Summary: Number 3 in a series looking at how we do evangelism in our communities. This sermon suggests that different techniques are needed for different kinds of people.
APPROACH WITH CARE
Relationships are messy things. They require loads of time, emotional energy, and extreme courage to face the certainty that you will get hurt. And there always is some kind of hurt. In relationships we face the risk of misunderstanding each other; we risk having our feelings hurt; and there are times where we will wonder when we will see a return on the investment we have put into the life of another person.
Even in the most intimate of relationships, that of husband and wife, we experience the burden of relationship most intensely. Beyond your spouse and children, the small circle of good friends you maintain, there is not much of that time or emotional energy left to spend. Thus, many of us do not have room for even one more relationship. Who has time or space in their life to allow one more person in?
And yet that is what Jesus is asking us to do: make room for one more relationship. If we are to become a body of contagious Christians, building relationships is essential to sharing Jesus Christ.
Mark Mittelberg said in an interview, “The old evangelism that people responded to 20 or 30 years ago consisted of kind of reminding people what they already knew and challenging them to do something about it. In our culture today you don’t remind them of what they know. They didn’t know it in the first place.” Our society has become secularized, people generally have not spent time in Sunday School, and therefore are ignorant of spiritual truth. We can’t run around yelling “repent!” and expect a revival; they don’t know what the word “repent” means.
Evangelism today requires the hard work of relationship-building to be effective. The days of the “Crusade” have passed and we must engage in the patient work of friendship, and the gaining of trust, and the investment of emotion to bring a person to Jesus Christ.
A good relationship is the best starting point for introducing the ultimate relationship: a relationship with God.
1. Building A Relationship
Everything we see in Jesus is a model for living, even how he formed relationships. Think of it, we read in Phil. 2: 5-8 how Jesus left the glory of heaven and came to earth. Not only that but he came to earth and made himself vulnerable by taking on the form of a servant, a slave, and thereby hobnobbed with slaves. Why? In order to relate. He stripped himself of everything that would elevate him in order to bare himself for one purpose: Relationship with us. He initiated it; he took the first step, and then several more.
Take the story of Zacchaeus as an example. Here is a perfect picture of what Jesus came to do and what he calls us, his followers, to also do.
a) Reaching Out – Jesus was passing through the wealthy border town of Jericho when he met Zacchaeus. You know this short man from flannel-graph days; he was the guy who climbed a tree to see Jesus. You know that he was a tax-collector and quite wealthy. You probably know that he was despised for collaborating with the Romans and collecting taxes. His wealth increased all the more because he cheated people and took more tax than Roman law required. All this adds up to one thing: he was the least liked person in Jericho.
This unpleasant man was curious about Jesus. “He wanted to see who Jesus was…” but he was not seeking Jesus. However, Jesus was seeking him. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost,” and Zacchaeus was lost.
What does it mean to reach out? I hate to tell you this but it looks like we’re supposed to become friends with unpleasant people. You know the people in Kleefeld everyone talks about, the ones who don’t clean their yard, that grumpy fellow, those people that yell at their kids…you know, the ones we make fun of? What does it mean to reach out? It means leaving our comfort zones of like-minded friends. It means dropping that committee in church so that we have more time to get to know our neighbors. Really, I’m serious. Do it. If you are too busy to make relationships the Church has a problem.
b) Risking Your Rep – there is a risk involved with doing this. Your reputation is at stake if you have unbelieving friends. Jesus had a reputation for being an intriguing teacher and had gained respect for his words. But he continually sabotaged his rep by associating with people like Zacchaeus. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’’”
Jesus went to parties and drank with tax-collectors and sinners. Something in this gets lost on us. Does this not seem odd? What if you saw me coming out of that little bar in Ille Des Chenes? Ahh, now you see what a little wrong association can do. But if we are going to go looking for the lost, what better place to look? Our fear is that if we rub shoulders with these people we will be sucked into their lifestyle. There is some truth to that but with a church praying for you as you do these outrageous things, what an adventure that could be.