Sermon: The Church’s Dirty Ten-Letter Word
Scripture: John 1.37-42
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, FL
Date: January 15, 2017, The Second Sunday of Epiphany
This morning, we are going to begin with the end in mind. I’m going to give you four words which are the answers to what we will be unpacking today. So, if you are the type who likes to write notes, here are the four words you to shape your outline: Know; Embrace; Meet; and Introduce. Now that you have all the answers, let’s jump into the question!
Back in the ancient times, i.e. 1972, the late comedian George Carlin had a famous sketch on the “Seven Bad Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The amazing thing is you still cannot say them on TV! But let me ask you this: Did you know the Church of Jesus Christ has at least three words people would rather not be said in church, particularly from the pulpit?
The first dirty word people don’t like to hear from the pulpit is repent. People wince at that word because it reminds them they are to stop what they are doing and turn around and live in a different way. It means to cease and desist with behaviors that demean the image of God in others as well as in ourselves. Though ‘repent’ is a word people don’t like to say in church, it’s a good word. We need to be able to say it. So, say it with me: Repent. That was not so bad, was it?
The second dirty word people don’t like to hear from the pulpit or in church is the word money, or its pseudonym, Stewardship. People hate it when the church talks about money and stewardship. We shouldn’t talk about it because that’s my personal business, thank you very much! I find it ironic that people will tell their pastors the most intimate details of their lives but when they find out their pastor knows how much they give to the church budget, they go nuts! Money or stewardship is a dirty word in church for most people. Go ahead and say this offensive word: Stewardship. Good, you’re getting the hang of it!
The third dirty word people do not like to hear in church or even think about is the ten-letter word that strikes fear in the masses. It’s the word Evangelism. Evangelism is a dirty word to many in the church because they feel evangelism is manipulative, pushy, or confrontational. Many believe that evangelism means cramming one’s faith beliefs don’t the throats of others and that if they don’t listen to us then they are going to hell. I mean really, who wants to tell someone about Jesus if we think that if they reject what we say we might be responsible for their eternal life? Evangelism literally means “to Good News someone.”
Friends, we have a distorted understanding of Evangelism and today’s scripture in John can help us sort out the mess of what evangelism is and isn’t as well as provide us a user-friendly model to follow. So, let’s say together the ten-letter dirty word people don’t like to say: Evangelism!
Our text today has John the Baptist talking to the people who are following him and have responded to his call for baptism for the remittance of sins. In verse 1.29, John proclaims to those who are following him, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” as he is pointing to Jesus walking by the group. In the group that heard John say this was a man named Andrew and some unnamed disciple. And this brings us to our text today. Listen to the Word of God!
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Looking at our text, I want to lift some observations for us that hopefully will demystify evangelism as well as help each of us see how we can be a witness for Good News. I want us to realize that evangelism is not rocket science nor is it the duty of a select few in the church.
Our Story has John the Baptizer pointing out Jesus to Andrew and to the other unnamed disciple and Andrew and the other immediately began following Jesus. I love what happens next. Jesus notices them following and he takes the initiative to stop what he is doing and asks them the one penetrating question every one of us, indeed, all people wrestle to answer. Jesus asks rather directly: What are you looking for (v. 38)? The first observation is that before we can tell others about what God has done in our life, we need to first understand what we are looking to experience from listening to and searching for in Jesus. It’s vital for each of us to ponder the question Jesus asked Andrew: What are you looking for? Why are you on a quest to know God? Why are you following Jesus? How do you answer that question? Once you can answer why you are following Jesus, then you are ready for evangelism.
This leads us to our second observation: Andrew was not completely sure what he was looking for but Andrew did have a yearning for something deeper in his life. Jesus asks him, “Andy, what are you looking for?” and Andrew has one of the oddest responses in Scripture. Did Andrew ask Jesus if he was the Messiah? No. Did Andrew ask Jesus to perform a miracle? No. Andrew asked, of all things, “Where are you staying?” I’m not sure that would be the one question I would ask the Savior of the world if I had the chance but for Andrew, knowing where Jesus was staying was enough. Andrew was not sure of the full ramifications of what it meant that Jesus was the Lamb of God. He has not witnessed, per John’s Story, any miracle or healing. He has simply experienced the presence of Jesus and that was enough. He couldn’t put words to it but he knew that there was something different about this man which made Andrew want to spend more time with him. Andrew, whom I like to call The Patron Saint of Evangelism, reminds us that we are to embrace the fact we will not have all the answers when we tell people about our experience with Jesus. That, my friends, is very okay!
The third observation about evangelism in our Story is that Jesus met Andrew where Andrew was in his life. Andrew didn’t have all the answers and for Jesus was that was just fine. Andrew at this point did not even have good questions and for Jesus that was just fine, too! Jesus wasn’t pushy or demeaning. He didn’t respond with, “Andrew, c’mon! That’s the dumbest question anyone could ask me!” Jesus met Andrew right where Andrew was and he was still a little perplexed, questioning and wondering.
Andrew and the other disciple went with Jesus and spent the day with him. We have no idea what they talked about. We can presume that since they spent the day together and the text mentions, “it was four o’clock in the afternoon” that Andrew, the other disciple, and Jesus worshiped together for the Jewish prayer hour held at three o’clock. They spent time together. They built a relationship with one another. In this light, when we read in other Gospels how Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee and sees Andrew fishing and calls out to him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people!”, it is not surprising Andrew dropped what he was doing and followed. Jesus was patient. Relationships take time before a call to discipleship can be offered and answered.
The final observation we note about evangelism from our Story is that Andrew’s style of evangelism was to first go to someone he already knew, i.e. his brother, Simon and all he did was to introduce Simon and Jesus to one another. “Simon, this is Jesus, the one I told you about and Jesus this is my brother, Simon.” Andrew then backs off. Andrew didn’t convert, cajole, shame, or push Simon to believe. He simply introduced the two of them and let Jesus take over. Andrew reminds us we are not responsible for another’s conversion but Jesus is. There is no need to beat, cajole, deride, shame and push people into following Christ! No, all we are asked to do is make a non-threatening introduction and let God take over.
I’ve said it once and I will say it again: This church is one generation away from extinction. Sadly, that’s not only a prediction for our church but for the overall Church of Jesus Christ. The Christian church does not have a healthy understanding of evangelism or the Gospel and a result, people are turned off to the Christian faith, have little or no faith in the institution of Church, or perceive Christians to be hypocritical judges of others who act like theological know-it-alls. We need to overcome the notion that evangelism is a dirty word and a duty exercised by only a few. We first begin learning to know why we are looking for and drawn to Jesus and then follow our scripture Story’s lead by
• responding to Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” the best we can;
• embracing the fact that belief in Jesus does not mean we have all the answers and are not expected to give all the answers when we share the winsome Story of the Gospel with others;
• meeting people where they are and then build relationships with them;
• Introducing people in our current networks of relationships to Jesus’ winsome way of life and then back off.
Is that too awfully difficult? Know why we believe; embrace you don’t have all the answers and neither do others; meet people where they are and then develop relationships; introduce them to God but let God do the work of transformation.
This week, I want each of us to ponder the question Jesus asked and discern why we are drawn to him. I want us to ponder who we know or with whom we can build a natural relationship with so that the Spirit can provide an opportunity for us to simply ask the other one question: I’m in a community of folks who are looking to better understand God. Would you like to meet me for worship, Bible Study, feeding the homeless, taking flowers to the homebound….
No beloved, Evangelism is not rocket science. It’s all about knowing, embracing, meeting and introducing. For Christ’s sake, the Church’s sake, won’t you join me in doing it? And all of God’s people said, Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2016 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.