A sermon preached on January 15, 2023, by Patrick H Wrisley, D.Min.
This morning’s reading from John is arguably one of my favorite of all scripture passages because it shares how you and I can participate in an Epiphany. Since this is the second Sunday in Epiphany, I thought it might be a good thing to learn how we can help facilitate one. Now many people will gravitate to Psalm 23 as their favorite biblical passage where we are reminded and comforted that the Lord is our dear Shepherd. Others will mention 1 Corinthians 13 as their favorite where we are told that the greatest gifts are faith, hope, and love but the greatest gift of all is love. Still, others will point to John 3.16 when Jesus patiently tells Nicodemus the Pharisee, “That God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Do you have a favorite scripture?
This morning’s scripture is one of my favorites because it’s one of those biblical texts that takes something which is perceived to be so hard and difficult and then breaks it down to make it so simple. It takes a scary topic that puts fear in the hearts of those who are asked to do it and makes it what I call, Crayola. In other words, it’s all so easy like a child’s ability to color with a crayon. I really do believe that if all members of the church could learn what our morning text teaches, it would change the world. See if you can pick up what it is I’m talking about. Our scripture comes from John 1:35-40. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 
So, did you figure out what I was talking about? I am talking about the instructions for growing the church of Jesus Christ. I am talking about how “to do” evangelism.
The word evangelism causes one of several reactions in people. First, it causes people to shrink with disgust because when someone “evangelizes” another person, it’s usually accompanied by words of judgment or guilt. “Are YOU saved? Really?”
Others hear the word evangelism and immediately think someone is trying to convert someone into following Jesus. We think, “I can’t convert someone to follow Jesus!” and I would say, “You’re absolutely right! You can’t and indeed, no one can but only the Spirit of God is able!”
Still, some hear the word evangelism and think it’s someone else’s job, say, the preacher’s job, to do the work of evangelism. They will tell me it’s too hard to evangelize people and it’s best left to “the professionals” like “you” pastors. Sadly, most pastors don’t know how to evangelize, either. It puts the onus of growing the church upon the shoulders of the pastoral staff instead of placing church growth where it belongs; sharing the faith is everyone’s responsibility. We make evangelism so much more complicated than it needs to be.
It all reminds me of an article entitled, “How Building Ikea Furniture Nearly Destroyed My Marriage” where author Steve Tate writes, “Do you ever wonder how strong your relationship with your significant other is, or how much exactly it can take? There are many things that can apply extra tension — planning a family vacation, spending time with in-laws, talking about money. I’ve been married for 14 happy years, and while my wife and I have had our fill of marital woes, nothing, and I mean nothing, put our relationship to the test quite as much as building Ikea furniture together did. Did you know that Ikea is responsible for 28 percent of all divorces that occurred in the US in 2017? You probably didn’t, because I’m totally kidding and made that up but, honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true.”
Ugh. This, my friends, is what the Church has done with evangelism. We’ve complicated it. We’ve painted it as something only certain people do, and most of them, in our minds, are religious zealots. Our text this morning helps demystify evangelism and helps to define what it is and what it isn’t. It reminds us Christians of the spirit and attitude in which we do evangelism. Finally, our scripture tells us whom we are to evangelize.
How does our text today define evangelism? Well, we have a Story where two of John the Baptist’s disciples were standing there and then Jesus walks by. The Baptist points him out and says, “Here is the Lamb of God.” Andrew and an unnamed disciple many presume to be John the apostle, start following Jesus. Jesus, sensing their presence, stops, turns around, and simply asks them, “So, what are you looking for?”
Did you notice what Jesus didn’t say? He didn’t say, “If you died today, would you be in heaven or hell?” He didn’t say, “Go away. I don’t have time for you.” He didn’t say, “Are you saved?” Jesus didn’t launch in and tell Andrew what to believe or how to live life. No, Jesus asked a simple question. Jesus asked a question simply because asking a question invites others into a relationship. Jesus didn’t declare what Andrew needed to believe; Jesus asked Andrew and his companion an honest, open-ended existential question about their need. “What are you looking for?” It was a question designed for Andrew to honestly answer for himself. Jesus genuinely wanted to know what Andrew was looking for and then he purposefully asked a question to further and deepen the relationship. Evangelism is about relationships; it’s not about conversion; it’s not about adding numbers to the rolls of the church. Evangelism is nothing more than relationship building so that you and I earn the right to share what Jesus has done for me.
We also learn from the text about the type of relationship involved with evangelism. Jesus enters the relationship with Andrew and the other disciple without any expressed agenda other than to know what they were searching for. Jesus took them as they were and let the relationship develop on its own. His attitude is simple and humble, non-judgmental. Jesus let Andrew and the other disciple dictate where the relationship would go. Jesus did not impose rules on the relationship that if you are going to follow me then you must do this or you must not do that. Jesus very simply opens the door by trying to establish a relationship with them and then allows Andrew and the other disciple to determine where the relationship goes from there. He places n personal agenda upon them.
Lastly, our text today reminds us where to begin our evangelistic work: It starts with people you and I already know. Just look at Andrew. Andrew hung out with Jesus that day and what did he do? He went home to his brother Simon. He went to someone he already had an established relationship and with whom elements of trust were already present. He found Simon and didn’t tell him what he had to believe; no, he found Simon and simply shared what he, Andrew, personally experienced: We found the Messiah. The Anointed One. I want to introduce you to him.
“Jesus, this is my brother Simon. Simon, this is the guy I told you about. Talk amongst yourselves.” All Andrew did was make an introduction and then back off. He let Simon and Jesus develop their own relationship so they could see where it would go.
Beloved, why have we made evangelism so difficult and complicated? Evangelism is simply creating relationships with people we already know and simply sharing with them what Jesus has done for us. That’s it. Nothing more.
Before we finish, I want to lift up a tool from our scripture for you to take and use in your first evangelistic endeavor. Did you notice in our Story Andrew’s odd answer to Jesus’ question? Jesus asks him, “What are you looking for?” – do you remember Andrew’s answer? Did he answer Jesus by asking Jesus what the meaning of life was? He didn’t ask Jesus how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. He didn’t ask Jesus about who he thought was going to hell. He didn’t ask Jesus about what being a Messiah was all about. No, Andrew was invited into a relationship with Jesus and is invited to ask Jesus anything he wants to ask. And what profound question does he ask the Almighty One Who Is, Was, and Evermore Shall Be?
“Jesus, where are you staying?” Today, we might say, “So, Jesus, what hotel are you in?” To us, it may be a silly question to ask Jesus. For us, we even might say it was a missed opportunity. The deal is this: Jesus took Andrew’s question seriously and took Andrew where he was. He didn’t make fun of Andrew’s question or question it. Jesus simply let the question sit there and said, “Come and see.”
Beloved, this week, you are going to be an evangelist. You’re going to take what you have learned this morning and apply it in your life this week. Let me tell you how: Find someone you already have a relationship or an acquaintance with and simply as them this: What is the one question you would ask Jesus if you met him face to face?
That’s it. Don’t say anymore. Just be quiet and let them answer and then watch how the Spirit will take the conversation from there. And it’s right at this point you will see and experience a profound spiritual truth: People love to talk about spiritual things!
© 2023 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Steve Tate, How Building Ikea Furniture Nearly Destroyed My Marriage, Popsugar, January 26, 2018. Accessed on 1/15/2023 at https://www.popsugar.com/family/Funny-Story-About-Building-Ikea-Furniture-44714768.