Evangelism 101: Parts is Parts. ~ The Rev. Jay Van Lieshout, OPI
“Have you been saved?” “Are you born again?” “Have you found Jesus?” “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?” I think we all have been addressed by such “evangelistic” greetings while we were at work or shopping or even at social gatherings. I may be alone in this, but I find these phrases to be cliché, disingenuous, annoying and counterproductive. It is not that I am embarrassed to be a follower of Christ, or to proclaim His Gospel out in the world (after all I do wear a habit as a sign of my faith and God has all but given me a tonsure), it is more that such phrases imply that you do not know Jesus or the good news. To my ears they are saying “I know Jesus better than you do, let me save you or you will go to hell”. Now, I know this is a bit crass, but conversations that begin with “Have you…” always seem to progress to stories of how great their church is, how Paul said this or that, how they are helping the lost sinners like homosexuals or how they helped bring some poor family over from a developing nation and let them cut their lawn or work on the church. And during these “conversations” I often wonder, “where is the good news? Where is the Gospel of God’s love for everyone, and our call to love each other?”
Jesus asked us to go out to the entire world and spread the good news, teach the Gospel to all people; this is the call to evangelize. But asking someone if they are “saved”, or “found Jesus”, this seems to miss the point. The Gospels tell us that God so loved us His children He sent the Son of Man to fulfill the old law, establish a new covenant based on altruism and forgiveness, to preach the truth and then to be sacrificed so that All HUMANITY should be saved. If the Gospels were a Hallmark card they would read “I love you, I forgive you, all I ask is you do the same to each other as a sign that you love Me too. Love, your Creator”.
There are many places throughout the Word of God where the faithful to whom the light of the word is given and are blind to it, while those “not chosen” see it as bright as day. This season of Epiphany exemplifies such realization of the Messiah to the “gentiles” amidst the ignorance of the chosen people. John so poetically tells us:
“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:10-14) What a glorious message, the Son came not for those chosen by race, or by declaration of man nor even lineage (for we are all God’s children), but for all those who open their hearts to the truth and live the Word. In another example, Luke tells us that Jesus read from Isaiah in His home town synagogue:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” And said to those present: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4: 18-19, 21) Again what great news Jesus shared to those who proclaim to believe in the word, and how said such news fell on deaf ears and whose eyes had been blind to his light.
A few days ago, while shopping at the local big box grocery, a lady came up and inquired about my habit. She said “I know you are a man of God, please tell me what this means and about your church”. And so I shared about being a Dominican, about being an Old Catholic, about our church’s foundation being the Gospels, about how we strive to accept everyone and anyone just as Jesus did. She then asked “what about homosexuals?” I replied “We are all children of God, EVERYONE is accepted, especially those marginalized by the mainstream. We do not judge others as that is NOT our job, only God knows what is in a person’s heart and we trust that God will take care of His own.” She then asked “Do you believe that people who commit suicide go to hell?” I said “I believe in God’s grace and mercy, He knows what is in the heart of those suffering, those with mental illness, those in the dark depths of depression and pain, He would not forsake one of His own”. She finally smiled and told me her husband took his own life, she and her son were the ones who found him. She struggles with a rare neurological condition, she has tried to end it many times, her children are struggling with it all and she feels now that God is calling her to share her trials, her message to help others. I agreed and encouraged her to find a place, any place and to share her journey and her discoveries not only to help her heal, but to help others find a path to healing and that this is what God wants and this is why she is still here.
A moment of my time to listen, a few words exclaiming the good news to one who really needed it, an acknowledgement of her pain, suffering and stumbles in life with a reassuring it’s ok, that’s a lot for anyone to deal with, followed by the guarantee of God’s grace, forgiveness and love, and rounding it up with a firm “you matter, you have a gift and calling from God and you will make a difference in someone else’s life”. For me, this is evangelism as Jesus would have it done: to live s Paul says, we are all of one body, no single part is the body, but the body is made of all the parts, and if one part is sick, the body is sick; to heal the part is to heal the whole body. No body can be complete without all its parts and, therefore, no part is any greater or lesser than the other. Hence, evangelization is not saying “I am already part of a magnificent body, don’t you think you should join me and be great too”, but, instead the message is “Truly you are valued part of a magnificent and great body, we are blessed by you and hope that you too are blessed by us. Come; let us rejoice with all other parts so that none may ever be forgotten.”
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