Yesterday, I heard someone give an unprompted, humorous and damning list of “things Episcopalians don’t talk about.” On that list were money, sex, death, and religion. More than a clear proscription, the attitude he referred to is the almost universal discomfort we have with talking about those things. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s true of most Christians, but the Episcopal Church is the one I know.
As I read this Sunday’s OT lesson (2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c), I find myself wondering what real evangelism looks like. It’s the story of Naaman, the Aramean commander who comes to Israel to be healed of his leprosy. Naaman had everything—status, wealth, career, future, power—but he also had this terrible, ostracizing disease. His leprosy was the one thing that stood between him and “the good life.” Elisha gives him a remedy, which Naaman initial rejects but eventually endures. And, of course, the disease is lifted, but it’s Naaman’s response to the cure that catches me.
As this part of the story ends, the author writes, “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.’” It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
Here is a statement of faith. It’s new. It’s clear. It’s unambiguous. And how did he get there? How did dipping in the Jordan River seven times lead to this almost baptismal confession?
Naaman associated Israel with God. Elisha and all the people with him were identified as servants of Yahweh. They were inseparable. And, in that ancient culture, gods were thought to live in particular places and rule over particular people. In other words, Israel was God’s home, while Aram was home to other deities. So, when Naaman came over to see Elisha, he was already making a trip to another religious culture. And, when the healing happened, his association between the gift and God was automatic.
A man with a problem that is keeping him from the “good life.” A solution that is associated with God. Faith ensues. That’s not a bad strategy for evangelism.
How might we so clearly and powerfully live into our identity as Christians that “strangers” automatically make the connection between the good things that happen around us and God? I’m told that the Mormons are particularly attractive to new converts because their family life is so appealing. As I found out when I wanted to play with my childhood friend, Sundays are for family time. Period. The blessing that is a loving family gets associated with a religious practice, and evangelism happens.
What is the missing link in the lives of the people we want to reach? Quit thinking about outreach as helping poor people, and start thinking about it as evangelism. What do people need? What do they want? Is it healing? Is it security? Is it peace? Is it love? How might we give that to the world in so clear a way that people see it happen and say, “Now I know that God is God, and I want to be a part of that?” How might our churches do such a good and public job of meeting the needs of the world that people are drawn to faith?