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Non-scary Evangelism

January 20, 2012

There was a barber that thought that he should share his faith with his customers more than he had been doing. So the next morning when the sun came up and the barber got up out of bed he said, “Today I am going to share the Good News with the first man that walks through my door.”

Soon after he opened his shop the first man came in and said, “I’d like a shave, please.” The barber said, “Sure, just sit in the seat and I’ll be with you in a moment.” He went in the back and prayed a quick desperate prayer saying, “God, the first customer came in and I’m going to share the Good News with him. So give me the wisdom to know just the right thing to say. Amen.”

The barber came out of the back, but couldn’t think of how to begin the conversation, and so he prepped the man for his shave in silence. Finally, as he held his razor knife against the man’s neck, he screwed up his courage and blurted out: “Sir, I have a question for you … Would you like to see Jesus?”

Epiphany is season of the spreading of the light, of Jesus’ glory being made manifest. Part of our focus in Epiphany Season is the role we can have in helping reveal his glory through evangelism, which is sharing the Good News of Jesus. As Anglicans, most of us can relate to the barber’s feeling tongue-tied, and are very scared of scaring people off. Today, we’ll look at sharing invitation to come and see Jesus in a way that is natural and non-threatening to us and those to whom the invitation is given!

We’ll do this by focussing on our Gospel passage, which is still part of the incredible first chapter of John’s Gospel. This, you’ll remember, begins with the famous Prologue, and its words, “In the beginning was the Word …” that we read at Christmas. It then describes the ministry of John the Baptist, and the introduction of the two of John’s followers to Jesus. These followers, Andrew and John, have spent the day with Jesus. Then Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter, and brings him to Jesus.

Today’s Gospel picks up the story from there: “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter” (John 1:43-44).

So Philip joins the band. Note the sharing that is taking place. The call is personal, but it is not individualistic. The call is to follow Jesus, as his learner – his student or apprentice – in company with others who are doing the same.

John continues: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’” (1:45-46).

Nathaniel was not a stranger Philip encountered while standing on street corner. He was someone he knew. Nazareth was a nothing town. Josephus doesn’t even mention it in his list of towns at the time. And Nathaniel’s response when he hears that Jesus comes from there isn’t enthusiastic! (Perhaps we see here some small town rivalry, like the attitude in the TV comedy “Corner Gas” that the residents of Dog River’s attitude have towards Woolerton, which they can’t even say without spitting!)

Philip could have gotten defensive, and said, “Well, what’s so great about where YOU come from?” He could have become argumentative and tried to describe what in Jesus led him to come to the conclusion that Jesus was the One for whom they had been waiting. But instead, Philip’s response was inviting: “Come and see.”

In my children’s talk, we sang together the song “Pass It on,” which speaks about God’s love as a glowing fire or refreshing Spring season. I asked the children what they could do if they encountered someone who was freezing in our cold weather, but did not believe that a blazing fire would make any difference in warming them; or someone who didn’t believe that flowers were beautiful. The best approach, I suggested, would be to invite them to “come and see” for themselves. Though it’s true that they might still resist, our confidence in the power of the fire and the flowers will make us expect that once they encounter these, it will make all the difference, and they will “see” what we were trying to talk about.

Well, when Nathaniel is introduced to Jesus, it makes all the difference for him. After a brief conversation with Jesus, Nathaniel says (1:49), “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Quite a change has taken place in Nathaniel’s attitude! We should always have confidence that Jesus is able to reveal himself and his glory to people (he’s “up to the challenge”), and never be hesitant about inviting people to come to him.

(adapted from the beginning of the sermon at our January 15 Services)

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