"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Have you met my friend Jesus?

Several times when I was much younger, people came to our front door saying some version of the title of this post.  They were looking to 'convert' me and I usually found it much easier to 'accept Jesus' than to engage them in debate or to just rudely dismiss them, I was a nice midwestern boy, after all.  I wasn't too concerned in those days about religion but it kind of irked me that these people who were ostensibly trying to get me to change my life never came back.  They never checked in and said, "hey how's it going with you and Jesus?" or anything else.  whatever it is they were doing going door to door, it sure wasn't anything to do with me.

Recently though, I met with a group of fellow seminarians in the DC area to talk about evangelism.  The people who had organized this gathering were pretty clear that what they weren't talking about was what had happened to me all those years ago.  After some reflection of their own, they had come up the idea that evangelism was a kind of spiritual practice.  What they wanted evangelism to be was something that involved careful listening, hospitality and emotional connection but something that occurred in response to invitation.  They imagined an evangelist as someone who offered a space for spiritual conversation where the one being evangelized set the agenda and not the evangelist.

I thought they had done a good job of articulating and defining stuff that had been brewing in my mind but that had not yet taken form.  Theologically, this makes sense, because whatever happened in the crucifixion and resurrection was meant for everyone.  Those of us who identify ourselves with the church might do well to ponder that.  I think that if you take seriously the call to love your neighbors and your enemies, then you should probably remember that they are the beloved children of God too.  So, in some way, everybody is already part of the church, the body of Christ, whether they know it or not and we should stop acting like 'we' have something to offer that they need.  Whatever they need, God has already provided and they already possess. 

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