Evangelism is a word that is on the tips of the tongues of all churches. Churches are feeling the pressure of declining memberships and are looking at ways to attract new members. There are many reasons why people no longer feel that church is part of their life.
People are too busy for church.
Church is no longer relevant.
I know church is important but I just don’t get anything from it – in fact it is boring.
Churches try lots of things to drive their evangelism to draw new members.
Letters to lapsed members.
Running ALPHA courses.
Jesus today teaches us the most effective evangelism program ever: He says: Love one another: Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” There is no point doing evangelism if people come in and see us as no different to what they experience in their everyday lives. St Paul says a similar thing in the great passage on love in 1 Corinthians: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If visitors, or even long standing members come in and find us arguing with one another – gossiping about one another – putting others down – then it doesn’t matter what evangelism program we run, or how successful it is – it will mean nothing to them. Even if we have the best music – the best sermons- if people come to us and find a lack of love then they will leave. For Jesus, this is the basics of evangelism. Love one another.
Jesus says: When we love one another then “EVERYONE” will know that you are my disciples. It’s sad that the church is not often the place where people find examples of love towards each other. They find backbiting – arguing – gossiping – feuding and a whole host more. But not only that but often they find the church not being an example of love in the world.
When we react to things in the world we don’t always example love. There are many things that concern us and with which we disagree but sadly our responses are no different to the worldly way in which it responds. We don’t have to agree with everything but we can still show love.
There is a saying that we are to love the sinner but hate the sin. That’s what Jesus typified in his ministry – eating with sinners – forgiving the woman caught in adultery while telling her to sin no more – defending the woman who washed his feet with tears. He is hating the sin but still loving the sinner. Too often we hate the sin and the sinner which is not what we are called to example.
Jesus today shows us the fullest example of hating the sin while loving the sinner as he gives us his body and blood that was sacrificed for us to forgive our sin. It is here where we see where God made him who had to sin to become sin while we became the righteousness of God. God hating the sin by taking it to cross while loving the sinner by forgiving.
As we come to Holy Communion today it begins our journey into the very heart of God that loved us so much that he gave up all he had to rescue us. As we hear Jesus’ command today to “love one another as I have loved you” we are challenged to consider what is preventing us from loving one another – maybe a hurt, maybe a fear, maybe a disagreement with a person’s lifestyle – and if we believe that we have a right to withhold love then we need to think again about what it meant for God that it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. That is true love and that is the love that Jesus has asked, no, commanded us to also show.
If we want to do true evangelism this is where it starts – loving one another as Christ loves us. Sadly our human nature prevents us at times from showing that sacrificial love. And so Jesus introduces his sacrificial love firstly with an act of humility. He does something that no one expected of him.
He gets down on his knees and washes his disciples’ feet. Peter objects as this is not how it should be. But Jesus shows that acts of love begin with acts of humility.
Showing Jesus’ love means putting aside our inhibitions and judgments. As Christians we are commanded to show humility in being the ones who initiate love to one another. There are times we are hurt. There are times when we are confronted with people we don’t want to love. But humility places that all behind us. And that’s what it means to love one another as Christ loves us. As St Paul says in Philippians – Jesus humbled himself and become obedient unto death on a cross.
Maundy Thursday is about humility – washing the feet of his disciples – sharing his body and blood with his disciples, including Judas who would betray him. That is the example which Jesus has left for us – love one another as I have loved you.