Enjoy this morning’s sermon!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 18, 2015
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Taking Back Evangelism
Evangelizing. Witnessing. Giving your testimony. Proselytizing. Hearing God speak to you. Talking to God. Being saved. Born again. Prophesying. Sharing the Good News.
For mainline protestant Christians living in small town New England, these can be somewhat scary words and phrases for us to think about and especially to talk about. First of all, they kind of carry a negative connotation; they are often attributed with extreme traditions and Christian churches. And as the line between church and state grows wider and wider in our culture, no one wants to stand out in a crowd and be labeled by some sort of controversial belief system. We do not want to be stereotyped as a pushy Christian. We do not want someone who may not share our belief system to judge us for ours. So we just don’t talk about it.
I get it; I really do.
But aren’t we called as Christians to talk to God – in some way or another – and then to share our faith with the people around us?
When I was a hospital chaplain I was sitting in on an ethics panel where a psychiatric case was being presented. A patient in the hospital was very sick, but on top of that she was refusing to eat, stating that God was speaking to her and telling her not to eat.
So the question was simple: Should the hospital force her to eat by using a feeding tube – which would save her life – or should they respect her wishes – which would likely end in her eventual passing?
The answer to this question was anything but simple.
This woman claimed that God was speaking to her and telling her not to eat.
Doctors and nurses and social workers and hospital board members debated around in circles for what seemed like hours. Finally one doctor in the back of the room stood up and said, “Oh sure – like God just SPEAKS to people these days.” The entire room erupted in laughter.
Meanwhile, I was sitting in a row with 9 other chaplains; each one of us with a story to tell of the way that God spoke to us and called us into ministry.
Not one of us stood up to speak.
Here is the thing about talking about our faith: It’s scary. It is as simple as that: It’s scary. Even for a group of people whose sole purpose was to make sure there was a space to talk about God and faith in the hospital – it is still scary.
Listen: No one wants to stand out in the crowd for having a strange belief system. No one wants to go against what other people in their culture and society are doing. No one wants to wear a label that gives people a reason to judge. No one wants to be the reason that an entire auditorium full of hospital employees erupts in laughter.
But if we will not do it – then who will?
The bible is full of scriptures that tell stories of moments in people’s lives – ordinary people’s lives – where God came into their midst and spoke to them. Where God called them into ministry. Where God asked them to take a leap of faith. Where God illuminated the vision of a path not yet travelled. Where God asked them to stand out in a crowd; to go out on a limb and trust that their faith was strong enough to hold them up.
In this morning’s reading from the Old Testament, God appeared to Samuel, who was only a young boy at the time. God called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and at first Samuel assumed it was Eli calling him so he went to Eli to see what he wanted. Eli told Samuel he had not called him. This happened again. But by the third time God called to Samuel, Eli realized what was happening; he told Samuel to go lie down and respond the next time God called, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”
In this morning’s Gospel reading, early on in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus was in Galilee and found Phillip. He told Philip to follow him; and he did. Phillip encountered Nathanael and told him about Jesus and when Nathanael questioned Phillip, Phillip said, “Come and see.” Nathanael followed Phillip to see for himself.
These two stories are very different, but they both share similar themes of moments in time where God came into a person’s life in one way or another and they were changed. God came to Samuel and called him. Eli encouraged Samuel to answer God’s call. Phillip encountered Jesus. Phillip asked Nathanael to follow him to Jesus. Nathanael followed Phillip to see for himself who Jesus was.
I believe that we all have these moments in our lives.
These moments might look different for us. I would be willing to bet that most of us probably will not physically encounter Jesus throughout our lives or hear God speaking to us in the earthly sense that we hear people speaking to us.
But that does not make our moments any less real; any less powerful; any less transformative.
Some of us have moments in our lives where we feel like we are being called to do something, oftentimes requiring us to make a big change or take a leap of faith. Some of us have moments in our lives where we are scared or sick or in pain and find peace and comfort by something unexplainable. Some of us have moments in our lives where we suddenly have the strength to do something that we never thought would be possible. Some of us have moments in our lives where we feel like we should pledge to take the road less travelled, knowing that it is a road that leads to justice, righteousness and peace. Some of us have moments in our lives where we step into leadership roles in our churches and communities, excited to see and be part of new growth and possibilities. Some of us have moments in our lives where we feel led to teach or be a parent or volunteer. Some of us have moments in our lives where an opportunity comes to us that we never thought would.
I am not talking about earth-shattering, ground-splitting, God-appearing-in-a-burning-bush types of moments. I am talking about the ordinary moments that define our lives. We all experience them.
Sometimes the moments are easy. Sometimes the moments are hard.
But these are not just moments in our lives; these are moments that define our faith. And even if it may not be obvious to the casual observer, God is working within us in all of these moments.
And I think we need to talk about them.
Because I think when we talk about these moments, we see just how powerful they are. And when we see how powerful these moments are, we believe in just how much they are transforming us. And when we believe that we are being transformed, we can show others that that they can be transformed as well.
This is the Good News that needs to be shared with an oftentimes broken world.
I think that oftentimes we are afraid to talk about our faith because of some of the stereotypes that are out there. We do not want to be one of “those” Christians. But we practice a faith that encourages us to ask questions, that allows us to have doubts and that rests on the principles of forgiveness and second chances.
This is not a faith to be ashamed of. This is not a faith that we should be afraid to share with other people.
In fact, I think the people around us – the people in our community, the people who we work with, who we see in our day-to-day lives – are craving a faith like this. They just do not know that it is out there.
So let’s tell them.
As we leave this place today, let us all pledge to, let us commit to – okay, let us try to live out our faith, proclaiming to the world without fear how God is speaking to us, teaching us, leading us, calling us and strengthening us in our faith.
Let us be like Samuel, who heard a call from God and answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Let us be like Phillip, who followed Jesus and then encouraged others to do the same. Let us be like Nathanael, who followed Phillip and believed that Jesus was the Son of God.
Let us rise to the examples that have been set for us. Let us take back the words that carry such negative meaning in our society. Let us not be afraid to evangelize, to witness and to share the Good News, because – my friends – we have news that is worth sharing. We have news of a welcoming church, of a judgment-free faith and of worship that is designed to be meaningful, relevant and accessible. I know that it can be scary. But I know that it will also be transformative.
So let us be who God created us to be, who Jesus redeemed us to be and who the Holy Spirit sustains us to be.
Thanks be to God!