From Fr. Bennet Tran, Pastor: One of the more significant books that has influenced my thinking and ministry is Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. I hope that we as a parish will engage with the insights offered by Weddell. In the coming months, we will print a summary of a chapter of the book the first and third Sundays of each month in the bulletin and include on line. I hope this book will spark interest in our discussions about what is happening in the Church among our family members and friends and encourage us to take action to respond to the signs of the time. The book is readily available on line.
Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, by Sherry A. Weddell
Chapter 10: Do Tell: The Great Story of Jesus
Summarized by Brad Bursa, edited and revised November 2018
We must be clear: The purpose of evangelization is not waking up a generic “faith.” Evangelizers seek to bring people to an encounter with the person of Jesus of Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and risen from the dead. Our own personal witness can help illuminate and make living, compelling, and believable aspects of Jesus’ story, but it cannot take the place of Jesus’ story.
How is our generation to believe without someone who proclaims the kerygma? We can no longer presume that people around us already know the story. On the contrary, we have to presume that (a) many don’t know the basic facts of the Story; (b) a good deal of what they “know” may be wrong; (c) they don’t know how the parts of the story fit together to make a whole; and (d) they don’t know what the story means for them personally. Nor do they know what it means for their family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or the world. We have a duty to provide opportunities for them to make a real spiritual choice to follow Christ. We must respect their right to hear the story.
The Story and Spiritual Development: In every individual’s life, there are two fundamental dynamics at work: (1) the individual’s personal spiritual journey through the thresholds and (2) his or her knowledge of the Great Story of Jesus. An individual can be spiritually far ahead or far behind his or her knowledge of the kerygma, depending on circumstances, openness to the Spirit, and opportunities.
Ultimately, it is the two together – an open heart and a response to the Great Story of Jesus – that enables an individual to declare with faith, “Jesus is Lord.” Indeed, the two feed each other; learning about Jesus through his story can motivate people to finish the personal journey, while moving through the thresholds enables us to understand the story of Jesus as a whole and respond to it.
Tailoring The Great Story to Our Audience: The essential basics do not vary, but we have to ask the question: What parts of the Story does this individual or this family or this group need to hear when and in what order? This can vary, depending upon the beginning place, the holes in their knowledge, and their questions and concerns.
We have come to terms with the reality that, in the United States, if we don’t evangelize our own, someone else will: evangelicals, Mormons, or independent Christians. If we don’t preach the kerygma in our parishes, people will hear it in a modified form outside the Church and may come to the mistaken conclusion that it isn’t to be found within the Church. Our practice of not telling the Great Story clearly and compellingly within our parishes has contributed much to the “me and Jesus” mindset.
What follows is a very brief outline of the essential Story of Jesus organized with postmodern sensitivities in mind. Where we begin telling the Story can vary widely, depending upon our audience.
The Great Story of Jesus in Nine Acts:
Act 1: The Kingdom: In this proclamation of the Kingdom we declare that God is love. He created us for a life with him full of love, peace, truth, beauty, goodness, and meaning that begins now, lasts forever, and can’t be taken away. It is this life that Jesus preached and called the Kingdom or reign of God.
Act 2: Jesus, Face of the Kingdom: Jesus is not only the great prophet or announcer of the Kingdom – he is the presence of the Kingdom. If we help them encounter the actions and teachings of the Kingdom in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, people who are intrigued by the Kingdom can very easily become intrigued by Jesus, the man. As evangelizers, we must always remember that as Pope St. John Paul II taught, “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.”
Act 3: Jesus, the Kingdom in Word and Deed: Jesus is the face of the Kingdom, not only because he announces the Kingdom, but also because he does the works of the Kingdom. Jesus reveals the love of the Father and the nature of God’s Kingdom through his every word and action: healing and forgiving. Jesus’ mission is to transform people, free them from sin, and make them whole in body and spirit. Jesus’ healing miracles and authority to forgive sins raises the question of his divinity – “Who is this?” – which is naturally followed by another question, “If Jesus is God, what does that mean?”
Act 4: Jesus Embraces the Cross: At the threshold of openness, the inquirer is usually ready to face the fact that Jesus’ ministry results not in “success” as the world understands it, but rather in the mystery of his rejection, betrayal, crucifixion, and death. Yet it is for us that Jesus embraces the cross in obedience to the Father, as the means of our salvation and access to God’s life.
Act 5: Resurrection, Ascension, New Life, Adoption, and the Kingdom: The entire Christian message stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Inquirers can study the historical evidence for the Resurrection and discover how powerful it is. Satisfied with that, they can then move on to the personal challenges of what the Resurrection means for each human person. Jesus’ life of perfect love and obedience, his death and resurrection on our behalf, breaks the bondage of sin and death. Now in his resurrection he opens the way to our own resurrection and to a new life for all.
Act. 6: Jesus Asks Me to Follow Him: The command to “follow” is one heard again and again in the Gospels. Discipleship is not something that just “happens” but is a real decision and turning point requiring all the resources of heart, mind, and strength we can muster-particularly since following Jesus involves that we obey.
Act 7: Personal Sin and Forgiveness: It can be difficult to grasp the reality of personal sin because it feels like an attack upon the self. The seeker must ultimately come to trust and seek Jesus enough to acknowledge what St. John the Apostle says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John: 1:8). The forgiveness of sin – and therefore our need to acknowledge our sin – is at the heart of the Gospel. And so we must face and repent of sin – our personal sin, which lies at the root of the great structures of systemic sin -since it was for the forgiveness of our personal sin that Christ suffered, died, and was raised from the dead.
Act 8: Dropping the Net: The disciple cooperates with the Holy Spirit, making a conscious choice that requires faith in Jesus as God, with the intention to follow him in what the Church calls the “obedience of faith.” Discipleship is expressed by repentance of personal sin and baptism into Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and body on earth – the Church – or by the renewal of baptismal grace through confession and return to the regular practice of the faith.
Act 9: The Life of Discipleship: The new disciple is now ready to begin a lifetime of following Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of his Church for the sake of the world.
If you were asked to recount the story of salvation in three minutes or less, what would you say?
What aspects of the Great Story does your personal witness illuminate?
How would you evangelize someone who knows the Great Story but lacks personal faith?
Review the nine acts of the Great Story. Is there any act you have questions about or don’t fully understand? How could you learn more about it?