After hearing this sermon at the 5 Talent Academy’s Evangelism Training even in October, Cathy asked that we feature it on our website and in our newsletter.  Here it is reprinted with permission from Rev. Sylvia Meadows.

“You are…”
First, I want to thank God for the affirmation, guidance, and empowering presence for this day…
Thanks to Woodlake UMC for your hospitality…
I want to thank the Five Talent Academy team for the invitation to offer the message for this event today.
I’d like to thank the musicians and technicians and all of the people that are working to make this time of worship and training meaningful.
I’d like to thank you for any amount of listening and engaging that you choose…
“Holy Spirit…you are welcome here…”
I do kind of chuckle that it is the “evangelism” gathering that I am invited to preach for. I’ve always felt like I had a better understanding of what worship, discipleship, missions and stewardship might be …
But evangelism has always been a little bit more elusive to me…for years in ministry…I’ve called it the “E” word…
According to the Oxford College Dictionary…
Evangelism is the spreading of the Christian gospel by preaching or personal witness…
The spreading of the Christian gospel by preaching or personal witness…
The word witness resonated…jumped out at me.

In Acts 1:8, we read…as Jesus is ascending into heaven and he speaking to his followers, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”
The responsibility for evangelism, for being a witness, was bestowed upon all disciples, all followers of Jesus…then and now.
AND receiving the power of the Holy Spirit was the prerequisite.
The power of the Holy Spirit and the personal witness…the fullness of the presence of God in us…living in us…showing through us.

John Wesley reminds us that the world is our parish…Wesley reminds us not to be stuck thinking that God only shows up inside the church or inside the 4 walls…or inside whatever box we put God in….
“This Little Light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine…Everywhere I go…I’m gonna let it shine.”
In baptism, we are adopted into the family of God…
The water, the spirit, the beautiful words of liturgy and blessing spoken. I have no idea how many people that I have baptized, but each so precious.
I want to share one picture with you. This is my granddaughter Reese…I baptized her as an infant and someone took this picture of her peering into my eyes as if she knew exactly what was happening as I said,
“Reese, the Holy Spirit work within you that having been born through water and the spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Let’s pause a moment to remember these words spoken in your baptism: “The Holy Spirit work within you that having been born through water and the spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Oh the power of these beautiful words…the welcoming of the Holy Spirit as necessity…the power of the Holy Spirit in and through us as witnesses.

Do we daily claim the power of the holy spirit…without the holy spirit…our witness is hollow, bland, and lifeless.
The holy one is calling you and me to participate in God’s work in the world…in this anxious and troubled season of division…we need to invite and welcome the power of the Holy Spirit…to transform us…to unify us…as we are vessels of transformation for the world

So, what kind of witnesses are we? It matters!!!
Perhaps this question can only be answered authentically in the presence of the Holy Spirit…the presence that has the power to claim us, convict us, cleanse us and convert us…the presence that is truth. In these moments, let us examine our lives in the presence of the Spirit. May we end each day examining the witness that we are sharing.
Is our witness authentically burning with the power of the Holy Spirit? Is it a witness of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness? Is it the real thing…or a cheap imitation? If it’s not beyond human understanding…we may be relying on our own power.

I remember a number of years ago at the beginning of a confirmation class, I invited a group of adults in the church to be mentors…I didn’t train them…I’m not sure that I prayed with them…my bad…and what I immediately heard…what I immediately witnessed was many of them giving the “right answers” but not the “real answers.”
The easy, textbook, rote answers…instead of an authentic witness of struggle or brokenness. I didn’t hear any, “It’s really hard…it’s a journey…I don’t always get this right.”

We are all sinners in need of grace…we are all sinners in need of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness…called to a world of sinners in need of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness…
It’s not a journey of perfect people, but a journey of imperfect people called to perfection…called to holiness…called to be authentic witnesses who are growing and willing to listen to God and listen to the stories of our neighbors.
Matthew 8:4 from The Message, “Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.” Repeat I LOVE THIS!!!
How have you been cleansed? Transformed? How are you grateful for the power that has and is changing you…THIS IS YOUR WITNESS!!!
This is the only way that I can stand before you today…as a witness…I am so grateful for the power of the Holy Spirit in my life…continually cleansing and making me new.

I’ll never forget the first time that I walked into my home church in a clergy robe to process in for worship…looking around and noticing a young woman who knew me…and watching her laugh. I guess that it was laughable that God would call someone like me…could use someone like me. She knew about me…that I was a most unlikely person to be used by God…

When I graduated from high school, the last will and testament of my class looked into the future 50 years and predicted, “Sylvia Shepard will be running a party time trailer park on the dark side of the moon.” It’s been 44 years…
We judge…we laugh…we doubt…when we forget the power of God to use imperfect vessels…the process of transforming grace. This is our witness.

I’d like to tell you that I’m perfect…as I stand before you today…but that would not be true.
I can tell you that I love Jesus
I love the United Methodist Church
I love God’s people
And I am committed to growing in grace…striving to be all that God has created me to be.
And I am grateful beyond words for the grace and the opportunities that I have had to be in ministry with God’s people. And I am always amazed at the reciprocity of God…how much we receive…even as we give.
The best advice that I can give any person or any church as to how to structure your church for evangelism…or worship…or mission…or stewardship
Is to seek God first…Is to spend time in silence…discerning the will of God…in the presence of God. Welcome the Holy Spirit first…each day…again and again and again.
I have watched as my executive committee has met monthly for dinner and prayer before our administrative council meetings. As we have spent time together, reading the holy scriptures, sitting in the silence listening for God’s personal word for each of us…I have witnessed strong men and women surrender and submit to God’s transformational power.

As I have set with leaders around a table for times of discernment prayer, listening to scripture, sitting in silence, listening for a word from the Lord for us…for what and where God desires for us to go…for the ways that God wants us to be a witness to the world, I have been amazed again and again.
I have witnessed God provide manna over and over when it felt like we were between a rock and a hard place.
LISTENING TO GOD FIRST…welcoming the Holy Spirt into our lives and into our church to lead us.
We’ve made plenty of mistakes…but we’ve done lots of things well…that are pleasing to God.
This is our witness…not perfect…but headed for the goal, full of grace and mercy.
Let us invite God to lead us…instead of making our plans and then asking for blessing. Seek first…always welcoming the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 43:10, “You are my witnesses.” The formerly blind and deaf Israel now called to testify to the nations regarding the uniqueness and sovereignty of God…of disobedience and restoration…of protection and promise.
Sometimes we are blind and deaf. We have all been disobedient and experienced restoration. This is the cold, hard truth. We are witnesses…you and I are witnesses of something.
Is it the Christian gospel or a cheap imitation? Is our witness full of mercy and grace? Do we see ourselves and others the way that God sees?

Everywhere we go…every word we speak…or post…or write…or text…or email
Every person that we encounter…witnesses something in you and in me. Do others feel the warm hospitality of Jesus in us?

Do they know we are Christians by our love…or wonder who this Jesus really is by our exclusion and judgement?
Are we witnesses of receiving and giving forgiveness and new beginnings or do we distance ourselves or cut ourselves off from those with whom we have differences.
It doesn’t matter what kind of worship or evangelism programs we plan if we don’t embody Christ…if we can’t hang in there together when the going gets tough.

You are witnesses! I am a witness.
May our cleansed and grateful lives bear witness…”to the power of God…in our churches…in our communities… in the Virginia Conference…to the ends of the earth…May the word become flesh and dwell in us and through us…let us pray…

Holy spirit, you are welcome here…