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Go: Witness to the World

Date: 12/05/2024/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

GO: Witness to the World

John 15:1-17

12 May 2024

Focus Statement:

We are called to be witnesses of God’s love to the world, knowing that God’s love embraces and encompasses all regardless of the labels the world uses.

Prayer:

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, God, Earth-maker, Pain-Bearer, Life-Giver, who calls us to be witnesses of your love to the world. Amen.

When you think about the word “evangelism,” what comes to mind?

Question 1 (Word Cloud)

Complete the following sentence: “Evangelism is _.”

To be honest, my experience with evangelism has not always been positive. Many years ago, I was involved in a Christian ministry that was very proactive in sharing the gospel. We went through training to do “street witnessing.” However, I had my qualms regarding such methods of evangelism as I felt that they were too “pushy” especially for the Asian culture. I felt it was “pushing” people away from the gospel rather than drawing people closer. So I’ve had my struggles with the word “evangelism” as many of you probably have. I still believed in evangelism as a calling and joy, but I grappled with how we can do so effectively, embodying God’s love and grace in our broken world.

When I found out at the beginning of this semester that I had to take a module on evangelism as part of the requirements for ordination with the United Methodist Church (UMC), I had my own hesitations about what we were going to learn and talk about in class. If you asked me in the beginning of the year if I was planning to preach on evangelism, I would probably have replied, “Not anytime soon.” But now that I’m nearing the end of my semester and choosing to preach about this topic is testimony that God has been moving within me, and giving me fresh perspectives around this issue, which I would love to share with you.

Euangelion (εὐαγγέλιον) is the Greek word for “good news” and that is where the word evangelism came from. So, an evangelist is a bearer of good news. You and I are called to be bearers of good news. “Evangelist” is part of our identity as a Christian, not just a program or activity. But given the negative connotations this word has accumulated, the fact that evangelism is good news needs to be reclaimed by us as Christians.

Luke 4:14-21 (NRSVue)

Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to set free those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

During his first sermon, in a synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read the words of Isaiah 61:1–2 and then, with a flourish, announced that his presence fulfilled them: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The prophetic text from which he read offers a stunning and lavish vision of justice: The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.

As Christ’s followers, we are called to do the same. We are to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

I like how my professor reframes and defines evangelism in relation to hospitality. He says:

Evangelism and the Practice of Hospitality:

“Evangelism is a witness to the self-giving love of God in Jesus Christ and an invitation to all people to a decision for faith and discipleship, with hospitality as its context. Authentic evangelism is both contextual and holistic: It concerns people in their given particular social, historical and cultural contexts and with regard to all realms of life.” -Joon-Sik Park

Authentic evangelism is both contextual and holistic. It is a witness and an invitation with hospitality as its main context. Jesus was concerned about the well-being of the whole person: physically, intellectually, and spiritually. He accepted people in their current situation, met their needs, and invited them to experience an alternative way of living and loving. Jesus was focused on the entire person.

Ultimately, it is based on Jesus’ Greatest Commandment to love God with all our hearts, mind, soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Like Jesus, we are care for the well-being of the whole person: physically, intellectually, and spiritually. We try our best to accept people where they are, meet their needs, and invite them to experience an alternative way of living and loving.

Question 2 (Open)

So why should we be witnesses to the world?  

Because we have a story to tell.

In our postmodern age, many may think of evangelism as an imposition of beliefs, and we wonder if we are being disrespectful of diverse cultures and worldviews. And this is something I am very mindful of because for too long, Christians have come across as arrogant and ignorant in peddling the gospel as if only we have access to the whole truth.

If ever, our witness becomes an imposition of beliefs, then we have got it all wrong. A witness or evangelist means sharing the good news. It doesn’t mean converting someone to your way of thinking. Keeping in mind the context of hospitality, our goal is to share our stories of a God who loves us, and to listen carefully to other people’s stories as well.

Do you have a story to tell?

For us as the only lgbtqia+ affirming church in Singapore currently, we have another very important layer to add to that good news. That is, that God’s love embraces and encompasses all people, regardless of the labels the world uses on us.

I remember having a conversation with one of my Muslim friends who is also queer. She was very curious how I reconciled faith and sexuality from my Christian perspective, and so we were sharing quite deeply with one another. It was a very natural way to share my journey with her, and also a fantastic opportunity for me to listen to her story and journey, and discuss about God’s love that embraces and encompasses all.

For those of us here who are lgbtq+, you have come to know the magnitude of God’s love in a deep and enduring way, against all odds. For those of us here who are allies, you also have a powerful testimony because you have experienced God’s transformative love as you choose to practise Jesus’ greatest commandment — love God and love neighbor. Together, we at FCC are important witnesses to the love and grace of God that reaches across all human-made boundaries in this vital time in history.

These past two weeks, I was in California for my psychological evaluation and interview, and I also spent extended time with my sponsor church in Irvine. It was wonderful to be there in person with people that I had only met on Zoom this past year. I had the opportunity to preach there for the first time last Sunday, and had meaningful conversations with many of their leaders and members over potlucks and meet-and-greets. Thank you so much for all your prayers for me during this time I was away. I am blessed to have all of you, as well as the love and support of University United Methodist Church, Irvine, from the moment they made the decision to walk with me on my journey towards ordination with the UMC.

It wasn’t planned but I arrived in the U.S. in the first day of the UMC General Conference. This is a conference that usually takes place once every 4 years, and this time was especially epic and momentous because after 2 decades of intense debates, they voted to remove the ban on the ordination of lgbtq+ clergy with a 93% approval rate! For such a time as this indeed.

We are called to be witnesses of God’s love to the world. And one opportunity to do that together as a faith community is coming up really soon! 

SafeHaven is organising the doublebill screening of the two documentary films - 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture and 牧者(The Shepherds) on Saturday, 18 May 2024, to commemorate IDAHOBIT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia) at The Projector at Cineleisure.

Even if you have watched either or both films before, please consider coming and bringing your friends, because the Q&A after The Shepherds, as well as after 1946, will be very interesting. For the Shepherds, Miak has very moving updates to add to this narrative that started with a lot of pain. And for 1946, you’ll definitely not want to miss meeting the director of 1946, Sharon “Rocky” Roggio, and hearing her share about this film in person.  

While I was in California, I had the chance to spend some time with Rocky and Ed Oxford who appeared in the film. They are both really excited to be here in Singapore for the Asian premiere of this film, and we are delighted to be hosting the Q&A with Rocky after the screening.

This is a wonderful opportunity for you to invite friends and family to watch these films so they can hear the stories of LGBTQ Christians, and get to know some history – especially how the word “homosexual” found its way into the Bible in the first place. This would be our opportunity to witness to God’s amazing love for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Like Miak said last week, this is one way we are “Go”-ing out into the world to be a force for love, for justice, for peace. We need volunteers to come help us scan tickets and check ICs. We need you to help share about the screening and invite your friends. We even have sponsorship for pay as you can for those who might not be able to afford the cost of the ticket. Most importantly, we need you to pray.

Recently, I was reading this true story about Benton Street Christian Church. They had decided they wanted to be a better witness to the world and formed a new evangelism team of 3 women. These 3 women were very enthusiastic and wanted to know how to begin. The pastor told them, “Would you spend 3 months praying together and not do anything else, not making any decisions for 3 whole months?”

“WHHHAAATTTT????”

“What is your committee doing now?” / “We’re still praying.” – The Evangelism Team

After 3 months, the team of 3 women now had almost 50 people helping with evangelism — welcoming people in worship and talking about the Spirit. People baking bread and “Loafers” deliver it to first-time visitors. A computer analyst keeping lists of visitors and there was a group praying for them.

As time went on, the evangelism team had 65 members, including intercessors and thank-you gift teams, designers, etc. A person with mental health challenges visited, and a member who was trained as a social worker pitched in to do follow-up.

“One year later, they were taking stock and instead of the traditional 6 or 7 infant dedications, they had 16, and 15 of which were of children of new members/visitors. New members and visitors were involved in small groups. There were 80 new members.

But what was just as extraordinary was that many of those lifelong Christians had experienced intercessory prayer and nudges from the Spirit for the first time in their lives. They felt it individually, they saw it together…They are living in answered prayer, they are living into answered prayer.”

So we don’t have a whole year but we do have one week to the film screenings. In this time, will you commit to:

Pray unceasingly for one another, for Rocky, and for all who will come to the event.

Share about the screenings and invite your family and friends to attend.

Volunteer to help out at the event – Your service matters but your presence matters even more!

Share your story and listen to others’ stories with hospitality as the main goal.

Heather Lear wrote, “the good news is that ultimately transformation is not my responsibility. Nor is it the job of our pastors or laity. God is the only one who can bring about transformation in the lives of individuals or in a community. We simply need to be faithful to our transformative God. To be faithful means to provide opportunities and alternatives for people to experience the Kingdom of God in significant ways. To be faithful means being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and how God can use us to partner in ushering in the kin-dom of God in the community to which one has been called to serve. Our task in the present is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.”

We are called to be witnesses of God’s love to the world, knowing that God’s love embraces and encompasses all, regardless of the labels the world uses. May we live into our calling as the beloved people of God.

Post-sermon Prayer & Reflection Time:

By Our Love

Christy Nockels

Brothers, let us come together

Walking in the Spirit, there’s much to be done…

We will come reaching, out from our comforts

And they will know us by our love…

Sisters, we were made for kindness

We can pierce the darkness as Christ shines through us…

We will come reaching, with a song of healing…

And they will know us by our love!

Chorus

The time is now

Come Church arise…

Love with His hands

See with His eyes…

Bind it around you,

Let it never leave you,

And they will know us by our love…

Children, You are hope for justice,

Stand firm in the Truth now, set your hearts above

You will be reaching, long after we’re gone,

And they will know you by your love!