Spread the Word
Evangelism: Being Christian Out Loud in the World
By Katie Runde
Imperfection – a common hang-up when we ponder the call to be evangelists. We may feel too unworthy, unprepared, unsuitable, or just plain messy to be vessels of God’s Word.
The prophet Isaiah initially turned away from God’s call to prophesy because he saw that his lips and his community were unclean. After Jesus brought in a tremendous catch of fish, Simon Peter looked at Jesus and cowered because he felt he was a sinful man unworthy of God’s touch. The apostle Paul called himself the least of the apostles for having persecuted the church of God.
There are a lot of familiar feelings here, all from the readings of a single Sunday – Epiphany 5!
Feelings of inadequacy are a common theme throughout the Bible, from Moses to the prophets to Simon Peter: God calls an individual to do God’s work, and the person recoils due to his or her crippling feelings of unworthiness in the face of the Divine.
God is not looking for perfection. One might even say it is through the cracks of our fallibility that God can reach into our hearts and open them wide enough to allow us to do God’s loving work.
What does this tell us about our own messiness, mistakes, and incorrigibility? Clearly, for one thing, God is not looking for perfection. One might even say it is through the cracks of our fallibility that God can reach into our hearts and open them wide enough to allow us to do God’s loving work. After all, where is there room for God in a heart that presumes it is already full and finished? From the perspective of divine wholeness, our faults are ultimately irrelevant, easily smoothed by the grace of God alone.
“By the grace of God, I am what I am,” wrote Paul (1 Cor. 15:5).
So our sinfulness, our busyness, our lack of maturity or study or time or financial security or our currently resident winter blues – or whatever it may be! – are no longer relevant excuses in the face of God’s grace. How then do we respond to God’s call? What is God’s call?
After filling the fishermen’s nets to bursting, Jesus told Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:1-11). Presumably, this is our call as well. But what does it mean to catch people? There are some tricky implications here: catching, nets, coercion. In the past, this easily translated into “going out to save souls,” to convert the heathen to subscribe to our particular laundry list of Christian beliefs.
So when we set this antiquated sense of catching people aside, what does it mean to be a fisher of people?
The medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “God can do nothing but speak the Eternal Word. If we are to be, we must do and our doing is hearing the Eternal Word.” We are to hear this Word, and it cannot but change us. If we stop to listen and allow this Word into our hearts, we cannot help but follow it. And if we are to fish for people, we must hear this Word and share it. We must live God’s love into the world by both word and deed.
If we are to fish for people, then, we must love each other with God’s love, a love that need not get bogged down in faults. We are called to catch people and bring them into God’s Kingdom – no laundry list of beliefs necessary, only the wholeness of God’s love lived through God’s people.
Notice that in the story of Simon Peter, once Jesus excuses his sinfulness – as…well, the human condition! – Simon Peter follows him with no further thought to the miraculous catch of fish. We never hear what comes of them. I like to think that some other local fishermen had a lucky day of it, but to Luke it really does not matter what happened to those fish, even though a moment ago they were everything Simon Peter, James and John desired in the world. What matters is that, in the face of the choice between pursuing the Word of God and pursuing a material living, these men knew to leave the old life behind.
The Jewish theologian and activist Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Being human is both a fact and a demand, a condition and an expectation.”
We are human, and we sure suffer from the human condition. But God calls us to embrace the extraordinary capacity of truly being human.
We are human, and we sure suffer from the human condition. But God calls us to embrace the extraordinary capacity of truly being human. We are called to be more than cogs in the civic machine, casting our daily nets and caught alone in our private suffering. God calls us to live God’s Word into the world, to fill up our being with radical love, acceptance, healing, being.
If we are serious about following Christ, we accept the call to be instruments and channels of God’s love to our neighbors and communities. We accept that to be Christian is not only to worship on Sundays but to live God’s Word of love out loud in the world. Jesus invites us to embrace our full capacity as human beings.
Take a moment to consider how Simon’s story might speak to yours:
What are the fish that you tend to organize your life around, but may be ultimately irrelevant?
And what, for you in your particular life, is ultimately relevant?
Katie Runde is a musician and realist painter who is a member of Green Mountain Witness, the evangelism initiative of the Diocese of Vermont. This article is adapted from her recent sermon at her parish, Christ Church in Bethel. She is a postulant for ordination.