Doldrums Evangelism

Luke 15:1-11

1.

How do you feel about evangelism? And here I’m not talking about the technical definition of the word, the carrying out of good news. Rather, what is your gut reaction when you hear the word? Evangelism. What pictures come to your mind’s eye? What do you want to do? Roll your eyes? Turn and run away?

Now, evangelism goes two ways, right? As Christians, we are called to carry the good news outward. We are called to be evangelists. That’s the active side of evangelism.

But have you ever been on the passive side? Can you put yourself in the shoes of those to whom the “good news” is being carried?

A story from my Youth Director days comes to mind.

A local, dynamic youth pastor had just pulled off the ultimate epic evangelism event, he boasted. Then he explained: a car rally scavenger hunt.

The youth group broke into teams of four and drove around the town looking for items on a list—simple items, like a coffee cup, a slice of cheese, a cup of ice, a Polaroid selfie with a stranger.

Each item had to come from a different place; and each team had to introduce itself with the scripted, “Hi, we’re from Trinity Church’s Youth Group and we’d like you to know that Jesus loves you,” before they could request the item.

The kids had one hour. And, of course, the team with the most items won—or, if they found all the items on the list in less than an hour, the first team back with all the items won.

Sounds like fun, eh? . . . Until you heard how it unfolded!

Mostly it involved interruptions; for example, kids running into Starbucks, cutting to the front of the line, and shouting their script: “We’re from Trinity and Jesus loves you. Can we just have an empty coffee cup?”

And I remember distinctly thinking, “Man, I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it! Not sure that’s the kind of love I’m looking for. Certainly not the kind of church I’m looking for!”

Is it just me, or did you experience this kind of thing too?

Evangelism—back in the late eighties through Y2K anyway—became synonymous with obnoxious, confrontational methods of telling people your message whether they wanted to hear it or not.

A lot like consumer marketing and advertising!

But, really, is the good news a commodity for sale to the highest bidder?

Well, a while ago my family found a sign in a craft shop. I’ve often desired to hang it on the front door of our home, but still haven’t. So, this sign fairly well captures my feelings about the passive side of evangelism. It reads:

NO SOLICITING

We are too broke to buy anything

We already know who we are voting for

WE HAVE FOUND JESUS

Seriously, unless you are selling Thin Mints

PLEASE GO AWAY!!

Maybe you feel similarly. I mean, the technical word is great. But evangelism has been so misused and abused that now it feels worn out, tired.

2.

So, this brings up a question: What does a disciple of Jesus look like?

Today, we meet Simon Peter for the first time in the Gospel of Luke. He leaves everything and follows Jesus—which certainly qualifies him as a disciple. So, let’s enter his shoes for a bit.

He’s washing his nets: he’s just worked a long night shift and it’s quitting time. Unfortunately, the work’s been unproductive.

You know the kind of day. As an engineer, you’ve been agonizing over a design requiring your signature and seal. It should all work out, you keep assuring yourself; but something feels off, something you’ve maybe overlooked. You’ve been over and over the plans again and again, the deadline’s already two hours past, but you just can’t put your signature to paper in good conscience; so you give up. It’s going to have to wait till tomorrow. You pick up the phone and dial your client.

Or, as a teacher, you’ve had one of those extremely frustrating days, when the kids are grumpy and uncooperative, half of them have the sniffles and should have stayed home anyway, and finally the bells rings. You’ve still got a pile of papers to grade, but you can do it, you tell yourself, just thirty more minutes—alone, thank goodness!

Peter’s just had that kind of day: long and unproductive and he just wants to go home already.

But then this stranger named Jesus approaches and asks for his boat.

Jesus, Simon thinks. That name rings a bell. . . . Oh yeah! Isn’t he the one who people are talking about? Teaching astonishing truths and doing remarkable deeds in Capernaum?

So Simon agrees. After all, he’s washing his nets anyway; he’ll continue to clean up and otherwise wrap things up from the boat—multitask—while Jesus teaches.

But then, next, after he’s done teaching, Jesus invites Simon to do something that will require considerably more personal sacrifice.

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” Jesus says.

And what do you think goes through Simon’s mind now?

Well, what goes through that engineer’s mind when her client says, “This is unacceptable; I must have those plans by midnight or I’ll take my business elsewhere”?

Or what goes through that teacher’s mind when an administrator unexpectedly enters his empty classroom and says, “You are needed for an urgent meeting right now; it should only last an hour . . . or so”?

Doesn’t he understand, Simon must have wondered? I’ve been at this all night and there’s been nothing! And I’ve already washed my nets! Why couldn’t he have said this fifteen minutes ago? Doesn’t he know anything? Probably never fished a day in his life!

Also—a point that should not be glossed over!—Simon could have said no to Jesus. Jesus did not command but invited him.

Whatever the case, Simon responds, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

He’s tired. He just wants to go home. He could say no to Jesus.

But he obeys—and is blessed miraculously for it!

And, seeing it is so, Simon immediately spreads the good news to his partners James and John, who leave everything to join the cause with him.

3.

This is what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

Invited to share the good news, and to be blessed for it, we are called to be evangelists.

But evangelism feels so worn out. We’ve been out evangelizing for fifty years and, anyway, people don’t want to hear it. We’re tired. They’re tired. We just want to go home already!

As Peter reminds us today, that’s not an excuse; that doesn’t mean it’s time to quit!

But it does mean we probably should think about evangelism in a new way; or, maybe more helpfully, in an old, old way.

Sharing the good news through proclamation (what many have called “testimony”)—Jesus did this for me; come and see!—is only a small part of what sharing the good news—evangelism—encompasses.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus and his disciples taught the uneducated, consoled the downhearted, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and included the marginalized.

And I’m just scratching the surface! They did many other acts of love, each one a way of sharing the good news, of evangelizing.

It’s time for us to rouse ourselves, shake off our end-of-the-workday doldrums, and drop our nets on the other side of the boat. There a miraculous catch awaits!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: