As a church, we at times see evangelism as the “dirty dish” or “dirty laundry” or, for those who are adolescents, a “pimple” part of our faith. We have become so sensitized about the word Evangelism that we almost see it as a curse and yet it is the very heart of our task as Christians. It is like Pizza Hut being afraid to talk about, promote or sell pizza; or McDonalds – hamburgers; or Kentucky Fried Chicken - chicken. When, in fact, it is the nucleus of what we are to be about as believers in Christ. Evangelism is the new beginning or “WOW” fulfillment component of our life in Christ.
The other day I was talking to a grandmother who just happened to have new pictures of her grand-children. You could sense the significance and meaning their very existence added to her life. As she told the story of a recent experience with them, you could feel the pride and joy that came not just from the event being retold but also from the remembering and retelling – and I am sure I was not the first to hear her story.
I have had similar conversations with people as they talk about their vacations, gardens, hobbies or a special event. As human beings, we have the capability to relive past events in our lives finding, in their retelling, a joy that compliments, and at times surpasses, the real event. Ever talk to a fisherman about the one that got away? In my experience, it is this ability to relive the “mighty acts of God” in our lives that takes a back seat as we share and talk about our walk in faith. We like to sing the hymns, “I Love to Tell the Story”, “Amazing Grace”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Lift High the Cross” and being good Lutherans, “A Mighty Fortress”, etc., that reaffirm for us God’s movement in our world. The glitch comes in sharing that joy of Christmas and Easter on our daily journeys throughout the year. Faith in Christ is more than just living happy contented lives. Evangelism is the retelling of the story of how God is moving amidst our lives of joys and struggles and the fulfillment of the life to come. Think about it. The grandparent that is telling the joyous story of her grandkids does not tell it as an historical event but rather with the intent that “the best is yet to come.” (See the following story in this newsletter entitled, “Keep Your Fork”.)
When it comes to Christ, we are supposed to be like proud grandparents, vacationers or hobbyists that can’t say enough about those special events in our lives. But what happens to us spiritually when we allow our walk of faith to be moved to the “dirty dish” or “dirty laundry” or “pimple” part of our lives? Isn’t it at those times that we find ourselves both individually and at times as the body of Christ, the church, becoming negative and overwhelmed? Our faith then becomes something of a burden we have to do or endure rather than the celebration of our lives. But isn’t it really a matter of our perspective? God’s love for us does not change. He does not want us spiritually, mentally or physically down as a result of the struggles and realities of life. Rather, he wants us looking ahead to the promise of the life to come. How many of us parents remember the number of dirty diapers we had to change when our child smiles at us from the stage during their first grade play?
People in our world today need to see and hear that it is Christ in our life that makes the difference. They need to experience, through us, the “joy of Jesus.” All too often we forget that, as God’s people, this is our only task. Along with our individual personal ministries, within the several months, each of us (there is really something for everyone to do) will have numerous opportunities to collectively do “dishes” and “laundry” (Vacation Bible School, Confirmation, Church Picnic, Sunday School Start-ups, Community Days and Thanksgiving) and ultimately share Christ’s story. This is Evangelism, the foundation of our existence together. May we allow the light of Christ to shine through our busy-ness that all those present might experience Jesus as their Savior.
In Christ’s Service,
Pastor John J. Gropp
Keep Your Fork
There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and was given 3 months to live. As she began getting her things "in order" she called her pastor and asked him to come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she wanted read and what dress she wanted to be buried in. She also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible in her left hand.
Everything was in order and as the pastor was preparing to leave, the woman suddenly remembered one final request that was very important to her. "Please Pastor, just one more thing, she said excitedly. "Sure, what is it?" came the pastor's reply. "This is very important to me,” the woman continued. ”I want to be buried holding a fork in my right hand.” The Pastor gazed at the woman, at a loss for words. "That surprises you, doesn't it?" the woman asked.
The Pastor replied "Well, to be quite honest, I'm puzzled by the request." The woman explained. "You see, Pastor, in all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I remember that when the dishes were being cleared after the main course, someone would inevitably lean over to me and say, “Keep Your Fork”. It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance, to end the great meal.” The Pastor listened intently and a smile came upon his face.
The woman continued, "So, I just want people to see me there in the casket with a folk in my hand and I want them to wonder...What's with the fork? Then, I want you to tell them. “KEEP YOUR FORK…the best is yet to come.”
The Pastor eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew that this would be one of the last times that he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of HEAVEN than he did. She KNEW and trusted that the best was yet to come.
At the funeral, everyone that walked by the woman's casket saw her wearing a beautiful dress with her favorite Bible held in her left hand and a fork held in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard people ask the question, "Why is she holding a fork?" and his smile began to get larger and brighter each time.
During his message, the Pastor told the people about the conversation that he had with the woman shortly before she died. He explained the fork and what it symbolized to her. The Pastor told everyone how he could not stop thinking about the fork and how he hoped that they would not be able to stop thinking about it either. That fork, and the meaning of it to the woman, had quite the impact on everyone and they are still sharing the story with people they meet.
And now it has been shared with you. So, the next time you reach for your fork, let it remind you, oh so gently, that the best is yet to come!
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600