We also remember the shining life of Martin Luther King, particularly his I Have a Dream speech. Martin Luther King was a powerful, evangelist because not only did he stand against the social injustice of racism, he also gave us a dream, a vision of what could be and the good news that it was possible.
Usually, when I hear the world evangelism I cringe. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And when someone tells me that I need to evangelize for my faith or for a cause, I tend to contract around that suggestion. Some of you may feel the same way.
I am impressed by people like Martin Luther King, Mandela and Mother Theresa — all Christians who evangelized not only in their words, but in their whole lives.
I would like to be as brave and inspirational as any of these world-changing people. I’m glad that two of them lived longer lives. All of them were alive during my life time, though I didn’t meet any of them.
When you think about it, isn’t it amazing that people we don’t personally meet can affect us? But people we see every day can change us too.
When he was about five or six, my son Nicholas was asked to write the person he most admired in the world, and he wrote Martin Luther King. I asked him why he made that choice, and he said because Martin Luther King was a great man who had made life better for us all. The fact that my son had that understanding at such a young age surprised and touched me. For me, on that day, my son was an evangelist.
I hadn’t planned on writing about evangelism this week. I was inspired to do so by the sermon of a young pastor, Brian Wise, at my Lutheran church.
Pastor Brian started his sermon by asking for a show of hands for how many people wanted to be an evangelist.
Only two hands went up among the couple hundred people there.
He wasn’t surprised by this response. Even though we come from the sect of the Lutheran church called the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the vast majority of ELCA members do NOT want to be evangelists.
Our pastor went on to articulate why most ELCA members don’t like evangelism. ELCA members tend to be independent, moderate, open-minded, probably a bit on the introverted side. A lot of us have ancestors who came from what are now some of the most progressive,economically successful, liberal countries in Europe – Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. There are Lutherans around the world in every continent. On the whole, we’re not evangelical, church attendance is declining among many Lutheran’s everywhere.
Most of the Lutherans I know tend to go through their lives quietly being Christian, and are sometimes quietly rebellious, but usually low key.
Pastor Brian gave me something new to consider about evangelism in today’s world.
He talked about how we cannot allow certain types of Christians to define what it means to be a follower of Jesus for the rest of us, any more than Martin Luther could in his day. Brian suggested that evangelism is really about sharing where and how God or goodness shows up in our lives. Evangelism means being bearers of good news and giving voice to our own story in our own way. Too many Christians focus on the bad news of what happens to non-believers rather than about the good news of what it means to follow the ways of Jesus.
So, today, I share a brief amount of my own developing story, and would love to hear yours as well.
When I was growing up and one of the last times I spoke to my father at length, he shared his agnostic beliefs with me, and how he wanted to believe in God, but wasn’t sure if we were like a light bulb that went on and then off. Even so, he went to church with my mom. When I was young, he particularly admired a pastor who led an adult study class. He loved the world religions course for some reason. Pastor Bolm would sometimes stop by our house to share a cocktail, and that probably made my Dad like him more. Like I’ve shared before my mother believed God is a force like electricity, well before George Lucas created Star Wars. Both of my parents taught me to be accepting of all religions and people of no religious faith at all.
Probably because of my parents, I have always been interested in learning about what other religions have to say about living a godly life. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an ELCA pastor say that you will go to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus. The idea that you have to threaten people into believing in Jesus seems to go against the ELCA way, though Martin Luther himself was a sometimes very judgmental man.
I am more comfortable in sharing new age beliefs or my respect for Buddhism than I am in sharing my Christian beliefs because I’m uncomfortable with the way in which many Christians choose to evangelize through scare tactics. I feel a very strong connection to Jesus. I can get weepy about my that connection, but I have never believed that Christianity is the only path to living a sacred life. Yet, maybe it’s time to admit to myself that I am a follower of the way of Jesus than anything else.
Like many of you, I see God and goodness in my children, in my friends and colleagues of all faiths and of no religion. I see God in the beauty of the natural world. I also see God in rusted out cars, in strip malls, and the scariest streets in Chicago. I see God working through everything, everywhere, in all things, and through all religions.
My view of Jesus is that he was showing us that anything is possible with the help of the goodness that is available to all people. If we have faith, we can make our best visions come true.
I always found it interesting that Martin Luther King was named after the founder of the Lutheran church.
Martin Luther’s conscience drove him to take a stand against the selling of indulgences by the Catholic church to get into heaven as part of his 95 theses in 1517. Martin Luther started a revolution in how people viewed the idea of going to heaven.
It seems to me that Martin Luther King started a revolution that is more about creating heaven on earth. I have no doubt that Martin Luther King will still be influencing people hundreds of years after his death, just like Martin Luther.
It seems to me that most bloggers have a calling to be some kind of an evangelist. Most of us are sharing our own stories and visions of what works and doesn’t work for making life better in our world. I definitely feel a calling to write about how goodness shows up and can carry us through life. I want to be a bearer of good news, not just a person sharing what is wrong with the world.
Like some of you, I am very much an advocate for environmental causes, though I’ve been hesitant to be a green evangelist for the same reasons I hesitate to share much of my Christian faith. I don’t want to be passing judgment on how people live their lives or presenting a primary fearful vision of reality with no promise for a better tomorrow.
I want to share why caring about the environment and sustainability gives our life meaning and leads to more abundance and goodness. This year, I decided to share more about my own journey towards sustainable abundance, but I certainly hadn’t thought about it as evangelizing, but I can see now that it what I am hoping to do — to share good news.
Most of us are not going to be a Martin Luther King. We don’t have his spiritual calling or gifts.
America has become a more just society since Martin Luther King stood up for justice with great courage and gave his life for the civil rights movement. I believe God spoke through him, and can speak through your words and mine. America still has many challenges and injustices, and it is up to us to share our dreams about what we need to conserve and keep safe, and those areas that need to change to create a more just and compassionate world.
Most of my friends want to be part of creating heaven on earth, working with people of every race, creed, and belief set to make the world a little better. For me, that is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
This week, I want to suggest that you embrace sharing your story of how goodness shows up in your life.
Where you see a lack of goodness, share your dream of what goodness could be. Share how goodness has shown up or continues to support you in your life, and remind yourself that life can change for the better. By sharing our dreams and stories of what justice, freedom, peace, and love look like in our life, we change our society and the world.
Trust the goodness of your personal story and your visions of what could be this week.
As we honor Martin Luther King, let’s find a way to honor our own truth, our own life’s story and share our wisdom and love as best we can. Be an evangelist, for what matters most to you, share your dream in the way that feels right for you.
If you feel inspired, share in the comments how goodness has shown up in your life lately.