Sermon 10-9-2016; ‘Evangelism—The Living, Written, Spoken Word’

Luke 4:14-21, 42-44

Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water – Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, HarperCollins, 1998. 

Pastor Ruthie Tippin; First Friends Meeting Indianapolis


John’s Gospel, the Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of Mark… Four Gospels that open up the New Testament. Gospel, a word of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning “God’s spell” or “good spell”, good news. And what was that good news? That Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, had come into the world. The first persons to share that good news were Evangelists. Those bearing good tidings. And they didn’t stop at sharing the story of Christ’s coming, but also told of His teachings, His revealing of God, to everyone who would listen.

The incredible thing about the passage we heard from before this morning is that Christ Himself, the Living Word, read the written word of sacred scripture, as the spoken word. Christ became the first Evangelist, sharing good news as good news Himself. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. To let the oppressed go free.” Jim Wallace of Soujourner says “The root of the Greek verb Jesus uses in Luke 4 for “good news” is evangel, from which we get the words ‘evangelize’ and ‘evangelical.’ It’s a theological term, not a political one. It means that Jesus’ movement was to be based on proclaiming the good news, and without a doubt, Jesus’ gospel was always to be good news for the poor and oppressed.”

Who, but the poorest among us, the most oppressed, need good news the most?  When you think about all those stories in the Gospels, it wasn’t the rich who came out to the hillsides to hear this Good Shepherd.  It wasn’t the healthy who came to seek out the Great Physician.  It wasn’t those with the clear eye of the Spirit who came to be given sight.  It was those of us who needed wholeness, who longed for freedom, who were seeking something beyond ourselves, who were searching for a promise made long ago. 

That was Christ Jesus.  The embodied Gospel.  The Good News who spoke, read, and lived out the Word.  In John’s Gospel, in the very first verse, we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  James Bryan Smith writes, “Jesus reveals to us a God who creates, who loves, who heals, who understands, who blesses.  God became one of us to show himself to us and to bring us back into his family.  When we look into the face of Jesus, we see God.  We see eyes that radiate compassion and lips that say “God loves you.” We see God, because Jesus is God.” And that is the good news of the Gospels – that God became like us – because God loves us.

I was raised as an Evangelical Quaker.  The worst part about that was that we heard less about Quakerism and more about Jesus.  The best part about that was that we heard less about Quakerism and more about Jesus.  I wish I had learned more, from the time I was a little girl, about the heroes of the Quaker faith – the Valiant Sixty – who loved God, and understood their faith as Friends so much that they were willing to evangelize the whole of England – and thus the world.  But what I did see, was the modern day Valiant Sixty going to Bolivia and Peru (as Norma and Terry shared with us just a short while ago), evangelizing the people of those South American countries.  I just wish I had understood more explicitly about them going out as Quakers, and not only as Christians.  They probably assumed I understood this, but how clearly were they making it known?  How carefully were they enfolding their modern day work in the lineage of our faith as Friends?  These things matter – at least to me.  Now, as an adult, I love Quaker history, I love Quaker stories, and it matters that my children, that our children, and that you, understand the context for what we believe, and why we believe it. 

You know, from stories I’ve shared, that I’ve had a lot of help upgrading our Children’s Library. One of the reasons for that is my own grandchildren. It’s kind of selfish on my part, to be frank and honest. I have two beautiful grandchildren in Wyoming. There are no Quaker meetings in Wyoming. So I’ve begun sending them a book about Quakers every month. Every month they receive a book, just like the books that are in our library. I want them to know their Quaker heritage. It matters. It matters about what we believe and why we believe it. It matters that Quakers suffered for this God-spell – this good news, that Christ himself suffered for. 

It bothers me that so many people have stolen the power of the Gospel.  There are many evangelicals who love God and want to share the good news of God’s love.  It wounds me that others, whom I name as ‘fundamentalists’ and who use the Gospel message to force people into their own way of thinking are named among those of us who want what Christ wanted – to share the love and life of God with all people – to teach and make disciples of all people – to tell all people that God’s kingdom is at hand – within reach, within us… that our waiting for God is over.  God is with us. 

The picture on the front of our bulletin today is my grandfather.  He emigrated to the United States in 1910, and the scrawl you see there is a part of the “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States of America”.  Line 13:  Cowley, John Thomas, 29 years, 6 months. Male. Single.  Calling or Occupation:  Evangelist.  Grandpa Cowley had been sent to Liverpool from the Isle of Man to live with relatives when he was orphaned as a young boy.  He became a traveling evangelist, along with a companion, and the two of them traveled throughout England, singing and preaching in various churches, staying with families as they went.  I would have loved to have heard what he had to say… and sing.  I know from the few writings that I have of his that it wasn’t full of fear, but of love.  That the goodness of the gospel was what motivated Grandpa to travel all those miles, and to tell that good story with so many.

What is your good story?  What is authentic to you?  What do you know of God in you?  What has God taught you?  What do you have yet to learn?  How do you claim God in your life?  How do you speak of God?  How do you share God?  How do others see God in you?  Read the Gospels.  Read the Good News.  Jesus didn’t march up to people with a Bible in hand… there were no Bibles then.  Jesus didn’t walk up to people with the four spiritual laws… he had two commandments – and they were both about love.  Jesus often began by listening, and then asking questions about someone’s condition.  He most often began reaching out to someone by being a Friend.