism has gotten a bad rap because of the behaviors of a few folks – unfortunately several of them were named Jimmy and were on television.

But for me, I choose to follow the example of Jesus — to share the truth of God’s love through stories, easily understood because they are translated into today’s common language – not the principles translated mind you for those are the truths of our faith – but the way in which the story is told is familiar to the listener.

Now to Evangelical.  This one can be a bit more prickly. Evangelical is by definition “of or according to the teaching of the Gospel” and when used as a noun refers to “a member of a Christian organization that employs these teachings.”  So by definition we as United Methodists are all evangelical – our faith is based upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But that’s not what we hear throughout our culture is it? Evangelical is NOT a political party or fiscal persuasion! I grieve that the popular press has been allowed to corrupt this word so precious to the Christian people.  It has been redefined and translated into the political vernacular of our culture ….. so that in many cases causes the very people who should embrace the label to disclaim it.  Are even embarrassed to use it “in public”

Now having provided my basic definitions, I believe we can all see why I think that each of us here is in the business of evangelism.  We love our church – both our church home and the United Methodist Church – and we invest our time, energy, money, and talents into its well-being.  I would even venture to guess that the majority of those present here are engaged beyond the church walls in some form of mission work, in addition to your leadership roles that brought you here.

Our scripture for this Annual Conference’s Laity Address  is Mark 16:15 “Jesus said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to every creature.’”

Through the years The United Methodist Church has had – and continues to have – a profound impact on the World. Our efforts with UMCOR are world famous!  Within our communities and local churches we are tirelessly serving others, opening our facilities to provide space for amazing work to happen – all for the benefit of the least and the lost.  We are truly going into the world!

But what about the second part of that verse, “… and proclaim the good news to every creature.”   Do we act as the hands and feet of God in the world and yet fail to share the story?  If so, I say we are cheating those we serve AND God.  We are a people called to proclaim the Good News to every creature!

We are also United Methodists. John Wesley taught us that we cannot have personal holiness without practicing social holiness as well.    To be silent about Christ for fear of offending others; Or to be in service only for the sake of feeding our spirits  –  not for the purpose of  helping Christ come into the lives of those we serve – is not to be fully United Methodist or fully Christian.

You and I know that Jesus comes with us into the darkness, loneliness, poverty, dependence, and sadness we see so many times in the mission field.  Who here hasn’t uttered the prayer, “Dear Lord, please be with them in their suffering!”?   But after those prayers, do we introduce Jesus Christ to those folks we are serving in his name.

Do we boldly say why we are doing the mission work? By boldly I don’t mean demeaning, condemning comments – I mean having the guts to say I am a follower of Jesus Christ, he loves me, and he loves you just as much.

A dear friend of mine, Dick Looney, chuckled his delightful, deep laugh as he told me that we Christians just need to get over ourselves.  Realize that it’s not our job to save the world … only to prepare the way for God to do the saving.

So here is my challenge to each of us – become the kind of Christians we are called to be – go into the business of evangelism.  Put words to your beliefs and share those words in stories.

And to the clergy who walk alongside these amazingly committed lay people, I say we need your help, reassurance, and mentoring so that when someone says, “Tell me the stories of Jesus” we can begin the conversation that will bring His song into their life.