You Must Have Me Confused with Someone Else
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/08-21-11.MP3]You know how many introverts it takes to change a lightbulb? None. Having the lights on just encourages people to come and visit.
We are in the middle of this sermon series, looking at the topic of evangelism: how is it that we share our faith with integrity. We Presbyterians seem to have something in our DNA that makes us cringe at this word “evangelism”. For many of us, it has been ruined by personal or cultural encounters with pushy Christians, people who not only want to be sure that you’ve had an emotionally fraught conversion as part of your faith story, but that you even have the right kind of faith in the end – there are marks to be met, bars to be cleared. Anything less than this isn’t faith; it’s something else.
But I wonder if there is something more to our hesitation than this; is it that we are naturally introverted? It’s not the same as shy; shyness has more to do with the anxiety around being with others. Introversion has to do with the feeling of being emotionally drained because of being with others. Is that what it is? When it comes to our faith, are even the most extroverted among us introverts, exhausted by the mere thought of talking to somebody else about God, Jesus, church, faith?
Over the next two weeks, we have a fascinating adventure in Biblical character study. This week, after we meet two of my favorite figures in the Bible, the snarky midwives Shiphrah and Puah, we are introduced to this new character Moses. We will learn more about him next week, but for now, it is enough to know that he was spared Pharaoh’s cruel death edict by being cast adrift in the Nile and was raised within Pharaoh’s own household. His name means “pulled out”, because he had been pulled to safety from the river; more about him later.
Meanwhile, in our New Testament lesson, Jesus is pressing the disciples on what they’ve heard: “What are people saying about me?”
“Some say you’re Elijah returned, others think you’re John the Baptist reincarnated, or some other prophet.”
“What about you?”
Simon speaks up: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And suddenly, he, too, is pulled out – no longer one of a gang of disciples, but renamed “Peter”, the rock on which the church will be built! No pressure, right?
There are enough other stories of Simon Peter that we know he’s a pretty impulsive figure. He sees Jesus walking on water and jumps out of the boat. Jesus washes his feet, and he wants water everywhere. And at the scene of betrayal, he pulls out a sword to defend his Messiah. So we have got to wonder: did Peter like being singled out like this? Was he eager to prove himself reliable, solid as a rock, foundational? Or was he apprehensive at being the center of attention, wondering if he was really worthy of Jesus’ attention?
We’ll pick up the topic of Peter next week; the scene that follows this one is particularly fascinating, as Peter’s power goes to his head for a moment. And we know what eventually happens to the infant Moses later on: he goes from being an abandoned child to the unwilling leader of the Hebrew people.
Is that what “evangelism” feels like, a momentary promotion from zero to sixty, from pew-sitter to the church’s rock? From someone who is pretty sure they believe this stuff to leader of a liberation movement? Is it a situation of feeling like you’re in over your head? What if I strike up a faith conversation and the next thing you know they’re asking me about salvation? Sexuality? Heaven and hell? How can I convince somebody else to be a Christian if I’m not so sure of it myself?
Let’s stop right there and clarify something: evangelism has nothing to do with “convincing” someone. It has everything to do with integrity and honesty. Don’t have something figured out? You’re in good company. Not sure how to go about it? Welcome to the communion of saints. Worried that they might say “no”? It wouldn’t be the first time. Unsure that this invitation is even for you? You won’t be the last.
I ran across this cute summary of the Biblical characters that end up being such a central part of God’s story:
Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossiper, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sara was impatient, Elijah was moody, Moses stuttered, Zaccheus was short, Abraham was old, and Lazarus was dead.... Now, what's your excuse? Can God use you or not?
Or to put it another way:
“God doesn't call the qualified; God qualifies the called.”
All of us, extroverts and introverts alike, have something to share. Our personalities just mean that we will share it in different ways. The extrovert will probably be energized by the thought of another way to talk to people. The introvert may have no interest in broaching the subject, but when that one-on-one does happen, even if they don’t initiate it, they will take it to a level far deeper than anything the extrovert would.
And what a time to share it! The more the things that we may have come to take for granted – like prosperity, a growing economy, certainty in employment or retirement – as these things are shaken to the core, where is it that we find our surest footing, our solid ground, our rock and our salvation? Surely we’re not the only people in the world looking for something more reliable as a source of trust and provision…is this the place, the community, the vision that provides that for you? If so, don’t be stingy; there’s more than enough to go around!
Three weeks from now, the Sunday after Labor Day, we will be starting up our Fall programming again in earnest. And on that Sunday, we will be encouraging everyone to bring someone with you to church. We’ll have more information about that soon. My invitation to you today is to begin thinking and praying how God might use you to share this gift of faith with someone. Maybe there’s somebody who just moved into your neighborhood; have you welcomed them yet? Are they looking for a church community? Maybe not, but what’s the harm in asking? Or perhaps there’s a chance meeting at the coffee shop; can we simply be more attentive to God’s nudge within us at that moment? Maybe it’s just superficial small talk; or maybe they’ve notice your stylish OPC t-shirt and want to get one of their own. Or maybe it’s a friend who has hit a rough patch – unemployment, divorce, illness, grief – what is their source of strength these days? Do you even know if they have a support community? Do you care enough to find out?
My friends, I want to leave you with this thought: we, all of us, are Moses. We are Peter. We have been pulled out of the world and into God’s presence. We may feel certain that this is a case of mistaken identity, but the truth is that God has given us a gift; but a true gift cannot be hoarded; it must be given away.