Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20

I should probably clarify: I actually do like fishing. It’s a pleasant way to spend time, a good excuse to be out on the water (especially when said water is liquid), and every so often it contributes to a tasty meal. But that has nothing to do with the kind of fishermen Simon, Andrew, James, and John were. They weren’t the kind of people who sat around a hole in the ice, waiting for something to swim by. They went out with drift nets at all hours of the day, and they pulled up everything they could get. So when Jesus talked about transforming their kind of “fishing” into something more evangelical, I think he was saying the same thing: I’ll send you out there to drag in everyone you can into the Kingdom of God.

I’m one of the people who get a little uncomfortable with words like “evangelism.” In our society, it tends to sound like I should be all about making other people think and act like me, like we should all be religious salespeople – or like I’m worried we’ll try to become them. I even know that’s not what the word means: it means sharing good news, and it’s based on the idea that if what we have here is worthwhile for us, maybe it’s worth offering to someone else. But our reluctance to use a loaded word like “evangelism” actually says something about just what we do have here. We’re not interested in doing away with the voices of people who think and act differently than we do. We’re not interested in convincing the rest of the world that we’re right and they, by extension, are wrong.

We’re in the middle of the World Council of Churches’ Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Churches in all different traditions are observing this week, praying that God will lead us somehow into the unity Jesus wanted for the church that would follow him. We aren’t praying specifically that we’ll come to a final agreement on particular doctrinal issues or merge our institutions into one, although I certainly wouldn’t argue against the idea of that. It’s just that we know the things that have separated our churches are real, deeply held principles, or long histories that would take a lot of unraveling. We need to keep working toward that tangible unity, but first we have to affirm a deeper unity than what we can see. Praying for unity is about trusting that God does indeed love all these different kinds of people, that Christ is known in these different ways, that the Spirit does more in the world than we can quite put our fingers on. Even in the midst of our disagreements – even on matters where faithful people have burned each other at the stake – Christ is alive in the church.

That’s what I think I mean by evangelism, too. We may have some really great ideas, God may have done some amazing things in our lives, but the good news we’re really witnessing to is that Christ’s love comes to each and every one of us, whoever we are, wherever we may be, and however we may see the world. The thing that distinguishes real evangelism from basic presumptuous self-righteousness is the willingness to imagine that someone else’s experience of God might have something to say to me.

It goes without saying that that kind of humble listening is hard to find. At the beginning of a presidential election year, we certainly know that there are too many people in echo chambers (Democrats and Republicans both), shouting at each other while listening only to themselves. The question is, why aren’t we Christians showing the world how it can be done? Why don’t we take this chance to demonstrate how to understand each other, even and especially when we don’t agree with one another.

If we witness to anything at all, it’s to God’s love for people who would otherwise be outside the “right” circles. Jesus spent his whole ministry reaching out to the very people the religious establishment discounted. Many of us found our way to this congregation by realizing that our experience of God isn’t on quite the same page with some other Christians. Others of us found that the only truth we can cling to is that despite everything we’ve made of our lives, we’ve been surrounded, supported, and driven by a Love that none of us can name. And in remarkable ways, we’ve been transformed by the experience of sharing our church with each other, and even with some who still wouldn’t be comfortable in this room on Sunday morning (though we’re working on that).

We don’t have to pat ourselves on the back for doing something special; we’re trying to live out our relationship with God as best we know how. Jesus didn’t commend his first disciples for anything they were able to see, or even for anything in particular he saw in them. He just promised to make something new with them. He promises to make something new with us, to fill us with a new vision of humanity and an ever-deeper mystery of God’s love.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Advertisements