Sunday, January 13, 2008

Epiphanies in Evangelism (Week #1):
Acts 18:1-10 - “Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee”

(Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, January 13, and Monday, January 14, 2008

Listen to the audio of this sermon (Real Player)

I want to show you a TV commercial about evangelism. (Click here)

Philawarepragueicago. I love this series of commercials (directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic). The whole idea that AT&T is a network that works in the place where you live, even if it is called Philawarepragueicago, is exactly the idea of evangelism, reaching out to our community.

That’s why you’ll find the map on the insert in your bulletins; it’s also on the screen. Our network, our immediate area surrounding Immanuel could be known as Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee. We’re not just a congregation for Brookfield; we’re a congregation that touches Brookfield, Menomonee Falls, Butler, Wauwatosa, and Milwaukee. That’s our network: Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee.

The map you have only goes out about 4 miles in any direction from Immanuel. If the map included where all of our members live, the map would stretch much farther out. But this is a map of the network for where our church building lives, the network of our immediate community, the community that we can touch through what happens in this place.

I am thrilled with how much Immanuel is already doing in missions—whether it is in the center city of Milwaukee or in Uganda or other places. That’s awesome, and please don’t let that stop.

Yet, I know a lot of you have also been saying that the next step this congregation needs to take is to make a real connection with our immediate community, our Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee. When I think about wanting to help us focus on reaching out to our community, my first thought is: what’s nearby? What’s in our immediate area that we can support, get involved with, have a presence at, make an impact on, show up at, get to know?

For instance, I know there’s been discussion about wanting people to know us more than just being the church across from Blair’s True Value. However, Blair’s is an easy landmark to use for directions to our church, and Blair’s does a lot more advertising than we can. If we say we’re across from Blair’s, there’s a lot of people in the area who will know immediately where we are.

Yet, how many of us really know anyone at Blair’s? They let us park in the parking lot on Sundays, but have we really taken the time to get to know their employees, find out how we could help them, look for ways to do business with them, etc.?
That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about with this Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee thing. Let’s rethink our immediate neighborhood and find ways to partner with businesses, support community events, ask city and village governments how we can help them, lend aid to organizations and schools, and just get to know people who are very close to our church—but who may not know Jesus.

And that’s today’s epiphany in evangelism: This congregation is in this location for a reason, so let’s go next door and find out who needs to know Jesus.

That’s what happened for Paul in our reading from Acts 18. Paul was in Corinth for a reason, so he went next door and found out who needed to know Jesus.

When Paul is in Corinth, he starts like he normally did; he preaches in the synagogue, among the Jews, the ones who would understand the idea that Jesus had come to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament.

But when they grew tired of him, when they told him he couldn’t preach anymore, he looked to see where else he could preach in the immediate community, and it turned out someone named Tishus Justus lived next door. Tishus Justus believed in Jesus and let his house be used by Paul for preaching and teaching. Paul taught in Corinth for a year and a half because he tapped into his network, got in touch with others in his immediate community.

And what did he get to tell them? He told them that they are saved through Jesus, Jesus who is the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the One whom God sent to save His people from sin and death. He got to rejoice with people who found out for the first time that they could have the hope of eternal life. He got to preach a message that brought joy and peace and comfort to people’s lives.

God called Paul to be a part of His mission to save people, and God called Tishus Justus to be part of the mission, too. Paul was God’s messenger through his preaching and teaching, but Tishus Justus was God’s messenger through being a guy with house to use for meetings. Both Paul and Tishus Justus had the privilege of working in God’s kingdom, and everyone else involved was an important worker as well.

You have been given the message of the Gospel, and it is your privilege to be His workers also, to find ways to preach and teach, to open your house, to make coffee, to clean the floor, to go to a community event, to sit on a village action group, to clean up a yard, or to ring a doorbell. Through whatever you find to do in our network, whatever way you help us to reach others in Broofallsbutlertosawaukee, you help bring the joy and peace and comfort of the Gospel to people’s lives.

When I think about my home congregation in Bloomington, Minnesota, I think we missed out on a lot of chances to rejoice with people about Jesus. We did so little about tapping into the neighborhood network. They put the church in the suburbs where there were lots of young families, a growing community, but in my years there, driving through that neighborhood to get to church, it seemed funny that I only knew three families that lived within six blocks of church.

More than that, we seemed unaware of our network. We ignored the city park across the street which held big Little League tournaments. It was in Social Studies class at our public junior high school that I first learned about the historical buildings that were less than a block away from my church. Our land touched on the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, but I don’t think we ever asked the refuge whether we could help them clean up the river valley. We weren’t far from the public high school, but we didn’t have a presence there. And most of our neighbors, the houses around the church, we only knew them from complaints they had about us or complaints we had about their dogs.

It seems to me that if we Christians are going to set up a church somewhere, we should get to know the people in our area.

Now maybe you all know more of our neighborhood than I realize, maybe you’re looking at that sheet in your bulletins and thinking: “I could list 25 community contacts we have or could have.” If that’s the case, write them down, so I can know our network.
But maybe you’re also looking at that sheet and realizing how many people you drive by to get to church without realizing those people might want to come to church, too. Maybe you haven’t been thinking that there’s missions to be done right here in Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee.

I guarantee there are people inside the borders of that map that need to know Jesus. I guarantee there are community organizations that would be thrilled if someone called and said Immanuel Lutheran Church wants to help. I guarantee that there are people and organizations that don’t really know anything about Immanuel, but that if we showed up for a community event, asked to clean up a park, or said we’d like to be in a Fourth of July parade, that people will be surprised and thrilled to see a church giving back to the community.

So that’s why I want you to take the insert with you, write down as many ideas on the back, and give them to me. Or email me your ideas. Any kind of organization that you know about that’s in this area, write it down. Any kind of business that might need our help or could be a partner with us on a project, write it down. Any place where we can have a presence in our community, so that when people realize they need spiritual guidance and support, then they’ll think of Immanuel, the church on Hampton that seems so involved, so caring, so connected with the people around them.

This all seems very practical, but again, the reason to think about this is because of today’s epiphany in evangelism: This congregation is in this location for a reason, so let’s go next door and find out who needs to know Jesus.

And what do we get to tell them? We get to tell them the same message Paul preached in Corinth. We get to tell them the same message that you treasure so much, that you’ve invested in supporting through this congregation, the same message you come to hear every week.

We get to out into Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee and tell people that they are saved through Jesus, the One whom God sent to save His people from sin and death. We get to rejoice with people who find out for the first time that they can have the hope of eternal life. We get to share a message that brings joy and peace and comfort to people’s lives.

And look. Any time we start talking about evangelism, we’re all bound see the ways we fail to speak up and tell others about our faith, how we are reluctant to invite others to church, how we are lost in thinking about the “club” instead of thinking about inviting everyone into the Gospel.
I take the sign by the driveway of church as kind of a reminder of our sin in this area. There is at least one sign by the exit onto Hampton that says: “You are now entering the mission field.”

Except the sign is faded, rusted, and worn. And perhaps in thinking about evangelism today, that’s your epiphany—you’ve let your mission-focus get faded, rusted, and worn down.

If that’s the case, take this to be a reminder of your absolution, your forgiveness through Jesus Christ. (show a new sign) As a gift to the congregation, I purchased three new signs, three brand new, clean, bright signs that say: “You are now entering the mission field.” We’ll get those by each driveway to remind us that the mission field is here in Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee. As soon as you’re leaving the driveway, you’re looking at houses, business, buildings, cars, parks, and stores where there are people who need to know Jesus.

If you feel like your mission-focus has faded, well, just remember these new signs. I’m not asking you to prove your mission focus before I give you the new, clean, bright signs. I’m just giving them to you, replacing the old ones, without even stopping make you take a test or earn the new signs.

In that same way, whatever sins you’ve had in the area of evangelism, however many times you’ve left that task to others, Jesus comes to make you new, clean, and bright. He doesn’t make you prove yourself, take a test, or earn the right to be His messenger again. He just comes with that precious Gospel, a beautiful gift, the Gospel that makes us rejoice that God gives us eternal life even when we don’t live up to His mission.

You are the new, clean, bright mission sign, because Jesus is shining through You with His mission. You are the new, clean, bright mission sign in Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee, because you are reflecting the love and joy and peace and comfort of Jesus. You are God’s messengers in Brookfallsbutlertosawaukee, because this congregation is in this location for a reason, so let’s go next door and find out who needs to know Jesus.