I want to invite us this morning to think about becoming every day evangelists. Humble, but maybe also just a little but daring.
Let’s begin with a scenario. It may sound familiar and maybe you can even imagine yourself in it.
For any of you who have had the experience of flying on a plane, you may know the moment when, after getting settled in one’s seat, buckled in and things arranged, people sitting next to each other will introduce themselves to one another. Name, where you’re from, and what you do. Your occupation. Now, I know that as a person of faith I should probably always want to talk about faith with those I encounter in the world around me, including on a plane, but I must confess to a mix of curiosity and dread for these encounters. Curiosity, because it’s fun to learn about other people’s lives and see where possible connecting points between our stories might exist – and it can help me forget that this conversation is taking place on a multi-ton hunk of metal hurtling through the sky. Dread, because I’m on a multi-ton hunk of metal hurtling through the sky and therefore can’t leave the conversation that is about to happen even if I want to, and in my experience, when people on a plane hear that I am a pastor I generally get one of two responses:
One - I say, “I’m a pastor.” The other person says, “Oh.” Then, literally without another word they turn away and pick up a book or magazine, or these days a tablet or their phone and don’t say another word to me for the whole trip. In this instance I’ve clearly made a new friend for life.
Two – I say, “I’m a pastor.” The other person says, “Oh…well…” And then they launch into a story of how they are unhappy with the church, how they grew up Roman Catholic or Pentecostal or some other denomination and how they are disgusted with the lack of inclusion for women, or the church’s homophobia, or the clergy abuse scandals. In this instance we have begun a pastoral therapy session that will likely last the duration of the flight.
I rarely meet people on the plane who are neutral about God and religion. Maybe I haven’t flown enough to encounter a true cross section, or maybe God makes sure that I get seated next to the more extreme cases…
What would you do if you were in my situation? As a pastor? Or how might this scenario lgo if all of us were on the lookout for an opportunity to talk appropriately about faith and life and God, asking questions of the person with whom we are sitting, with curiosity and compassion, and sharing our own reflections from our own journeys – things we think we know and believe, and maybe also our questions, doubts, our fears and insecurities – ways that we have been hurt and ways that we are seeking to be healing.
For our chief occupation is not the work we do – whether as pastor or teacher or librarian or janitor, uber driver or student, grandparent or parent – our chief occupation is seeking to live out the faith we have been given by God through compassion and generosity and cheerfulness, to name a few of the gifts Paul discusses with the Romans in the letter we heard today in our first lesson.
And I’m not sure that we get a vacation from this chief occupation. Peter may have been named as the “rock” upon whom God would build God’s church, but without the other disciples and the women and men who would support them with prayer and finances, Peter would not have been able to travel around, sharing the good news that God had done a new thing in Christ Jesus – a wondrous acting of love and mercy that was and is for all people. And this work of sharing faith was an all the time, 24/7 occupation that needed everyone all in, all the time.
Look, let’s acknowledge that we have an uphill struggle in our efforts to share this euangellio (the Greek word for “good news” from which we get our English word “evangelism.”) For better or worse God entrusted this good news into fragile, imperfect, sinful human hands. Peter may rightly name Jesus the Messiah in the passage we hear today, but he will soon deny Jesus three times to save his own skin, even as he watches his Messiah get carried away to be crucified. And human sin and brokenness have time and again made a mess of the grace-filled, redeeming work of God through Christ, making a mockery of this precious news of God’s saving love by building walls and rules that exclude those who most need this message – who most need to be held within its protective message of grace.
So, I can understand both of the responses I get on the plane, and maybe we should not be surprised if we get this kind of response from the folks around us in our daily lives – from people in the grocery store, our workplaces, or even within our own families – if we dare to speak up about the daring love of God that expressed itself uniquely through the person and redeeming action of Christ.
But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try! Nervous to talk about your faith and God? Maybe practice here with your church community. Or get in the practice of talking about how it went this week with living out faith, trying to share faith with others, be it with words or through actions.
So, I have a guilty admission. Though I don’t fly often, sometimes, when I fly, and someone asks me what my work is, instead of saying, “pastor,” I’ll say, “I’m in a helping profession” and then promptly picked up by book and pretended to be very intently reading the page I had already read twice before. I’m only human. But on my better days and with God’s help, I take a deep breath and say a little prayer that God’s will might be done, and I do say that I’m a pastor and then see what comes.
And this work of sharing and talking about faith is not just the pastor’s work. It’s all of our chief occupations - we are all everyday evangelists – good news bearers. That may seem intimidating for a variety of reasons – and especially in a world where human hands and brokenness have all too often warped and distorted the pure grace of God’s work through Christ – but this is why we are so desperately needed as everyday evangelists. How else will people come to know of God’s love and grace through Christ if not by us?