Pastor Michael Frye:
Michael Lindvall tells the story about a Christian woman who worked in a local bookstore who was approached by a man dressed as a Hasidic Jew.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“I would like to know about Jesus.”
She took him upstairs to the section that contained books about Jesus and his ministry; but as she turned around to go back downstairs, the man said, “No. Don’t show me books; tell me what you believe.”
Although an active member of the Episcopal faith, the woman had never really been confronted that way before.
Nevertheless, she took a deep breath, thought back to her Catechism, and gave the best answer she knew how.
As the man asked questions about Jesus’ life and his ministry, what had begun as a tenuous and somewhat timid response on her part gave way to a more relaxed and positive conversation about how the person of Jesus had impacted her faith and her life.
Talking about Jesus and God outside the walls of the church makes many Christians anxious or downright nervous.
They don’t want to seem pushy or offensive, and they aren’t always sure of saying the right words.
Hearing this gospel story about how Jesus was received by people he knew in his own home town certainly doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, does it?
Mark says that when Jesus began to preach in Nazareth’s synagogue, people began talking among themselves:
“Where did this man get all this?
“What is this wisdom that has been given to him?
“What deeds of power are being done by his hands!
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
They were so offended by Jesus’ presence that he could not do great deeds of power there, except to heal a few sick people by laying his hands upon them.
Jesus’ disappointment lay, not in his own failure to do great miracles in his hometown, rather in their lack of faith and trust in someone they had known from a family they had revered.
It was at this point that Jesus decided that he had to train his disciples to be able to go into the world teaching and healing without fear of rejection or reprisal.
One would typically think that this would have required months or years of training and preparation, but Jesus was relying on their faith in his words and God’s divine power.
Not even the lack of resources, such as money or food or shelter would keep them from doing what they were being sent to do, because God would supply what they needed.
This story should be reassuring for Christians today.
Here was a group of followers whose skills certainly did not lie within the arena of outreach and ministry; yet, their faith in Jesus’ commission allowed them to accomplish miraculous things on God’s behalf.
What, then, might Christians in today’s world be able to accomplish without anxiety or fear when relying upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
What might you be able to accomplish in God’s name by speaking the truth in love straight from your heart in words that God will give you?
What miracles can be accomplished by our setting aside our apprehensions about having the right gifts to bring about the results that God expects from us?
Many of us, says King Duncan, are carrying burdens today that we do not have to carry.
Only our lack of faith, trust, and confidence that God really is alive and able to relieve us of our burdens keeps us in bondage.
A man was riding down the road on his donkey while, at the same time, he carried a two hundred pound sack of wheat on his shoulders.
When someone asked him why he didn’t take the weight off of his shoulders and strap the wheat to the donkey, the man said, “Oh, no! I couldn’t ask the donkey to carry all that weight.”
Some of the excuses we hear from people today about why they don’t rely more upon God to help them carry their own burdens and trials sound just as silly as the story about the man on the donkey.
Do you remember Paul’s words from our second lesson as he spoke about dealing with his own weakness?
“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
The reason Paul and Peter, and the other disciples were able to be so successful in their ministries was that they were able to look beyond themselves and their own burdens in order to show that they and Jesus really cared for those to whom they were sent.
Jesus never introduced himself as the Messiah to anyone whom he healed or preached.
He showed his care for them first, then he revealed himself to them.
This is evangelism in its truest form.
I know that the term evangelism scares many of you, but no one is a true disciple of Christ without being an evangelist at heart.
We are called by Christ to tell his story, just as the Hasidic Jew was asking of the woman in our opening story: “Tell me what you believe.”
It is far easier to tell the story about Jesus if first we care about those with whom we are sharing that story.
It is also better if we minister to the needs and concerns of those individuals, as well, so that our care is translated into actual acts of kindness and love.
We must remember that we, too, have a story to tell regarding our own faith journeys.
Sometimes telling our own story of how we have come to this point in our faith encourages others to share their own stories.
His story, my story, your story – this is evangelism, telling the Good News of Jesus Christ and how that good news impacts our lives and the lives of our neighbors; being able to listen to the stories of others as well as telling our own.
Our youth had the opportunity to practice their own evangelism skills at the National Youth Gathering in Houston last week.
You can feel the energy and enthusiasm as you hear our youth and adults who attended the event speak about their experiences.
We all have a story to tell… especially a story about Jesus in our own lives.
Unfortunately, the word evangelical has come to be associated with a brand of religion that is often restrictive, requires that one be “born again” through a specific faith experience that often requires re-baptism, and can also be intolerant of others whose Christian beliefs do not resemble their own.
Historically that term began with the Reformation when Martin Luther referred to the newly formed protestant church in Germany as the “Evangelische Kirche,” or Evangelical Church. The German Lutheran Church still uses that term today.
Some of you may not even be aware that the official name of this congregation, is St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
So, we have a long history of “telling the Good News of Jesus” through our congregation’s witness and social outreach in our community, through our cooperative ministries within the North Carolina Synod, and through our churchwide ministries and global missions.
So, the valuable lesson that I believe we can take with us today from these lessons is that God doesn’t require a specific degree in order for us to be the church in our community and in our world; only that we are open and willing to become his ambassadors and his healers in a world that is desperately seeking answers.
God does not hold us “responsible for the response to our ministries in Christ’s name, but only for our own faithfulness.
With such assurance, we can witness boldly and faithfully on behalf of the Kingdom of God.
In the name of Christ, and for his sake,