Reclaiming the “E” Word

Matthew 28 

I was teaching a bible study on the sacraments, and I shared this passage from Matthew 28: 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations 

Baptizing them in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit 

And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” 

I was going to talk about baptism, but a woman said, “I don’t believe in that.” 

I was caught off guard.  “Believe what?” 

“That we should go baptizing other nations. I don’t think we should be trying to convert people of other religions.” 

I was surprised, because I had never thought of Matthew 28 in this way. I had always thought of it as Jesus sending us to share the Good News. Baptism for me has always meant being a child of God, marked with the cross of Christ, and that is Good News. But I realized that perhaps this woman had a point. There are Christian and Christian-adjacent traditions that DO try to convert people, even if they are faithful to another religion. In the past, Christian evangelism went hand in hand with colonialism. And for some, the word “evangelical” which literally means “Good News” conjures up Bible-thumping, judgmental theology. As a congregation of the ELCA, we have “Evangelical” in our name—but it’s as if evangelism has become a dirty word. 

But that’s not how it was for Jesus. In our passage he is at the conclusion of his earthly ministry. In a resurrection appearance, he gives his final words about making disciples. But I think it is important to note what Jesus says first. “All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to me.” It might sound authoritarian, like Jesus is planning to use us to order people around. But the word translated as “authority” is the same word used to describe Jesus’ ministry of healing. Whenever Jesus set someone free from a demon or healed an illness, people wondered where his power and authority came from. At the conclusion of the Gospel, Jesus tells us—it’s from God, it’s been given to Jesus, and it is an authority that frees, not coerces. It’s a power that heals. 

This is the power and authority that fuels what comes next: a mission of evangelism, of sharing Good News. Go and make disciples – baptizing and teaching – sharing Good News is a continuing process of learning and sharing. It is a spiritual discipline that is about mutual learning and respect and fosters humility, a continuing mission of expanding Jesus’ community. 

I think it’s time to reclaim the “e” word – evangelism (with credit to Kelly Fryer). Our world is ready for some Good News. But what IS the Good News we have to offer? How would you put your WHY for being here this morning? One Austin worshipper said this way: “So many people have had a bad experience with religion – they have been judged and told they were bad people because of life circumstances. But our church preaches grace, that God loves you as you are. I feel that love in this community.” 

Jesus’ words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew were not just for the 11 disciples but for all of us who follow him and hunger for Good News. So all of us need to get clear about what this Good News means for us, WHY we show up, volunteer our time, give generously of our resources, and how we are enlivened, enriched and restored by doing it. 

All of us need to know our WHY before we Go and share Good News. Because as soon as you step outside those doors, you are meeting your coworkers and friends, family members and school mates. They are the ones who may have had a bad church experience or maybe have never set foot in a church. They are the people who might wonder about you when you mention church. But they are also people who appreciate being listened to and cared for. They are people who appreciate your prayers and your acts of kindness. They are people who need the Good News of Jesus shown in your life, even if you don’t say the name Jesus. When it comes to evangelism, you all are on the front lines, because you Go every day. 

This community of Austin I think is especially well suited for reclaiming the “e” word and living out Jesus’ mission to share Good News. Because when you are Going each day, being Good News for folks you meet, some of them are going to ask you about your church. Some will be open to an invitation to an event or concert or even worship. And when they come here to Austin, there is a special welcome. There is a family-friendly feel here, a safe place for kids to play while parents stand around and connect. Austin has a coffee culture that says, “come as you are.” A community of smaller size makes it easier for people to meet each other. It’s easy to introduce yourself to people at the peace, to hang around over coffee. We are small enough that people feel like they can be known. 

The Austin campus is situated in the growing part of town – some smart people planned it that way. But the key to sharing Good News, to reclaiming evangelism, is that we are ready to welcome; we are ready to listen; we are ready to share with others our WHY – what Jesus means in our lives, why Epiphany is so important to us. 

At the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, he gives his disciples their mission. Fueled by Jesus’ healing power and liberating authority, they are to Go and make disciples of all nations, among all peoples. It is a radically inclusive vision. It is actually a co-mission, a mission with Jesus, for he promises, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

That’s what we experience when we share the Good News of Jesus. We experience his presence, his guidance, his connection, his joy. It’s worth reclaiming the “e” word and joining Jesus in sharing and being Good News.

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