On Being an Evangelist – Br. David Vryhof
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“I’m with the Society of St. John the Evangelist,” I told the clerk.
“Society of St. John…” she repeated slowly as she wrote. “Society of St. John the what?”
“Evangelist,” I repeated.
She looked puzzled. “Umm… could you spell that for me?”
‘Evangelist’ isn’t a word in everyone’s vocabulary. For those who do recognize the word, it is likely to be associated with those who publicly proclaim the gospel on street corners or on television, or those who button-hole passers-by to ask whether they have been saved. For many – Christians and non-Christians alike, ‘evangelist,’ ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’ are not words that carry a positive connotation…
…which is odd, given that the word ‘evangelist’ derives from a Greek word (euangelion) that means “good tidings” or “good news.” Evangelists are those who proclaim good news. Most everyone enjoys receiving good news, so it should strike us as curious that so many are put off by the efforts of Christians to share their faith.
Perhaps the message that we are actually sharing, by our words or by our actions or both, doesn’t seem like “good news” to those who hear it.
This may be because their hearts are not open to truth. Even Jesus experienced resistance and rejection from those who turned away from God’s truth and refused God’s love.
But it may also be because we have failed to communicate the message of Jesus in ways that enable others to recognize it as “good news.” Recent polls in this country have shown that Christians are widely perceived by non-Christians as intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical and superficial.1 We are criticized for being more interested in imposing our beliefs on others than in engaging in responsible dialogue with them about questions of life and faith. The way we speak and act does not always reflect that we are people who have “good news” to share with others. Mahatma Gandhi, the great spiritual leader of India in the last century, is reported to have said to those who attempted to convert him to Christianity, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”2 We ourselves may be at fault – for misrepresenting the message.
Tonight we remember St. John the Evangelist, the author of the Fourth Gospel and the patron saint of this community. Perhaps we can draw on his gospel (the “good news” to which he testified) to recall what it is that we are supposed to be proclaiming and how we are supposed to be proclaiming it.
What is the ‘good news’ that John proclaims?
First and foremost, John tells us that GOD IS LOVE (cf. I Jn 4:16), and that God loves each and every one of us. The message of John is first and foremost a message of love: God loves us, and when we receive that love we receive power to live as beloved children of God (Jn 1:12, I Jn 3:1) and to share God’s love with others. That is good news for us and for many others who are hungry and thirsty to know that they are loved! In the Fourth Gospel, the chief characteristic of a disciple is love. The message we proclaim and the way in which we proclaim it must first and foremost be characterized by love.
John tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). God didn’t just say God loved us; God acted in history to show us that breadth and depth of that love. In Jesus, the Word which was in the beginning with God “became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:1,14) so that we could see and know God’s glory. “No one has ever seen God,” the Evangelist reminds us, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18).
Jesus was sent into the world by the Father so that we might know and trust the love of God for us.
He is God’s icon, the image of the God we cannot see (Jn 1:18, Col 1:15) who reveals to us a “Father” whose heart is full of love for us. When we know Jesus, we know God, says John; when we love Jesus, we love God.
John tells us that Jesus is…
….the light that illumines the darkness of our world; a light that cannot be extinguished.
…. the bread that comes down from heaven; feeding, nourishing, and sustaining us day by day.
….the living water that refreshes us and quenches our thirst; a spring that never fails.
…. the good shepherd who calls his sheep by name and who protects, leads and nurtures them.
…. the vine to which the branches are connected and from which they receive their life.
In him, says John, we find salvation. In him we find healing and hope. In him we find “eternal life,” the very life of God abiding within us. In him we learn to love as we have been loved. John’s testimony is a testimony to Jesus, the revelation and incarnation of God who has chosen to dwell among us.
Jesus embodied God’s love for us most clearly by laying down his life for us, his friends. Like a grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies so that it might bear fruit (Jn 12:24), so Jesus came to this world, offering himself for us, and teaching us to imitate him in this way of self-giving love. “No one has greater love than this,” he tells us, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13) This is what he has done for us, and it is what we are to do for one another (cf I Jn 3:16).
Our essential task as evangelists is to bring others to Jesus. In him they will discover themselves to be beloved children of God. In him, says John, they will find their true life.
John tells us that those receive God’s love have received “eternal life.” It is their privilege and joy to abide in God and to experience God abiding in them – now. Even now they are made one with God in Jesus, no longer servants but friends (Jn 15:15). About these friends Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Certainly this is “good news”!
We cannot proclaim this good news unless we ourselves have received it.
We cannot expect others to be transformed by it unless we ourselves have been transformed.
We cannot offer love unless we have first received love.
“We love,” the author of First John reminds us, “because he first loved us” (I Jn 4:19).
Near the end of his gospel John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:30-31). This is the goal of an evangelist – to relate the good news to others so that they too may come to put their faith and trust in Jesus, and find the life that is offered in his name.
What is our message? That God loved us so much that he gave his Son Jesus to share our human life, to live and to die as one of us, to be raised to new life, a life that we now share with him and in him, a life which is eternal and that can never be taken away. It’s good news. Very good news.
And how shall we bring this message to others? With love.
With the same love with which we ourselves have been loved.
With the love that lays down its life for the other.
With the love that takes up a towel to wash the other’s feet.
With the love that draws the other closer.
With the love that honors and sees beauty in the other.
For “see what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God; and that is what we are” (I Jn 3:1). Bring the message with love, the same love with which God has loved you.
I’m proud to be an “evangelist” of that Good News. How about you?
1 To learn more, visit www.changingthefaceofChristianity.com, a website dedicated to reversing negative stereotypes of Christians and helping Christians to be more like Jesus Christ.
2 www.thinkexist.com or www.brainyquotes.com
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I believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are in each other person, and that the God in me welcomes the God, Jesus, Holy Spirit in the other person. This sharing, then, is not a burden, but a joy. It is that I have to find/accept, and welcome the God in me in such an authentic way that it is impossible not to share that with others. Sometimes, the burdens of this life (family issues) seem too great, so that I must first have long talks with myself and God to accept that love and then open myself to Jesus coming in and sharing that with others. . . . . . I get “stuck” sometimes . . . . . .
Thank you for bringing this sermon back today (April 9, 2018) via “Brother, give us a word” email. Perhaps we need Br. David’s message of what the good news is and how we could be evangelists more than when he preached this sermon 6-1/2 years ago. This sermon encouraged me to share my own experience of receiving Love even though the words such as ‘evangelist,’ ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’ are not just uncool, but becoming “E-words” among some Christians.
Thanks again for clarifying what ‘good news’ and ‘evangelists’ are.
We are all evangelists, but many do not know or care about this. It is freely given, then we must freely share it!
While others may watch and learn from those around them, conversion and understanding come from the inside. If we learn to listen to our heart and understand its message, we are hearing the voice of God. Perhaps then we might have something to offer others in their journey
Another ‘good news’ verse, I Timothy 4:10 ” to this end we both labor and suffer reproach because we trust in the living God who IS the SAVIOUR of ALL men (women and children included) especially those who believe. Our believing doesn’t make the good news true, our believing opens the door to be able to experience what is true and eternal.
I find myself praying John 3:16 every day because it proclaims the good news of God’s love for the WORLD which includes everybody and me too!! John 1:29 contains the good news too that Jesus was died for the sins of the WORLD which includes everyone and me too !! John 1 :2, 2 contains the good news too “He IS the propitiation for our sins and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD!!! If we don’t believe the good news we are not excluded from the love of God we just don’t experience what God has provided for us. Even if we deny Him He remains faithful because He cannot deny Himself, II Timothy 2:13 . God is going to have His way with the WORLD because HIS love never fails!!! I Corinthians 13:8 And that is good news!!’
Thank you for a dialogue that needs to be out there! I personally feel shame from and about evangelism. The “g” in it can gel in love, but can also become evanHellical. I grew up a confused evangelical and have spent thousands of dollars in therapy recovering from the spiritual and emotional numbness it played a role in causing me. How can something so inherently good do so much harm?
John 3:16 was used like a club to preach a message of exclusivism and the intolerance, prejudice and hypocrisy you mention. Despite my learned prejudices, it was the secularists, homosexuals, social liberals and other “sinful” ones who made a more positive impact on me regarding living a life of integrity, openness and honesty which I believe is more parallel to Jesus’ teachings which continue to draw me.
In my middle age I have also discovered a healthier, wonderful verse in John 3 (verse 8) which embraces the ambiguity of faith: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” I am learning to let go, forgive and be grateful to all (for good intentions if nothing else) and live a faith of grace and example.
How ought our love enunciate itself, our love as is required by Jesus and God? How do we know when our love is being taken advantage of? When is it that some would say why are you telling me this? Am I too bold to think that our actions are condemned just as we are loved? Surely some who profess to be following the word of God pay wages that are not a living wage. Then the people who earn those wages and are still materially wanting? How can it be that people who profess to be Christians would pay so little to people who except for their situation in life are little different than they themselves? My wife and I have a comfortable lifestyle though not extravagant lifestyle. Is it best to use our wherewithal to help others, and remain as we are not extravagant, but not uncomfortable? We believe in fair taxes and sharing, how. We help to give others a lift-up in life.
I had two thoughts when I read your message.
Every morning, when I wake up, I try to remember to thank God for being with me over the nighttime and for greeting me with Love each coming day. It is a never ending gift. How wonderful it is and how wonderful the second part of that gift: God never says, ‘What are you going to do with my love.?” It is there, all enveloping. The greatest gift we ever receive and one that we can pass on.
The second thought: a long time ago I read of an old woman, who was very poor but found a little money to put in the weekly collection. (a modern day widow’s mite.) Someone challenged her about this, ‘Why would you do that. You never know what they will do with it. And, you are needy? Her reply was that it was her gift to the church, and that once she had given it, it was no longer hers to worry about. It was up to the church how they spent it.
Please – I am not being preachy to you. Love to you and your wife.
I was so glad to read these words this morning. I have struggled so hard with the concept of being loved by anyone, let alone without condition by God , and the longer I go on in this journey of faith the more do I see that what we give out as Christians can only be, if it is to be meaningful to others from God, and it cannot be from God unless we have allowed ourselves to take in the good news ourself. That is often a huge struggle but is infinitely worth it. When we know ourselves to be loved with that astonishing gift of love from the creator of the universe, others can experience it. If others cannot feel that love as flowing directly from our acceptance if God’s love, we are false coin and will be seen as such.
December 27, 2014. Dear Brothers of S.S.J.E. Have a wonderful day on this the Feastday of Saint John the Evangelist … the Beloved. And may your Christmas Joy continue each and every day in the New Year 2015.
brother Neil + (common cathedral).
isn’t jesus already inside the other person? Does Jesus really need to be taken anywhere? Isn’t God’s love everywhere?
What about Jesus’s command that we are to go into all the world baptizing and making disciples? Doesn’t that indicate that Jesus does need to be taken to other places?
amen si cuesta mucho estar consolidados con mostros mismos pero nuestro sr es bondadoso y nos da vison para distingir bendiciones
Thanks Br David .. It really is challenging to bring thee love of Christ to others — those the closest to us …. love them anyway .. wash their feet . bring them close ..-that is evangelic — It is only thru The Grace of God !!
Thanks for the challenge!!
Something that comes across in this sermon and others read here is that the “how” is as important, if not moreso, than the “what” in sharing good news.
In the asthetics of interaction, allowing nuance and resonance to be a part of the communicative modes of sharing any truth is essential because only in those ways is the means of sharing consistent with the content being shared.
In so many cases what is aesthetically preferable is also ethically necessary, so that our active behavior in fact becomes the dynamic ethical icon that bespeaks Christ in our midst.
In this case, the thoughtfulness, depth of prayer and joy with which such messages are shared here bespeak the Author of the message as well.
I’m thinking both of Augustine’s dictum, that a Christian should *be* an ‘Alleluia’ from head to toe….and that when we say “Amen” we commit ourselves to being a part of the answer to the prayers we have asked to be brought into being.
Χριστός ἀνέστη! Ἀληθῶς ανέστη! (Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti!)
(The Lord is Risen! Risen Indeed!)
…today being Greek Orthodox Easter…
To God be the glory for this good homily. Proclaiming the good news of the Gospel is our privilege and our task. May God grant us the joy of sharing it with a smile, rather than with a long face.
Today’s “Christian majority” has destroyed the image of the Child of God. Instead of loving our fellow man, they are condemning and ostracizing the very people that Christ sent us to love; sent us to save; commanded us to bring back to His fold. We as Christians must walk through life as Jesus did. Living the “good news” is, in itself, a form of evangelism. We are commanded to project the love of Christ to the world around us, not drive it away. The prostitutes, taxpayers and unclean were the people that Jesus sought out to save with mercy and healing. As His disciple, we can do nothing else but this today. Condemnation from a true Christian is, somehow, an oxymoron. It is the opposite what Christ has sent us to do. O Beloved Savior, I pray that my life will evangelize for you and bring your lost ones back to the fold to share in Your love. Amen
Thank you, Brother David, for such a beautiful homily about the Gospel of John. I am so drawn to John’s Gospel. Your words crystallized these truths in such a contemporary way ~ I believe I can better be an evangelist. You gave the meaning in ways that are not off putting. Many Episcopalians hear evangelism and want to run. But who would want to run from the good news that you spoke today? Yes, run maybe, but run directly toward becoming the beloved ~ the one so loved that they cannot help but love others. I am so privileged to have spent time in retreat with you that when I read your words, I can “hear” your gentle voice delivering this homily. Having been in your presence, I know beyond the words before me on my screen that your life bears truth to all you said.
It is all too true that we Christians have a poor track record with people of other faiths and with other Christians. How many times have you been told that you are not a real Christian because you don’t practice the faith in a way that suits a particular type of person!
Love is the meaning as I believe Dam Julian said.. I have found that in my ministry of many years, many peoiple just don’t understand this. Thank you for your thoughts.
Thank you, David, for your reminder that love is the really good news for everyone. It is, in fact, the only news that lasts. Jobs come and go, health comes and goes, but God’s love, and ours, however we can manifest it, goes on forever.
I love the central message at the heart of David’s sermon, that evangelists share good news. We Christians so often immediately transcribe these words into a specific, Christian meaning, the Good News, and forget the clear and more immediate meaning of good news, as in”You’ve won the lottery!” or “There’s no trace left of your cancer” or “I’m calling to offer you the job.”
The examples David cites of the specific instances of good news embedded throughout John’s gospel make his point well, helping us to remember the Good News is in fact good news.