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Vulnerable Evangelism: The Way of Jesus – John Holmes

August 30, 2015

VEAlthough it’s published by an evangelical company, the author comes from an Anglo-Catholic background. Instead of the usual suspects about this topic, he quotes Bishop R H Moorman, Clifford Longley, Henri Nouwen, Carlo Carletto and John Drane.

He rightly identifies the popular image of an evangelist as a pushy salesman and recalls a lone man shouting in a shopping centre but ignored by everyone. It reminds me of a regular Friday lunchtime experience when I was on my way to a midday mass and a preacher was shouting out words that must have been meaningless to most people. He even followed me and my friend into the quiet church, still shouting.

Unlike the aggressive street preacher: Jesus’ ministry focuses on individuals, rather then crowds, it is not surprising to see that it usually begins in listening too. Henri Nouwen has said that Jesus is ‘all ear.’ Jesus’ first concern is to discover the person’s need or longing, and frequently he does that by asking a question. Blind Bartimaeus’ cry for mercy is heard by Jesus, who asks him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ His sight restored, Bartimaeus is liberated to follow Jesus and be a servant of others (Mark 10.46-52). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter Day were reflecting on their sense of despair at what had happened in Jerusalem. Jesus draws this from them as he comes alongside them unrecognized and asks, ‘What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?’ (Luke 24.11). How can we speak the word of God, unless we first listen with the ears of Christ?

There are some good stories such as: ‘Is there anyone you specially want me to look out for?’ the hospital chaplain was asking the ward sister, before he began his weekly visiting round. ‘Yes there is,’ she answered. ‘The woman in the end bed. She’s very bitter, especially against God. I doubt whether she will allow you to speak to her.’

The chaplain followed his usual practice of speaking to all the patients on the ward. People were pleased to spend a few moments with him or have a longer chat when it seemed necessary As he approached the end bed, though, the woman turned away from him. ‘Don’t come near me! Don’t talk to me!’ she barked. ‘God’s got me in a trap!’ The chaplain attempted to respond but the woman was ada­mant. ‘God’s got me in a trap!’

The following week, the chaplain bought a small crucifix, just the right size to hold in your hand, and took it with him to the ward. The woman was still there in the end bed. She was a little weaker than before, but she still called out to the chaplain as he approached. ‘Don’t come near me! God’s got me in a trap!’ This time he did not try to argue. He just moved forward quickly, put the crucifix into the woman’s hand and said, ‘God’s in the trap with you.’ Then he left.

When he visited the ward next week, the sister was looking out for him. ‘Some­thing remarkable has happened in the ward this week,’ she told him eagerly. The woman in the end bed. She died three days ago. She had been very poorly. But what was remarkable was this. She died not bitter, but serene. Somehow all the bitterness seemed to drain away from her. And she never let go of that crucifix.’

The wounded healer was with her to heal. The suffering and vulnerable Christ brought wholeness and peace and the only word spoken was: ‘God’s in the trap with you.’

And: A curate began to visit a young couple in his parish who were expecting their first child. The curate was conscientious in his pastoral care, but the couple, fairly typical young professionals, were friendly enough but without much interest in what he had to offer as a Christian priest.

The child was born, but soon became seriously ill and died. The curate was deeply upset by this and visited the couple to bring some comfort to them. To his distress he was unable to say anything, but just sat in the living room crying. He left feeling a complete failure as a priest.

To his astonishment the couple came to church the following Sunday ‘I don’t understand it,’ he said. ‘When you needed me most I had nothing to give you.’ The couple replied, ‘But you gave us everything you had.’ The curate had shown that he was one with them in their loss. His wordless communication had re­vealed to them Christ’s self-giving love.

And, after the Dunblane shooting: , they caught site of John Drane, identified him as a minister and called him over. ‘You’ll know what to say.’ The reality was very different. As he stood there, with tears streaming down his face, he had no idea what to say or how to say it. As John Drane explains,

Words had not been especially useful to me, or anyone else in this crisis. So we stood, holding onto one another for a moment, and then eventually I spoke. I have no recollection of what I said. It certainly was not a formal ‘churchy’ kind of prayer, but it provided the catalyst that enabled them to start praying. A question came first: ‘What kind of world is this?’ another asked, ‘Is there any hope?’ Someone said, ‘I wish I could trust God.’ I’ll need to change,’ said a fourth one. As he did so, he looked first at me, and then glanced over his shoulder to the police who were on duty. He reached into his pocket and I could see he had a knife. He knelt again by the ring of candles and quietly said ‘I’ll not be needing this now,’ as he tucked it away under some of the flowers laying nearby. One of the others produced what looked like a piece of cycle chain, and did the same. We stood silently for a moment, and then went our separate ways.

John Drane saw that the young people were meeting with God in a profound way. Though they would not have used this language they were repenting. They were reaching out. They were search­ing for a better way of living—for God’s kingdom.

About a mass held in a supermarket, he quotes Damian Feeney: I firmly believe that one of the failures of Catholicism in recent years has been to try to protect Christ’s presence. The celebration of the Eucharist at ASDA has taught me above all how very robust God is. I have learned again and again how ready Christ is to sit with sinners and the apathetic in much the same way as he did during his earthly life. Of course there are days when the apathy is upsetting—but the one who submitted himself to the nails of the cross does not require protection from Sunday shoppers.

This echoes: George Macleod, the founder of the Iona Community I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market-place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about. And that is where church­men should be and what churchmanship should be about.”

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