Does anyone here remember Rollen Stewart? Do any of you know who he is? Those of us of a certain age probably do – although I would bet no one would know him by name. However, if I told you to imagine a big sporting event, and then to picture a man in a rainbow wig, holding a sign that read, “John 3:16.” You’d all say, “Ohhhh – that guy!”
Stewart was a born-again Christian, who took it upon himself to share the Gospel in his own way, by getting seen on TV with his simple sign, referring to the Gospel that we just heard: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” It was Stewart’s mission of evangelization – and it wasn’t a bad one. (However, he eventually became even more fanatical and was arrested in Los Angeles for kidnapping and threatening to shoot at airplanes!) He, at least for a while, understood that to capture people’s attention and direct them toward the Lord, he needed a hook.
Salespeople talk about having an “elevator speech” or an “elevator pitch.” It means that if you have an important idea or something you want to sell, imagine being on an elevator with someone important and what you would say to impress them.
As Christians – as disciples called to evangelize – we also must have an “elevator pitch.” How could you capture someone’s attention and imagination so that they are excited about learning more about your faith and deepening theirs? This is the work of evangelization – it is how we make disciples, as Jesus charges us to do.
Today, we encounter Jesus meeting with Nicodemus. Nicodemus is curious about Christ and His teachings, but he is also afraid to talk to Him in public. So, Jesus goes to him by night – brief encounters in which Jesus shares God’s plan for the world. Here, we get that famous, “John 3:16” phrase – Jesus’ “elevator pitch” to Nicodemus.
First, God loves the world. This is great news that should hearten anyone. But not only that, He “so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Not “sent” His only Son, or “introduced” His only Son; but “gave.” So, we learn that the Trinity that is God is a Giver, offering the graces of divine love to others.
This is the mystery that we celebrate with Trinity Sunday – the fact that our God is a Communion of Persons – a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and that the nature of God is to give: the Father gives the world the Son, and the Son, with the Father, gives the Holy Spirit. All three are God, united in divinity.
But we are involved in this mystery too. For God sent His Son into the world so that everyone who believes might not perish but have eternal life. And eternal life comes from faith and discipleship – from following Jesus Christ. This is what Jesus reveals: a way of life here on earth that reflects the communion shared by the Trinity – after all, we are made in God’s image and likeness. When we take upon ourselves that role of giving, of sending forth the best of ourselves for one another, we mirror that life of the Trinity.
This is what St. Paul is talking about when he exhorts us “Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Jesus has brought us back into communion with God through His saving work – the work He was sent by the Father to do. Now, through the Spirit, we have the power to share that life with God and with the world.
But we are called to share it – really. When we evangelize, when we make our faith in Jesus visible, when we are obviously “selling” the message of salvation, we are giving as God has given. What difference has your faith made in your life? In your marriage? In the life of your family? This is what we are called to share – this is our “elevator speech.”
Seeing and hearing the good things that God has done on our behalf, others should want to know more, to go deeper. That’s what the rest of the Gospel is for; that’s what our relationships are for. The relationships we share are part of our sharing in that divine image – we are made to be in communion. This is the image of God.
No rainbow wig necessary.