It was Saturday morning. I was drinking coffee and having a breakfast sandwich in a local spot. It was mid-morning, not crowded. I had a beginning, a middle, and an end for the sermon, so I was feeling relatively calm. I had brought a book and my paper and pencils. I spent a little time coloring in a prayer icon I had made a few days before, praying again for the names on the paper.
A woman approached me, curious about what I was doing. I felt a little sheepish. I wondered, briefly, about the upcoming gospel reading from Matthew 6, and wondered if I was "practicing my piety before others, in order to be praised by them." Maybe I should not have gotten my pencils out. Nonetheless, I shared a little about the prayer process with her. She thought it was a good idea.
She asked a couple more questions, and for some reason, it came up that I was a pastor. I gave her my card. She said that she had been studying at another Lutheran church in the area. She had been Methodist before that, she said. She read my card carefully, and then said, "What is it about that word 'evangelical'? Why is everybody 'evangelical' these days?"
My card read that I am a pastor in the "Evangelical Lutheran Church of America." It is a part of the definition of my denomination that we are "Evangelical," in some way or another. I was not sure exactly why, but it seemed like the word rankled her.
"It's not a bad word, is it?" I said. "It's a good word."
"It means good news," she said.
I suppose I understand why the word "Evangelical" could rankle some people. It's possible that some people share the good news with the subtlety of a bludgeon, making it seem perhaps not like such good news after all. Maybe the word Evangelical has come to be associated with people giving out tracts with vivid images of the fires of hell, although I am not sure why that is.
It just means good news.
I knew a three year old girl once who used to stand at the front door of the church and shout out, "Welcome to church!" She shouted it out to everyone who came. What did she know? It was just good news to her. I met a man who shared his testimony with me over hot dogs. He was lost, but now was found, he said. It was just good news to him. He had been a scoundrel and a lout, and he found out he was of value to God.
It may be a word fraught with baggage, but evangelical is what we are. We are hearing the good news, and sharing the good news, in hot dog joints and at the church door, in hospitals and parks, with colored pencils and songs and stories. We are supposed to share it without partiality, too. It is our job. We are not told to scatter the seeds carefully, but with abandon. That is what makes the news so good.
Evangelical. It just means good news. It is good news for the dying, and good news for the living. It is good news for the louts, and good news for the pious. We're all in the same boat. We all wear the ashes, and the same Heart of Love has room for us all.