One of the (if not THE) most practical courses I had to take in seminary was one titled “Evangelism”. Of course, my evangelical-church-influenced childhood caused me to enter the class on the first day with arms folded and mind closed because the only idea of evangelizing I knew was to convince people, whether or not I had a preexisting relationship with them, how terrible they are and that the consequences of their terribleness meant burning in hell and I’d be held to task at the pearly gates for every individual I encountered in my life whom I didn’t ask “do you know where you are going when you die?” Whew … deep breath … refill my coffee … I’m ok. Let’s continue:
So I sat there on our first day of class, daring Dr. Bowen with my stare to convince me that evangelism was actually a good and beneficial thing. And, to keep this story short, he began to gently remove my barriers from the very first day. Evangelism, he assured us, was all about cultivating relationships, relationships that reflected God’s love. One of the other things we discussed often was how our culture and society tries to provide the concepts of the Good News of God outside of any relationship with God and we kept a semester long journal on where we noticed such things as we went about the typical tasks of our days.
I’ve kept an ongoing journal (in my head mostly, but sometimes written down) of these types of things since. I remember a billboard for a flooring company that claimed to provide ‘sole-saving’ flooring at a reasonable price. And a coffee company that promised “comfort for you soul.” And this year, a major department store is promising “Joy, Comfort, and Peace” with all you can buy from them. (And let’s not talk about the fact that we are skipping right over Thanksgiving to a consumer styled ‘christmas’ because we are afraid that with the supply chain issues we won’t get what we want…or maybe we can chat about the meaning of that next week … what do you think?)
Although I’ve said that I recently find myself on this journey of teasing out our societal and cultural norms from our theology, I think, perhaps, that the beginnings of this journey were planted in that Evangelism class I was so very resistant to. As a society, we want the benefits of God’s kingdom without the commitment of a relationship. Commitments and relationships require something from us, we can’t just consume as we choose. Relationships and commitments require time to cultivate and grow, there is no instant gratification. A warm cup of excellent coffee may enable us to slow down and ease our minds and even bring up pleasant memories, but that cup nor the liquid in it can transform our hearts and minds. Who we share the time and conversation with in conjunction with a cup of coffee are what enable us to become fully human.
The items we buy at the department store are inanimate objects incapable of changing us for the better. The time we spend with the people we may gift them to, deepening and growing relationships, is what we are created for. There is no substitute for human connection. Nor can we with any tangible thing accomplish what can only be achieved by cultivating our relationship with God: the peace which surpasses all human understanding. This peace comes from knowing with faith that we are not in this journey of life alone nor are we responsible for fixing all the ills of this world, only that we are to shine the light of compassion and flavor all we do with God’s love, and in doing so participate with God in making the world a better place.
No thing can bring us the joy of knowing that God loves us. Full stop. End of sentence. We cannot do anything bad enough to cause God to withhold love and we cannot do anything good enough to win more of God’s love. God loves us, you and me and (as I often say) yep, even that person. This is the Good News of God, that God came to us to show us the life we are created for: the life grounded in love, lived with the eyes of compassion, a companionable journey lived in communion with each other and our Creator, here and now, on earth as in heaven.
As we follow Jesus on this Way of Love, we can show others what true joy and peace and comfort are by giving of ourselves and our time to help others know they are beloved children of God. How can I help you know you are loved today? Want to chat over a cup of coffee?