More Boldly
Jonathan Dixon
March 10, 1996

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. My name is Jon Dixon, and I am the president of Christus Rex, the student parish of Lutheran Campus Ministry (ELCA) at the University of Colorado. I would like to begin by offering you greetings from the students of Christus Rex and express our gratitude for the generous support you have given us.

When I first agreed to preach for this Sunday, I read through the lessons trying to find some way to relate the texts to my own experiences in campus ministry, to tie the two together and thus avoid repeating the same old things. I found this especially challenging since the lessons, especially today's gospel, are so familiar. How could I bring new light to them from a student's perspective?

I thought about this for a while, and re-read the lessons several times, but to no avail. I was starting to get a bit worried, since I knew that with all of my work at school, I didn't really have that much time left before giving the sermon. Then, last Sunday during dinner after worship, several of us were discussing the challenges we face in bringing new people in to experience our ministry, and how we really needed to overcome those challenges and find ways to make the ministry grow. Afterwards, I went home and started to read through the texts again, knowing that time was getting short and I really needed to find a topic to preach on. As I was reading the gospel lesson, the thought struck me that what we need in Lutheran Campus Ministry are more people like the Samaritan woman in today's gospel.

It's not that she has some compelling moral quality that we lack. The text tells us that she had had five husbands, putting her in a league with such Hollywood greats as Liz Taylor, and at that point in time she was living with a man she was not even married to. While today she could have moved to California and blended right in with the show-business crowd, for her this probably resulted in becoming a social outcast, shunned by the society she lived in. Definitely not the type of person you think of when you're looking for someone to spread the gospel in a town and start up a church.

What we need is the evangelistic zeal that she shows in today's gospel. This Samaritan woman, after only a short time of speaking with Jesus, went out into the community and encouraged everyone else who lived there to come meet this wonderful prophet who might even be the promised Messiah. What I found most interesting was that the message she brought to them was neither a long treatise comparing Jesus to the words of the prophets, nor a story about some great miracle she had seen worked, but just the phrase, ``He told me everything I have ever done.''

It is a very simple statement, but it turned out to be a quite powerful witness to the community. We are told that many of the townspeople believed in Jesus just from this testimony, enough to convince Jesus to put off his travel to Galilee and stay there a couple of extra days, to help reinforce the message first brought to the community by this outcast woman and to build up the faiths of the members of the community.

What is it about her message that brought all of these people out to listen to the preaching of Jesus? It seems to me that what made her simple statement so powerful is the implied conclusion to it -- that even though Jesus knew all about this woman's life, all of her many failings and sinful acts, he still loved her and cared about her.

But this acceptance was not just a one-time act of generosity to a peasant woman 2000 years ago. Paul brings this out in the passage from Romans, that ``at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.''

I believe that what the woman at the well has captured in her statement, and Paul has futher expounded upon in his letter, is the very essence of God's grace -- in spite of all of our past, no matter how marked by sin we might be, God loves us and cares for us. In fact, God loves us enough to die for us, so that our sin will no longer separate us from God. This message is as wonderful a message today as it was in that Samaritan village 2000 years ago, and one that the whole world still needs to hear.

The other amazing thing about this Samaritan woman is that she was willing to put forth the effort to bring this news to the rest of the community. As a social outcast, she had most likely suffered a great bit from the rejection by the community. She could have played it safe, just using Jesus' words to heal her own wounds, but instead she risked yet another rejection by the townspeople in order to let them know about this saving grace. This woman put herself in a vulnerable position towards people that had already hurt her, people she probably could have justified in her own mind not caring about, to let them know about the depth of God's love.

Now as Lutherans, coming mostly from good German or Scandanavian stock, sharing of the good news isn't generally something we are comfortable doing. In fact, I would guess that the average Lutheran would even prefer a stewardship sermon to one on envangelism. This aversion to evangelism is a problem that is seen in Lutheran campus ministries across the country. Lutheran students most often have been brought up with a quietistic approach to faith -- faith is something that is good to have, but isn't something you talk about with others. This has been reinforced by watching the actions of our parents, who usually say little about their faith to others, and our church, which all too often considers the sum total of an evangelism drive to be mailing a catchy brochure and a form letter to all the new people in the community.

About the only model of evangelism that most Lutheran students that I've met come to campus with is a negative one -- they know for certain that they don't want to be like the Jehovah's Witnesses or the televangelists. That's an idea I've heard expressed many times by students. Few seem to have an idea of what they do want it to be like (except perhaps hoping that by putting up a sign saying Lutheran Campus Ministry, thousands of people -- or at least hundreds -- will flock in to join the group).

I have serious doubts on how well that model ever worked, but I do know that it does not work in today's society. First of all, with the decline in denominational ties, there are few students who will come to the Lutheran campus ministry just because they have been brought up as Lutherans. The large number of other activities available to students on and around campus also draws people away, especially those who are tired of church anyways and welcome just about any excuse not to become involved. In addition, the University's attitude towards matters of faith, which is at best an attitude of indifference and often tends more towards overt hostility, also tends to persuade students that their faith journey is not all that important an issue for their academic life.

These are problems we have seen in our own campus ministry; they are also problems that have been seen throughout Lutheran Campus Ministry. About four years ago a group of campus pastors came together to try to address this issue. They worked on finding a way for Lutheran students to become more comfortable witnessing to other students on secular campuses about their faith. The title they have chosen for this new evangelism approach is ``More Boldly,'' drawing from the Luther quote that has become popular with Lutheran students, ``Sin boldly, but proclaim Christ more boldly still.'' This title also expresses the fact that a large part of the approach is for students to recapture the boldness that far too few Lutherans since Martin Luther have had.

This program was described in an article in the February issue of {\em The Lutheran}. The summarized version of what is presented boils down to six main points:

In the fall of '94, our campus ministry held a retreat jointly with the ministry from CSU on this ``More Boldly'' concept. In the retreat, we learned some of the basic ideas of the approach, and worked at overcoming the standard Lutheran reluctance to talk about matters of faith and what Jesus means in our own lives. As we explored the process of talking to others about what our own faith experiences have been, we discovered that for many of us it was an entirely new experience, which our upbringing had left us completely unprepared for. We learned a lot about ourselves on that retreat, and recognized that we had a long way to go before we were proficient evangelists.

At Christus Rex, we have continued to encourage our members to gradually become more comfortable with evangelism. We take a gradual approach because that is generally all that a college student is willing to commit to. The fact that I'm standing up here preaching a sermon shows what that gradual process can do given enough time -- when I started as a freshman engineering student at Michigan State University about seven and a half years ago, I was a very shy, withdrawn person. Apart from basic exchanges of greetings and the obligatory ``name, hometown, year, and major'' introductions we always wound up doing, I probably didn't say more than about three words all year long. If you had told me then that I would be standing up preaching a sermon in the not too distant future, I probably would have thought you were out of your mind (although I wouldn't have told you so, since that would have more than used up my speaking quota for the year).

I am still not all that comfortable standing up in front of large groups and talking, especially if I haven't had a chance to prepare beforehand what I am going to say, and it still is very difficult for me to tell other people about what the faith means in my own life, but those who have known me over the last eight years can attest that I am much better at it now than I was then. But, as with everything in this life, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Unfortunately, with the short time-scale of student life (except for people like myself who follow a longer approach and work at perpetually remaining students), there is only so much that can be done to build evangelism skills among students. What we need is to build supportive partnerships with home congregations, similar to the current financial partnerships which allow our ministries to remain financially viable, but that help both the ministry and the home congregations be evangelistically viable.

This partnership would work at helping members own their own faith experience, learning how to share that experience with others, and growing secure enough in that faith to be able to withstand the attacks from a secular society like that found at most universities. This way, when students come to universities like the University of Colorado, they are not overwhelmed by the experience, and they will feel comfortable turning to the campus ministries for support and encouragement. Not only that, but they will know how to invite their fellow students to share in that experience of love and support that has come through their faith experience. If we work together, we can provide everyone with the skills needed to share the gospel message with others, helping them find the same joy that we have found in Jesus.

This message isn't a difficult message that requires a lot of sophisticated words. In fact, the gospel that the Samaritan woman shares with the town, and that we are called to share with those around us, is nothing more than what many of us first learned from that old, familiar Sunday School song -- ``Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'' The difficult part is in bringing ourselves to actually go out and share this message. I pray that we can all find the courage and strength in Jesus to learn to share this wonderful news with the whole world. Amen.

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