This morning I was listening to a news story about the devastation and destruction Hurricane Florence caused in the Carolinas, especially over this past weekend. The story focused on how local churches and mosques have played a vital role in providing physical and spiritual refuge and shelter from the storm.
Many of these houses of worship are challenging their members to take an active role in sharing love and hope with neighbors whose homes are now awash with up to five feet of standing water. On Sunday, instead of encouraging worshippers simply to gather for prayer, many faith leaders had arranged for members to take part in organized rescue efforts.
As one local church pastor who serves in New Bern, North Carolina poignantly said, "We express our love for God most tangibly when we love our neighbor. It's easy to say, 'I love God," but put some boots on, get your hands dirty, express your love for God by helping your neighbor." Over the weekend, in that particular community, ordinary people of faith helped rescue over 40 people that the local police and rescue departments would not have been able to reach otherwise.
Jesus' call to mission and ministry is the same. Consider the ways in which Jesus taught and modeled for the disciples what it means to live out one's love for God. It is not by simply staying in Jerusalem and meeting in the temple for study and discourse. Rather it is about being out in the dusty streets of Capernaum, the lakeshore of Gennesaret or the hillsides of Bethsaida.
It was about putting their sandals on and getting their hands dirty. It was expressing their love of God tangibly by loving their neighbor in offering food, shelter, healing and welcome. The common thread in Jesus' encounters with others is that he first meets their basic human needs before attending to their spiritual needs. Jesus shared the Good News of God's extravagant welcome, unconditional love and unending grace in this way. In many ways, this is a Christ-centered plan for evangelism.
Effective and Christ-centered evangelism is not about marketing and advertising strategies, door to door campaigns, signage, expanding the parking lot or renovating our fellowship spaces. No, I believe the most effective and Christ-centered way we can and are called to evangelize is to share the good news of God's steadfast love by caring for our neighbors.
More specifically, we cannot simply love our neighbor in the abstract, from a distance, but rather we must care for our neighbors by getting to know them, their stories and their needs and to respond accordingly. It is easier to simply proclaim we love God. It is more difficult and more faithful to care for our neighbors. Many times this means we must "put our boots on" and "get dirty."
Blessings, Rev. Shana Johnson, Conference Minister