(Preached at Alger First UMC on 9/28/2015)
Scripture: Mark 5:1-20
Well this week we’re in the midst of this series we’re calling “Transforming Evangelism.” We’re talking about this thing called evangelism and figuring out what it is, why it’s so important, and how to do it. Week 1, we talked about Jesus calls us all to this work of evangelism, sharing our faith with others. Week 2 we talked about how this work doesn’t happen individually but in a community. And last week we talked about how none of that will be possible if we don’t know the God we’re supposed to be talking about ourselves. This week, we’re going to talk about how in evangelism, we are each called to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Now it might seem strange that we’re on the fourth week of this series on evangelism and we’re just now getting to proclaiming the Gospel, since that work of proclaiming is probably what a lot of us think of when we think of evangelism. So you might be wondering why it took us so long to get to this essential work, right? We had some necessary work to do first, to get us in the frame of mind to figure out what evangelism actually is. But now we can dive into this act of proclaiming, all right?
Now, the word “proclaim” might carry some baggage for you. When we hear that word, we probably think of a loud, confident, convincing message, right? Kind of a synonym with preaching. You don’t just “proclaim,” you PROCLAIM, right?
But that’s not really what I’m talking about here. We’re not all called to preach or to proclaim a boisterous, confident message or anything like that. That’s not what I’m saying. By proclaiming, I simply mean sharing your story, sharing your experience with Jesus. We’re going to unpack that in a minute.
The funny thing is, outside of the proverbial pulpit, I’m not very good at the work of proclaiming, or sharing my story. A few weeks ago I had to take my iPhone into the Apple store down in Columbus while I was there for seminary. And I get there and I have to find it in the midst of this huge mall, and there’s a stupid long wait, but I finally get to talk to one of technicians about what’s wrong with my iPhone. He looks at it and sees that I have a Bible app. He says something about it and asks where I go to church.
This was such a perfect opportunity to share my faith. I mean, any person who does evangelism would say that that is the golden opportunity you wait for, this was such a great moment to share my experience with Jesus, in that simple question he asked. But I fluffed it off. I was frustrated because it took me forever to finally talk to anyone there because it was so busy, I was thinking of the mountain of reading I had to do for my classes that night and the paper I had to write. So I just fluffed it off, didn’t really say anything of note, and we just moved on to how to fix my phone.
What you see me do up here on Sunday mornings is the end product of at least 10 hours of preparation. If I need to share my faith off the cuff, I’m not much use.
I think this is true of a lot of us, right? We don’t like to proclaim. Around 74% have some kind of anxiety about speaking in public. Around 10% of the population has a legitimate phobia of public speaking. Only around 10% love it and are actually energized by speaking in public. These stats can give us some clues about our aversion to proclaiming, right? We don’t like speaking in public, we don’t even like the idea of speaking about our faith with one person or a few people. Our faith might be very personal, we might be worried that we’ll say something wrong, we might be worried that the other person will disagree with us. Speaking about our faith and our story with Jesus puts us in a vulnerable place that we don’t really like to be in. So it’s ok to not be super comfortable with it. BUT I still think we’re called to do it. It might just look different than how we’re picturing this work of proclaiming.
I’d like to see what the Bible has to say about this and how it can help us out, ok? You heard the story from Mark read earlier. I’m going to recount it and bring out some really important elements that we need to hear from this. If you want to follow along with me, it’s Mark 5:1-20.
So Jesus here has just been teaching a large crowd beside a lake, probably the sea of Galilee, north of Jerusalem and Samaria and Nazareth. When Jesus finishes, he and his 12 disciples start to cross to the other side of the lake. While they’re crossing, a storm comes up and the boat almost sinks, but Jesus wakes up from his nap in the back of the boat and calms the storm.
So at the beginning of the story, they’ve crossed the lake and land in the region called either Gerasa or Gennesaret. Where they landed was apparently near a bunch of tombs. That might sound weird to us, but tombs were above ground back in first-century Palestine-they were holes cut into rock in the side of a mountain or a hill.
So as soon as they land among these tombs, a man possessed by demons runs toward them. He’s been living in the tombs-his own people kicked him out and banished him from their village. The people had tried to restrain him with chains or put him under guard, but he proved to be too strong. So he lived on his own in the tombs.
The description sounds to me like the horror stories of people admitted to insane asylums in the early part of the 20th century, right? His own family kicks him out because he’s gotten to be too tough to handle, even though he has no control over whatever’s wrong with him. He was bound and chained, he’s been abused, he’s cut and bruised himself, he’s deranged. I mean, ‘wretched’ is the only word I can think of that could describe this man’s condition, right?
So when the man runs up to Jesus in this fit of rage, Jesus tells the demon to come out. But the demons in this man throw the man at Jesus’ feet and they beg Jesus not to torture them. Jesus then asks what the demon’s name is, and the demon says “We are Legion, because we are many.” Then Jesus banishes the demon into a herd of pigs grazing nearby. The pigs go crazy, run off a cliff, fall into the lake, and they all die.
Now let’s stop there for a minute. This is just bizarre, right? Am I the only one that thinks that? I mean, this story’s just weird, right? It’s ok to admit that. What in the world does all of this mean?
Well the writer of Mark was actually giving us some clues as to what this story really means. When the demon gave their name as Legion, that’s a military reference to a division of several thousand soldiers. At the time Jesus was doing his thing, the whole area had been conquered by the Roman Empire and was under their power. And the Jewish people hated it, they absolutely hated being under Roman power. So the name “Legion” probably referred to a division of Roman soldiers, specifically.
Now the herd of pigs would have meant something specific to the Jewish people at the time, right? Because Jews didn’t eat pork, pigs were considered unclean.
So we have this Legion, referring to a large division of Roman soldiers, being banished into these pigs, a symbol of uncleanness, and these pigs jumped off a cliff, into a lake, and drowned. Now that would have been a call back to Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Thousands of years before this, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and Moses led them out of that slavery, across the Red Sea, and into freedom. It’s the defining moment for every one of the Jewish faith. And when they went to cross the Red Sea, the Egyptian army was chasing them. But the Israelites crossed safely and the sea fell in on the Egyptian army, completely destroying them and securing the Israelites’ freedom.
So the meaning of this story has just become huge. Let me see if I can pull this all back together. In this act of banishing the legion of demons from this man, Jesus does two things. He cleanses the land by sending the pigs to their doom. And he parallels Rome with Egypt, and says that Israel will be free from the oppressive power of Rome just like they were freed from Egypt.
So we see this is not just some weirdo story about Jesus casting out a demon. This man was completely liberated. He was set free from everything that oppressed him, that pushed him down, that controlled him, that subjugated him, everything that made him less than who he really was. And he was completely cleansed of everything that made him unworthy. This is huge, right?
So Jesus does that-liberates this man, sets him free, cleanses him, all of that. And the people from the village nearby, probably the same people who banished this man to the tombs, got really freaked out. So they told Jesus to leave, and he and his disciples did.
This man who was just freed in this amazing way by Jesus, he begs to come with Jesus. He doesn’t want to stay there, there’s nothing there but memories of pain and torture and humiliation there for him, right? But Jesus doesn’t let him. Instead, Jesus says “Go home to your own people and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he has shown you mercy.” Go home to your own people tell them about his liberation and freedom and transformation. You were once deranged, insane, demon-possessed. Now you’re not. Tell them about that.
It’s a great story. And the key is that we’re all called to share our story in the same way. Obviously not involving demon-possession if that’s not part of your story, but the same idea. Meeting Jesus brings transformation. That is a fundamental truth of our faith. We talked about knowing God last week, and it’s the same idea. Knowing God, meeting Jesus, brings transformation.
Now it doesn’t have to be a huge, emotion-filled, tear-jerker of a story, just simply a change from what and who you were before you knew Jesus and what and who you are now that you know Jesus. I was once this, now I’m that.
For me personally, once I was going to be a band director-I was getting a degree in Music Education. Then Jesus called me to ministry and now I’m a pastor. I’m not saying that being a pastor is better than a band director, but this is just one way I see the transformation brought by Jesus in my own life.
So I’m not talking about huge drastic change in your fundamental way of life. Not every story of transformation is going to be about how once you were strung out on drugs, you met Jesus and now you’re sober. There might not even be a single transformation moment you can point to. But meeting and knowing Jesus changes something within us. And if you think you know Jesus, I bet if you think and reflect and meditate long enough, you’ll understand that.
The man in the story experienced this transformation. Once he was under captivity, and now he’s free because he met Jesus. That transformation begs an explanation. And if you think about it, what kind of person would he be if he didn’t share this experience of transformation? What kind of person would he be if he’d refused to tell others about how Jesus changed his life, in the hope that they would experience the same amazing thing, right?
Think of it this way: If you had the cure for all types of cancer, what kind of person would you be if you didn’t share it with anyone and just kept it to yourself just to feel good about yourself that you had the cure?
That’s the type of transformation we are called to share. We are each called to share our story of what we were before Jesus, and the transformation that has occurred. It’s like that song.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was (what?) lost, but now I’m (what?) found, was blind, but now I (what?) see. We are each called to share our story of this. Because there are people in the world who desperately need to hear about this transformation. There are people who are lost who need to be found. There are people who are blind who need to see, and we can connect them with the One who can give them the transformation that they need.
Each and every one of us is called to this, no matter what we think about our skill set or experience. There are all of these places you can find “evangelism training,” like it requires training, credentialing, or like it can only be done by professionals. And that’s just wrong. Qualification is not necessary for this. The man with the demons was completely unqualified by every measure they had back then AND now. He was insane, he harmed himself, he hadn’t showered or lived in normal human society for weeks. But Jesus still told him to go back to his village and proclaim the message.
Jesus did not call him to come with Jesus and get training on the message he was supposed to share with his village. Jesus didn’t even entertain the notion of a 13th disciple. Jesus just told the man to go back to his village.
The man didn’t have any “plan of salvation,” the man didn’t know doctrine, he didn’t know the right beliefs, he didn’t know the right things to say. All he knew was that once he was possessed by a demon and then he wasn’t. That’s not saying that theological training isn’t useful for anything, because that’s a very good thing. But depth of theological knowledge or biblical knowledge is not a prerequisite for sharing your faith story.
So God calls us to this work of proclaiming the Gospel. It’s not about having this logical, put-together, understandable four-point shpiel about what one has to do to invite Jesus into your heart, as if that was the only part of the Gospel and as if we could reduce that incredibly strange and beautiful truth to a four-point shpiel. It’s about doing what Jesus told the man who used to be possessed by demons to do: Go back to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how God has shown you mercy.” Go back to your own people-your family, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors; and tell them about what God has done for you-look for opportunities for you to share your story about this amazing, gracious, just, powerful, loving and merciful God we worship. It’s just telling your story.
So because this is incredibly important work that Jesus has called us to, and because I’m your pastor and it’s my job to help you do this kind of thing, I want to help you out here. This might be a little weird, but stick with me, ok? What I’d like you to do is think or remember an experience that you’ve had with Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit or however you want to say that-think of some spiritual experience you’ve had, however you want to define that. It could be something that happened here in worship today or another week, something in your own time with Jesus, it could have been simply beauty that you’ve seen in nature. It could be about how Jesus has worked in your life, maybe through physical problems, mental issues, issues with your marriage, trouble with your finances, things like that-how Jesus has fixed your brokenness. It’s however you want to define it. Ok?
Now what I want you to do is this: find someone sitting next to you or near you-spouse, family member, friend, whoever. And tell them about this experience. Split into pairs, and I’d like each person in the pair to share with the other person their story about their experience with Jesus. I’ll give two minutes for the first person and two minutes for the second person. This might feel awkward, but I’ll give you a hint-if everyone does this, it won’t be awkward. I want you to practice this work of telling others about your experience with Jesus. And what safer place to practice this than in worship, right? This is a safe place, don’t worry about using the right words or worry about saying the wrong thing-just tell the other person about an experience you’ve had with Jesus. Make sense?
(The congregation proceeded to share their faith stories with those around them.
The truth of all of this is that we are the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ and what that means is that we are the only mouth that God has. We are the only vocal chords through which God can speak to other people. We are the only hands and feet that God has to work with. So God has called us to this work of sharing about our experience with Jesus so that others can experience Jesus. And God makes us able to do it. This isn’t about what we can or can’t do-it’s all about what God does through us if we only open ourselves up to God.
A theologian I really like said that we, as human beings trying to follow Christ, are kind of like a small-gauge clogged-up pipe. God’s power wants to flow through us, but so often we stop the flow of God with all of our stuff clogging up the pipe. But maybe, just maybe, if we relax enough and loosen up, maybe a bit of God’s power can flow through us and out into the world. That’s what we’re doing when we do this work of proclaiming. Imagine what would happen if we all lived into this reality of being the only mouth that God has and loosened up our clogged-up selves and let God speak through us.