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Evangelism Is Not A Dirty Word

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: John 1:29-42

Today’s gospel from John continues:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’

Come and see. Twice in this chapter.

As both she and I have shared with this community, my sister went through a rough time at the end of the year. She was laid off her very good job at the end of October and found herself struggling to find a new one, fighting to get unemployment, and just contending with the feelings of rejection and insecurity that come with a loss like that.

As most of you also know, I too have been navigating a very difficult time for the past six or seven months. Most of you know that my marriage ended last summer, and I also have been wrestling with feelings of rejection, insecurity, and deep loneliness. Fortunately, I have had so much support. My dear friends were at my beck and call when I was at my lowest. My therapist helped me to understand my grief and be gentle with myself as I moved through it. And this amazing community—you prayed for me—and believe me, I felt it!—and you showed me such incredible love and patience.

My spiritual director called me to ground myself in the resources of my spirituality, which of course included worshiping here, which is so deeply grounding for me. And I also came back to a spiritual practice I’d had for years before returning to Christianity: meditation. Mostly a Zen Buddhist approach of cultivating awareness and resting with what is rather than what I wished things were.

Quick side note: Buddhism and Christianity are not inherently incompatible. In fact, more recent contemplative Christian practices like Centering Prayer sprung from Christian teachers like Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating encountering Buddhism and applying its practice to Christian thought. But I digress.

In the depths of my struggles, I started a practice where I read a little bit from a contemporary Buddhist teacher—Pema Chodron or Charlotte Joko Beck—and then settled into a twenty-minute meditation. Every day. It helped me to notice how I was feeling and be kind with myself, be patient with my process. After awhile, I started noticing how my feelings were shifting. I started to realize that all things—including pleasure, including my pain—change and fade until new pleasure, new pain come and then change and fade again.

You could call it death and resurrection. Over and over again. Every day. Every hour. Every minute.

My practice helped me so much through the hardest moments. It taught me that my pain wouldn’t go on forever. It changes and fades.

So when my sister started going through her tough time, I naturally wanted to share this practice with her, share my learning with her, share my joy with her. And I did. I gave her a Pema Chodron book and said, “I’ve gotten a lot out of this. I thought it might be helpful for you.” And guess what I also did. I invited her to church.

Come and see.

Yup, I evangelized her. I dared to share that which gives me joy, that which bolsters me in my most difficult moments, that which I value so much that I give a significant part of every day, a significant part of my life, to it.

I didn’t say, “If you don’t do these practices, you’ll be miserable forever.” I didn’t say, “If you don’t come to church, you’ll go to hell.”

And that’s not what John the Baptist did, either. In our gospel today, he simply said to his two disciples as Jesus was passing by: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Which was enough for the disciples to follow Jesus.

That’s not what Jesus did, either. He simply said to the two disciples, “Come and see.” Then he ran into Philip and simply said, “Follow me.” No threats of eternal damnation, just an invitation into the joy of Jesus’ ministry. I get the sense that if Philip hadn’t followed, Jesus would have kept on walking until he encountered another person whom he thought could use the invitation. But Philip did follow. And once he experienced the joy of following Jesus, he shared it with Nathanael who honestly wasn’t so sure. ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ he asked. Philip just said to him, “Come and see.”

I imagine a lot of us are a bit like Nathanael when it comes to evangelism, or sharing the good news of our faith. Which is strange to me, because you’re all here. You could be sleeping right now. You could be reading a book and drinking coffee right now. You could be cleaning the house or running errands. But you’re here. Why?

Many of us come from Christian traditions that have harmed us or harmed someone we love. Why are you here? What is it that kept you in Christianity? What kept you believing even when churches and their teachings failed you, hurt you?

What is it that keeps you coming back?

Or even if you haven’t been harmed. Maybe you’re a cradle Episcopalian and you love the Church. But I still ask you: Why? What is it that keeps you coming back when you could spend your Sundays in so many other ways?

What is it that motivates you to give your time, your energy, your skills, your money to this community? Why are you invested in this place? Why are you here?

The answer to that, whatever it is for you—and it’s probably a little different for each of us—is what evangelism is about. Whatever life you get, whatever joy is nurtured in your experience of faith, in your experience of this community, that’s what evangelism is about. And the people around you won’t have a chance to experience that joy unless you invite them into it. Come and see.

I don’t know if my sister read the book. She has attended church here a bit, mostly on Zoom and a few times in person. But I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t call herself a Christian. She got a job in the Bay Area, and I don’t know if she’ll even keep going to church. But that’s not what evangelism means to me. What matters to me is that she sees my joy and knows that I want joy for her, too. What matters to me is that the invitation is there. Come and see. When she wants to. When she’s ready. I hope that my joy, the joy that meditation gives me, the joy that being part of the Body of Christ gives me, inspires her.

But she’s never going to know unless I invite her into it.

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