I Love to Tell the Story

On May 15, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

I Love to Tell the Story Rev. Ty Bradley May 14, 2017 Evangelism. It is a…complicated word. It’s certainly a powerful and motivating concept within many Christian communities. It is, in fact, our guiding theme or focus for 2017 here at Sunshine Cathedral. Words such as those we find in our reading from the Psalms […]

I Love to Tell the Story
Rev. Ty Bradley
May 14, 2017

Evangelism. It is a…complicated word. It’s certainly a powerful and motivating concept within many Christian communities. It is, in fact, our guiding theme or focus for 2017 here at Sunshine Cathedral.

Words such as those we find in our reading from the Psalms today often inspire us to the point of singing about the joy of sharing Good news. I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love. Even as I hear the melody in my mind, I am moved by the sentimentality of evangelism.

If I am honest, however, the word has always given me a bit of anxiety even as I recognize it’s appeal. Like many of us here I did not start out in the sensible and free-thinking church environment we enjoy here at the Sunshine Cathedral. My early days of ministry training took place within a holy-rollin’, knee-slappin’, tongue-talkin’, hands-a-healin’ environment where if a preacher wanted to be somebody in the church he or she better know how to share the good news of hell and damnation (I mean of heaven and salvation) to a lost and dying world…That is, all the people walking around living their own lives and handling their own business just fine without needing me to benevolently show them the right way to live.

And that’s how I viewed so-called “evangelism,” and so, as you might imagine, I wasn’t very good at it. I guess I had what election pollsters these days like to call an “enthusiasm gap.” My college dorm-mate, Tommy, was the exact opposite. He was a big, muscular, latino fire ball with an award-winning smile and handshake that could crush diamonds. And enthusiasm, well that he had in spades and for nothing more so than sharing about God and Jesus and the Bible with whoever was in earshot.

Tommy led a street preaching ministry and he talked me into joining him one day, convinced that I just needed some encouragement and a few successful experiences and I too would be sold on evangelism ministry. Literally giving it the old college try, I set out to find some people to talk to about Jesus in the neighborhood we had targeted that day. I was not a bit surprised to discover that people indeed were not eager to take time out of their day to talk me, a complete stranger on the street, about my particular beliefs concerning God. Mostly before I could form a complete thought, I was shut down by people in every way you can imagine. My favorite was probably the young man who, with perfect native-born diction, cut me off mid-sentence with, “I’m sorry man, I don’t speak any English.”

After that I just gave up; unwilling to subject myself to the torture of the experience any longer I set off to find Tommy. I turn the corner and I see him across the street in the parking lot of a small apartment complex, Bible in hand, going on in his typical loud and excited fashion with a crowd of people around him. I mean people have brought chairs out of their homes, there’s folks on the second floor catwalk leaning over guardrail seemingly enraptured. He’s got a full on well-attended impromptu bible study going on, and I can’t get people to even admit they understand English. So yeah…Evangelism.

Over the years since then I have certainly come a long way, not merely in my comfort level with sharing my faith, but more fundamentally in how I approach the very meaning of what it is to practice evangelism. When I consider our two readings this morning, I am reminded of how my own understanding of evangelism has matured. I invite us to listen to what they may have to say to us as a community about our practice of sharing the Good News.

The Psalmist boldly bids us to “Come and listen” to a story of divine responsiveness, acceptance and love. “I will tell you what God has done for me.” In my old circles we called this a “testimony.” Filled with gratitude for the goodness of God, a person might testify to their own journey from being down and out to being lifted up.

Looking back I think this is what ol Tommy had going for him, more than his charm, his smile or any other attribute. It was that his excitement was born of a genuine sense that his life had been turned around from something that wasn’t working for him to something he lived in gratitude for each and every day. I wasn’t fully comfortable with all of Tommy’s beliefs about God and heaven and sin, and what have you; and I am certainly no fan of a lot of that kind of theology today. But, I recognize that what Tommy had going for him was that so much more than any theology he may have espoused, he was eager and excited to share what he believed God had done for him in his life. He’d had some pretty dark days that weren’t easy to find his way out of. But he did. And he was able to see keenly how God had been present in that journey. Whatever beliefs about God and heaven and hell were expressed, what Tommy was really doing was telling a story about a God who showed up, who got involved, who saw him through. He was telling the same story as our Psalmist of a God who hears, and listens, and accepts and loves. And so looking back, I am not surprised at all that people responded so meaningfully to Tommy’s ministry of evangelism. They were pulling up chairs and leaning over balconies because they were hearing something that spoke of hope and promise and possibility.

Why is this so powerful? Why should others care about our journeys toward hope and wholeness? I think one answer is that, all sarcasm aside, the struggle is real. Precious few if any human beings enjoy the luxury of a completely charmed life, free of the kinds of bumps in the road that leave us plagued by self-doubt and the sense that the we walk the hardest parts of our journey completely alone. Left to our own devices our footing often times feels precariously insecure as we make our way in the world. Perhaps Paul’s words in the book of Acts capture the sense of it best; we are searching, as if in the dark, forced to feel our way along for something or someone to grasp on to. When we’ve been in that place for so long it has begun to feel like our inescapable destiny, it may be that stories of people making it through, of rising above and moving beyond are the most potent sources for the renewal of hope in the promise of our own future that we have available to us.

The most powerful experience of feeling my way through a dark place came for me when I came out as a gay man and had to contend with picking up the pieces of the decimated life I had built, all the while trying to figure where God was in it all. I looked to theological arguments for that answer, but theology alone was woefully insufficient. What convinced me that God was right there, never far from me, were the powerful testimonials of those who had walked my path before and who could now tell the story of a God who listens, accepts, and loves. It is a story that I too could now tell and I have endeavored from that time to this to be someone who shares the good news of what God has done for me. My theology is more mature and stronger today than it has ever been. Yet, I recognize that my theology is not what is going to get me through, and it is not what is going to facilitate my being a part of what helps others make it through either.

The single most potent resource at my disposal to keep telling the story of God’s love and promise and presence is a vibrant community of faith. This church, with all its theological diversity, is that place where my story can be told to greatest effect, for others as well as myself.

This is my second observation from our readings. That though we seek, and feel around often times in the dark, we do not do this alone. This is Paul’s message to the Athenian philosophers to whom he is speaking in our Acts reading today. A few verses earlier he points out that they all have different views of who God is. Some see God as too big and transcendent to be manipulated and controlled by human rituals and symbols. Others see God as being too intimately connected to the human experience to be anything other than the highest expression of human goodness and life. Though Paul has his own view about God moving from transcendence to imminence by way of a recently executed Jewish peasant, he nonetheless affirms their deepest intuitions about the divine, saying that God cannot be contained in wood and stone crafted by human hands and neither can God be separated out from the very activity of living life. Yet ultimately it is not their theologies that mark their shared experience, it is the mutuality of their own seeking and feeling for God’s goodness that creates the possibility of true community.

This is who we are when we are at our best. We are a church community that is telling a gospel story through our shared journey of exploration, of seeking and feeling our way forward together. It is not that we share a single theology; we certainly do not. And, it is not even that we are so intimately familiar and friendly with one another as individuals. The truth is that for most of us, myself certainly included, there are probably more people in this church community whose names we do not know than those we do. Every week since I got here I try to commit at least 1 or 2 names to memory. Each week, however, it is quite clear to me that I have a long way to go yet

Yet, I am aware that whether or not I know your name today, when I am blessed with the opportunity to administer the elements of the Eucharist to you, or hand you a prayer card, or anoint your head with oil, or join you in the sharing of the sign of peace, it is in moments such as these that my seeking and feeling for God connects with your own similar journey. I ask you to consider whether this is not also your experience.

When you pass the peace, when you come forward and crowd around the altar together arm-in-arm, when you lift your clasped hands in unison with the entire church in triumphant affirmation of God’s glory and goodness, these are visceral, bodily expressions of the reality that known names or not you are feeling out for God together. In fact, I would posit that you are feeling out for and finding God precisely in and through one another. In God we live, move and have our being, Paul tells his audience of truth-seekers.

Likewise, when we practice our shared life together
• in these bodily acts of Sunday of worship,
• And also in our making space available to other communities for worship, social services and recovery support,
• in our helping to literally feed the hungry and clothe the naked,
• in our commitment to standing together for the dignity and sacred value of all those who have been forgotten, cast aside, violated or demonized,
• and in our looking beyond the confines of our borders and our familiar comforts to ensure that ministries of global justice and mission from Kenya to Cuba, from Kingston to Karachi and elsewhere continue to thrive and create hope and promise in the lives of so many who have otherwise known precious few advocates in their struggles…

when we continue to thrive as this type of community we are not only connecting with the countless thousands we reach in person and/or via the internet to affirm that their own seeking and feeling for God does not happen in isolation, but we are also realizing our highest calling as the church of Jesus Christ to tell the story of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God is getting ready to do.

In this season of Resurrection Hope and beyond, throughout this year of Evangelism and beyond, Sunshine Cathedral we have every reason to be enthusiastic about the story we have to tell. This morning and beyond may that ode to evangelistic ferver continue to rise up in our collective spirits, We love to tell the story. We love to tell the story. It is the story of seeking and feeling for God together. It is the story of what God has done for and through us. It is the story of Jesus and his love. It is the story of the Sunshine Cathedral and it is the Good News!

Dear God,
When I seek you, there you are.
When I feel for you, I am not alone.
I can’t escape your love or your acceptance.
And so it is.

Comments are closed.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can
take care of it!