Knee-to-Knee

jsvwJanna S. VanderWoude is a third year MDiv student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.

During the first session of this “Intro to Evangelism” course, we were asked to briefly write a definition of “the Gospel.” Here is what I wrote:

“The Gospel is the good, good word that God is real and desires to be in relationship with us, drawing us closer to God’s self through a resurrected Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and their imperfect but present-to-us embodiment of the Church.”

My idea about what evangelism is—sharing that good, good word—doesn’t stray far from that earlier definition of gospel. When I think of evangelism, I think about the Lutheran writer Walter Wangerin using a phrase like “And God was in love with the people.” I think about the musician Matt Maher who sings—“Let us see through Your eyes; We are your great delight. Father you sing, you sing over your children.” I think about people who have embodied that love to me and to others—the Church as the imperfect but present-to-us love of a God who yearns to pull us close, who delights in us—and know that a grateful recognition of that amazing love is how I was evangelized.   That love was embodied for me, and while we as Christians are quick to think, in our considerations of evangelism, how God’s love for us was embodied in the historical Jesus—we shy away from the way a risen Jesus actually is embodied for us and by us in our own sorry, gonna-die bodies. Those of us who’ve been “evangelized” likely came to it through love from a grandparent, a friend, or someone who at least looked at us long enough to recognize some need and then let us know that we could inspire delight.

When a church I did youth ministry for asked me to do a unit with the youth on “Evangelism”, it was because the leadership recognized in themselves a reticence, an uncertainty about how to share their own faith. They didn’t know how to articulate it, they hadn’t been called on very often to sort it through for themselves, and they certainly, knowing their own fallible human-in-a body-selves, weren’t very confident about going knee-to-knee in a conversation with anyone about it. So we worked with the youth members on how they knew God, and on articulating it—and then we did the same thing with adult members. And one glorious evening, they all spent several hours going knee-to-knee in conversation with each other about it, sharing their stories, their own experiences of how God had pulled them close. It was glorious because almost to a person the attendees identified a real sense of God’s presence there with them, evident in the sharing of their own resurrection stories but also, in the collectivity, a transcendent sense of a God who loved them each so much.

The Christ I bow to in others, the one I feebly aim to have living in me and through me, is a Christ that touches lepers and washes stinky feet and pulls children close even if they’re felt to be pretty inconsequential or pesky. I can’t really sort my love for a wise and amazing Jesus, even a Jesus who “dies for me”—from the Jesus I see reflected in a devoted friend, or a genuinely caring neighbor, or a committed social advocate who will sacrifice to advance a cause for someone else just because they know that God sings over his children and that we are his great delight. Together, those people comprise a risen Christ, and they testify to a resurrection. They share a good, good word. They evangelize.

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