Summary: How can we "sell" Christianity in today’s world?
The second part of today’s Gospel reading told us about Jesus calling Andrew, Simon Peter, James and John to be his disciples. This was probably not the first encounter with Jesus for any of them. We know, for example, from last week’s reading from St John’s Gospel that Andrew was already a disciple of John the Baptist. We know, too, that when Andrew had heard John the Baptist call Jesus “the lamb of God”, he had followed Jesus and spent some hours with him. We heard, too, how Andrew had told his brother, Simon, “We have found the Messiah”, how Andrew had brought Simon to Jesus and how Jesus had given him the name “Peter”.
Probably, these were men who were already looking for something more in their lives; possibly, they were feeling a little lost and alone following the arrest and imprisonment of John the Baptist. However, this was crunch time. They had to rise to the challenge and make a decision, then and there, whether to throw in their lot with Jesus.
This set me thinking about what it means for us to be disciples of Jesus. The word “disciple” comes from the Latin discipulus meaning pupil, or learner, and might be used to refer to the pupils of a Rabbi, in the Hebrew world, or of a philosopher in Greek world. Since pupils often adopted the distinctive teaching style of their masters, the word came to signify the adherent of a particular outlook in religion or philosophy.
However, when we talk of Jesus’ disciples we usually something mean something rather different. The disciples in the Gospels were people who gave Jesus personal allegiance, which was expressed in following him and giving him exclusive loyalty. In some cases, at least, it meant literally abandoning home, business ties and possessions. In all cases it meant readiness to put Jesus first, whatever the cost.
So what about us? We call ourselves Christians, that is followers of Jesus. What kind of disciples are we? Do we have a purely academic interest in the words of Jesus, or are we prepared to put him first in our lives? Are we ready to fish for people? The evidence of the empty pews in our churches suggests that perhaps we are not.
I spent many years as a teacher in Further Education. My subject was business studies and one of the topics that I taught was marketing. It is said that to market any product or service successfully you have to pay attention to the 4 ps. These stand for Product, Price, Place and Promotion. In other words you have to have the right product, at the right price, in the right place and you have to promote it in the right way.
Could this apply to our “selling” Christianity?
There can be no doubt that we have the right “product”. What we have to sell is so marvellous, so amazing, so extraordinarily wonderful, that is hard to know where to begin to describe it.
Should we start with the profound and eternal nature of God’s love for us, demonstrated through Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins? Or perhaps the joy of realising we are always in God’s presence – that his love enfolds us like wings, engulfs us like waves. That our God is both infinite and intimate – wider than the cosmos; closer to us than the atmosphere. That, whether we acknowledge him or not, we live in him. How could it be other than this? Where could we go that he is not?
Should we tell of the joy of recognising that spark of God that exists in all of us and nurturing it into flame? Should we tell of the peace that comes through surrendering control of our lives to God? Should we tell of the promise of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom? Wherever we choose to begin, one thing is certain, we can never finish describing the wonders of our product.
What about the price? The wonderful thing is that all this is absolutely and completely free, available to anyone simply for the asking. God’s grace is freely given. Jesus Christ has paid the price for us on the cross.
How about the place? Where and when is this wonderful product available? To paraphrase the advert for one of my favourite tipples, the answer is anytime, anyplace, anywhere. In fact, perhaps we should crib the whole slogan – Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, there’s a wonderful world you can share, it’s the right one – it’s Christianity!!
What about promotion? Are we actively seeking to draw people in to our church, to our religion? It is relatively easy to talk about our faith with fellow Christians, but it is rather harder to discuss this with people whose views on religion we do not know.