January 18, 2008 Leave a comment
2 Epiphany Yr A, 20/01/2008
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Keeping secrets or spreading the word?”
Our nephews, Marc and Darrin came to visit us several years ago, when they were quite young, between five to seven years old. One of the first things they spotted in our house was a painting of the crucifixion, which was painted by an artist friend of ours. They were quite intrigued, never having seen such a picture before. They asked a lot of questions, such as: What was that red stuff on his hands? And why was he there anyway?
After our conversation with them, Marc and Darrin tried to draw their own picture of Jesus on the cross.
Then, after they had visited us for a while, they went to visit another family. Later, they stopped in again to visit us on their way back home. This time, they had a cousin along. One of the first things they did when they came into our house was to take their cousin to see the picture and to try and tell him what it was all about. That was good evangelism; that was witnessing at its finest; that was fulfilling the calling the Lord gives us all to be his missionaries and evangelists.
What about us? Are we better at keeping secrets than spreading the word? In today’s gospel, John the baptizer can’t help himself. He sees Jesus walking by and has to tell everyone within earshot, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” And the next day, he’s at it again, bearing faithful testimony to anyone who would listen, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The words of John bearing witness to the truth of Jesus’ identity were in fact heard by at least two people, who happened to be John’s disciples—one of them is not named, the other is Andrew. Andrew is, in fact, one of my favourite disciples. Why? Because he’s seldom in the limelight, quite content to let Peter or Paul or James or John take on that role. Yet, he is a genuine witness, a faithful evangelist, a willing missionary—spreading the good word about Jesus and bringing others to Jesus—not by the hundreds or thousands mind you, but one by one, so it seems. We can, I think, be encouraged by disciples like Andrew. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by the task of evangelism and mission work. We don’t have to set unrealistic goals and think that we need to bring in hundreds of thousands of people to Christ. Rather, like Andrew, we can invite a family member, a close friend or a neighbour to “come and see.” We do not need to keep secrets; we can spread the word, even if it is in the form of the simplest of invitations. God, through the Holy Spirit can work in you and through your words of invitation and reach people in surprising ways.
Ken Taylor tells the following story: A friend of mine serves as a missionary in a restricted access country. For many years the government of this country has taught the people that there is no God. My friend had the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with a nonbeliever of that country who is a highly educated professional.
After developing a friendship with the professional, my friend had the opportunity to share the gospel story with him. My friend was taken aback by the man’s response: “What you have told me cannot be true. If it were true, it is such good news that someone would have told this to me before.”1
Sad, but too many Christians prefer to keep secrets rather than spread the word. Prophets like John the Baptizer and disciples like Andrew, thank the Lord, were not good at keeping secrets—they enthusiastically spread the word. John and Andrew were sharing the truth about Jesus that had been revealed to them through a direct encounter with him. They were re-telling the story. This is instructive for us today too, since we are called to do the same: share the truth about Jesus that has been revealed to us through a direct encounter with him. Whether that has been some dramatic high, mountaintop revelation; or whether it has been a still small voice; or whether it has been some other way; Jesus has given you that revelation about himself for you to share with others—just like John and Andrew. Are you keeping this a secret or are you spreading the word?
I admit that because of the bad name and reputation that Christian evangelism and missionary work has been given; because of some of the manipulative tactics that have been employed in the past, and perhaps even today; many of us may be sorely tempted NOT to be evangelists or missionaries.
Evangelism is the “E” word; there is something mildly disreputable about it. We feel uncomfortable about the images it conjures up: accosting people on the street and stuffing a tract in their hands; threatening people with the fires of eternal hell like (some are inclined to do) unless they make a commitment; revival preachers interminably imploring “just one more” to raise that hand and make a decision for Christ; folks with bad hair on cable television begging folks to send more money to keep this soul-winning ministry on the air. That is not us. That is not our way of reaching people.
Do you know whose way I like? The fellow we meet in chapter 1 of John’s gospel, Andrew, the apostle with the missionary heart. Apparently, he had always been a religious man—up until now he had been a disciple of John….But one day Andrew met Jesus and Andrew was never the same again. Three times we find him on center stage in the gospel record: John 1, when he introduced his brother Simon to Christ; in John 6, when he introduced the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus; and in John 12, as he introduced some devout Greeks to the Saviour. Andrew was always introducing people to the Lord. We do not know very much about Andrew other than that, but what we do know is wonderfully attractive…and at the same time, a wonderful model for Christians who desperately need some help in doing “the ‘E’ word.”2
The world needs the Lamb of God who takes away its sin as much today as it ever did; the world needs Jesus the Messiah as much right now as it did back in the days of John and Andrew. We have been given, by the sheer grace and love of God, this wonderful GOOD NEWS. The question for us remains: Do we keep this a secret or do we spread the word? I hope and pray it is the latter—since our lives depend on this; as do the lives of everyone—for God so loved THE WORLD! Like John and Andrew may we be eager and willing to share this GOOD NEWS STORY, and invite others to “come and see.” Amen.
1 Citation from: Perfect Illustrations For Every Topic And Occasion, Compiled by the editors of PreachingToday.com (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2002), p. 111.
2 David E. Leininger, Lectionary Tales For The Pulpit: Series VI, Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), p. 36.