It seems evangelism has become a scary word for us. In general, it is a word with which we do not want to be associated. For some, it comes from being on the receiving end of someone else’s evangelism, often coercive, even threatening. For others, it may be that religion isn’t something people talk about; or that one’s faith is private; or simply the desire not to be perceived as one of “those” people.
Whatever the reason, most people not only have little experience in evangelism but are downright frightened of it. And that, of course, cripples our ability to reach out to others with the good news. Today’s story of Jesus’ baptism (John 1:29-34) might be the perfect reading to invite us not only to admit our discomfort with evangelism but also begin to overcome it.
Except this isn’t exactly the same account of Jesus’ baptism that we usually hear as told in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of those writers records Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized, describes the descent of the dove, and the message of the heavenly voice. But in John’s gospel, we get a second-hand account from the testimony of John the Baptist. But, quite interestingly, he doesn’t actually baptize Jesus in this gospel; instead he only shares what he sees.
And that may be the larger point of this story – that when it comes to our own relationship with Jesus, our primary job is to see and share. Not threaten, not coerce, not intimidate, not plead, but simply to see and share.
John the Baptist does exactly this. He sees the Spirit come down like a dove upon Jesus, the Lamb of God, and tells others what he sees. That’s it. Evangelism is noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing that with others, and then inviting them to come and see for themselves. Let’s explore these three elements a little deeper.
Notice. I wish that we would begin every church/ministry meeting, every religious education class (and why not include the parents dropping off the kids?) with five minutes of folks taking turns saying where they saw or felt the presence of God in their lives. We’re so busy doing all the things that we’re doing that we sometimes don’t even notice that God is right there in plain sight. We need to look around, pay attention and take notice, because God is seeking intimacy with us. Over time and with prayer, we develop the capacity to see God in our lives and the world. But we first must focus on strengthening our personal relationship with the Lord so we can become more aware of his presence in our lives.
Share. Most of us are nervous about sharing our faith, either for the reasons already mentioned or simply because we’ve never done it. Isaiah tells us (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) that we are servants, chosen for a mission: to make God known to all people. We do this by sharing our faith with one another, by living the gospel and by serving others. People not only listen to our words, but also look at how we live our lives. At the end of Mass, we often say “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” Are we walking in Christ’s footsteps? Is the Holy Spirit working within us? Are we helping one another? When we share our gifts with others, the light of Christ shines through us and others will see that light and will want to have it to. When we live our faith, we share our faith through the witness of our lives.
Invite. This may seem the hardest of all. And yet; if we think about it, we invite people to things all the time: to join a book club, to go to an after-school event, to go out for dinner, to attend a sporting event or to go shopping. We’re actually quite good at inviting folks to come to things – just not to church things. We invite people to those things we really enjoy and think others would, too. We need to first ask ourselves, what elements of our church life do we value most? That is, we’re not just going because we have to but because we want to. Then we simply think about who might also enjoy this event or activity and invite them. It’s not as hard as it seems. It’s already happening; we just need to remember to keep doing it.
Being an evangelist simply comes down to this: it’s all about having a personal relationship with Jesus and noticing that he’s always present; it’s about sharing our faith with others which then draws us even closer to Christ; and it’s about inviting others to continually develop a relationship with him, too.
John the Baptist shared the wonder of what he saw, and we are asked to do the same. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is doing something amazing in our lives. Let’s not be afraid to share that message to the ends of the earth.