October 9, 2022
St. Stephen’s UMC, Burke, VA
Acts 8:26–40 (NRSV)
We are going over five holy habits as part of our stewardship campaign. Last Sunday, we talked about the habit of worshiping. And today, we will talk about the habit of sharing the good news.
In one simple term, the habit of sharing the good news is evangelism. As Pastor Spencer alluded to a few weeks ago, evangelism is often considered a scary word in our church. This “E” word already carries a lot of negative connotations in our culture, that it is confrontational, fearmongering, judgmental, and overbearing. Even for those who have positive views on evangelism, it is often deemed too sophisticated and challenging, and thus unapproachable; that you must be masterful in systematic argumentation and discourse in order to engage in evangelism. Plus, because the word is closely associated in our society with a group that represents certain social backgrounds and political values, mainline protestants like Methodists are shying away from using the “E” word in our church.
But my concern is that by removing the word evangelism from our lexicon, we are also removing the habit of sharing the good news from our discipleship.
See, the root word for “evangelism,” or in Greek euaggelion, literally means God’s good news, also known as the gospel. And its verb form, “to evangelize,” means to share the good news. As recipients of the good news of Jesus Christ, being faithful stewards means we share this gift with others. In other words, being faithful stewards of the gospel means becoming Jesus’ witnesses, proclaiming the good news with our words, deeds, and patterns of life.
We all understand our responsibility as Jesus’ disciples to share the gospel. But the real question is, HOW do we share the good news with others?
Just like any other habit, I believe the habit of sharing the good news is a culmination of multiple tiny habits. Let’s use the habit of exercising as an example, which has been the most difficult habit for me to cultivate. In order to exercise, you go through multiple different steps. First, you have to learn how to block off time for exercise. Second, you have to learn how to dress up appropriately to exercise, even if it means just wearing the right shoes. Third, you have to learn how to get to a place for exercise, whether it’s outside your house or inside your local gym. And lastly, you will have to learn how to take that first step — putting yourself in the rhythm of motion — whether it is walking, cycling, lifting, dancing, or stretching. The habit of exercising is a culmination of these four steps, and perhaps more.
Like this, sharing the good news is also a culmination of multiple tiny habits. And I want to share three tiny habits gleaned from today’s scripture reading, the story between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
The first tiny habit that makes evangelism possible is trusting the movement of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples in the beginning of Acts, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). This is what ends up happening throughout the Acts of the Apostles, disciples are being sent out as they trust and follow the movement of the Spirit, like being carried by the wind, the breath of God, to outer regions. And we learn from their stories that following the Spirit often means going on a daring adventure full of surprises.
This was no different for Philip, one of the seven deacons appointed to serve the Christians in Jerusalem. In today’s story, the angel of the Lord told Philip to get up and go from Jerusalem to Gaza, from the center to the margin, homebase to wilderness, and known to unknown. And Philip simply obeyed; no questions asked. He got up and went.
The Holy Spirit leads us to unlikely places, so that we may encounter unlikely people. Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch, a person of a different race, ethnicity, and culture. The eunuch’s identity is debatable. Was he a gentile or a Jewish convert? And was “eunuch” his identity or title — meaning was he a castrated servant whose reproductive organs were taken away to make him sexually ambiguous, or was he someone who simply performed the typical work of eunuchs as a profession? One thing that doesn’t need debate is his power; although this eunuch was not a person of power, he worked closely to a person with power, the queen of the Ethiopians; which explains his literacy and him riding a chariot, owning a copy of Isaiah’s texts, and even making a trip for himself to Jerusalem to worship. All this is to say that this Ethiopian eunuch was not like those whom Philip would normally serve in Jerusalem.
And it was the Holy Spirit who told Philip to join the Ethiopian eunuch in his chariot, stretching him again from known to unknown. And Philip simply obeyed.
This first tiny habit should give us both a sense of comfort and concern. Yes, the act of sharing the good news is not what we initiate, but what God initiates. It is not our doing, but God’s doing. It is not based on our abilities, except for our faith to trust and obey God no matter what. And that very faith often terrifies us for it leads us to unfamiliar places and unknown people.
So, evangelism begins with us cultivating this tiny, yet monumental habit called trusting the movement of the Spirit, or in short, having faith in God. Faith is a gift that we nurture. Perhaps this nurturing begins with our daily prayers, asking God to give us the courage to move across boundaries, to serve beyond our comfort zones, and to enter the lives of others who are different from us. And this is followed by us intentionally making room in our busy lives for spontaneous encounters, making ourselves available to the movement of the Spirit.
And here I want to clarify one thing. What I just shared sounds like we are to become social butterflies, constantly going out to meet new people. But this is not the only way. Maybe the Spirit guides some of us to make ourselves available to those closest to us yet having disagreements, approaching them despite our differences, which sometimes requires more courage than meeting a stranger.
The second tiny habit that makes evangelism possible is opening our ears to people’s curiosities and questions. In today’s story, once Philip approached the chariot, he asked the question first, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian eunuch responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” This tells us the eunuch was already curious about something and already had questions. The eunuch was looking at Isaiah’s prophecy on the suffering servant and was curious about who this sacrificial lamb of God was.
Last month, an article came out from The Pew Research Center titled “Modeling the Future of Religion in America.” The article, based on their study, reports that currently 64% of Americans identify as Christians, and 30% of Americans as “nones” (n-o-n-e-s), those who are unaffiliated with any organized religion. And the article highlights this one notable trend, which is that nearly a third of those raised Christian eventually switch to “nones,” while about 20 percent of those raised without religion become Christian. The article predicts that if this trend of switching continues steadily, then Christians will likely make up less than half the US population by 2070.
During the past four years as a church planter, I got to meet many who grew up in Christian households but now identify themselves as “nones.” They were different from atheists or agnostics. And the most of their stories were similar: they simply had no interest in identifying themselves with an institutional religion due to spiritual abuse and religious trauma, frustration and distrust over the church’s contradictions and failures, or shame and judgement over their inability to meet the church’s high demands.
So the problems many of these “nones” have is mainly with the institutional religion. Although they are unaffiliated, they are still searching, seeking, doubting, and/or even believing; they are curious about the practice of prayers, the existence of a higher power, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the transformation of the world. They have many questions. And all they want is someone who guides them in their questioning. All they want is someone who embraces and appreciates their curiosities, rather than someone who tells them what to do and what not to do.
This is why I believe the habit of opening our ears first before we speak is more important than ever. The way we open and lend our ears is our way of extending God’s love, grace, and compassion.; it is the very first step toward healing, restoration, and reconciliation; and it is the very beginning of friendship and community.
The third tiny habit that makes evangelism possible is conveying the good news with our own stories. When the Ethiopian eunuch asked the question about the suffering servant, Philip began to speak, proclaiming the good news of Jesus. And because what the Ethiopian eunuch heard from Philip was so good, he was ready to get baptized right away. And once the eunuch got baptized on the side of the road, he went on his way back to Ethiopia rejoicing. That is how good the good news was even to this Ethiopian eunuch, a foreigner and an outsider to Philip.
This brings us to a series of questions. What makes the gospel of Jesus Christ “good news” to me? Why is the good news “good news” to me? What is my testimony? Do my testimony, my actions, and the patterns of my life convey this good news? And is my “good news” also the good news to those different from me?
One practical way to cultivate this habit is journaling. Reflecting and writing down regularly why the good news of Jesus Christ is good news to us, remembering how our lives have been transformed by “the good news that God loves us and invites us into a relationship through which we are forgiven, receive new life, and are restored to the image of God, which is love.”
We are all here because someone else’s sharing of Jesus’ good news was also good news to us. Philip’s sharing of the good news was also good news to the Ethiopian eunuch. The Jews’ sharing of the good news was also good news to the Gentiles. Our parents’ sharing of the good news was also good news to us. Our neighbors’ sharing of the good news was also good news to us. The examples and testimonies go on and on.
And so, as we have gleaned from today’s passage, our trusting the Spirit, our open ears, and our conveying of the good news is how we cultivate the habits of sharing the good news.
Rather than the common misconception that the church should be a place of attraction, the church ought to be a place of gathering. The church is not a theme park but a community. And as you know, habits are much easier to cultivate when in community — when there’s accountability, fellowship, and support.
As we continue to engage in our stewardship campaign, may we foster and cultivate these holy habits in community, practicing these habits with one another, strengthening and encouraging one another to relay Christ’s good news to the next generation, to those outside of our experiences, backgrounds, and traditions, to those who identify as “nones,” “dones,” or others, and to those whom the Spirit is pressing us to get to know. And I pray that we do all this not because we are obligated to, but because we are grateful and joyful like the Ethiopian eunuch who found Christ. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!