I have to confess that when I was in high school, I was not very nice to the church kids. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I was antagonistic.
I hadn’t been raised in Church, so while there was respect for God in a general sense—our religion was more blue-collar work ethic and liberal politics. We really only ever made it to church when I started wearing weird dark clothes and listening to loud music… (I guess not a whole lot has changed.)
The fact is that I didn’t like how cliquish these people were; I didn’t like how they treated other people; and I especially didn’t like that they seemed just too sacrosanct to have anything to do with anyone who wasn’t part of their group. I’m sure none of you knows anyone like that…
Needless to say, then, I wanted about as much to do with their God as I did with them… So, like I said, I wasn’t very nice.
Well, as all of you have probably figured out, God has quite a sense of humor. And at some time toward the end of high school, I found myself going to church and even getting something out of it.
Before long, I was accepted by the church kid group that I had previously antagonized (y’know, I felt guilty). We were starting Bible studies, and all kinds of different stuff. And while I was accepted by this group, and I was enjoying being a Christian—the thing that always bothered me was that I couldn’t understand why no one ever thought to tell me about God before.
I mean, these were people who were supposed to have known God very well. They had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sure they handed me plenty of tracts, but no one really ever told me anything about God. What’s even more, they never told me why knowing God even mattered.
To be fair, I suppose any of us might be at a loss for words if we were asked why God mattered. Especially when the question is more personal—not just something about how we like God because creation is pretty, or something like that. Not to say that there is anything wrong with being amazed by Creation. Certainly our reading from Isaiah offers a sweeping and beautiful vision of Creation, and God as transcendent above all of it.
But it also understands the more finite aspects of God and humanity as well. That personal element that St. Paul infers in his letter to the Corinthians.
He explains that to those outside the law, he became as one outside the law. To the weak he became weak. He even goes so far to say that he became all things to all people. And if we’re to believe this, that Paul is not disingenuous about being all of these things—then we can only assume that what he means is that he opened those parts of himself to others that his message could be communicated.
So, to those under the law, Paul admitted his legalism. To the weak, Paul shared his own weakness; and for all other people and types—Paul needed only consider those things in himself and be honest.
For Paul, I suppose meeting some of these different types of people was kind of like having a mirror held up to him. If he was going to offer the transformative message of the gospel, he needed to know why it mattered—not just to those he was speaking to, but why it mattered to him.
And I’m willing to bet that when Paul put himself in that frame of mind (seeing aspects of himself in others), it was less a matter of becoming like them—it was coming to the realization that he was one of them.
Simply put, he was legalistic, he was weak, and he was all of those other things that were supposed to be red flags for religious people. And because he knew the need for transformation in Christ in himself, he knew how important it was for others to be given the chance to hear the transformative gospel of Jesus.
Whatever you may think of St. Paul, what I love about his ministry is that he told people about who he was—where he’d come from. Sure, he had a keen theological mind, and an amazing grasp of Roman and Jewish culture. But the power of his preaching was rooted in his ability to help others connect the dots by sharing the meaning and experiences he had with God.
So for the people he preached to, they got a glimpse of who Paul was, and they were able to connect to him and trust him. This allowed them to accept what he said, not just because he was slick and charismatic—not because he had all the answers, but because he knew what it was like to experience the love of God when he really needed it.
It almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it? I mean, at the risk of sounding a little Evangelical, if sharing the Gospel of Jesus is as simple as telling people we trust and who trust us why God matters—then why does it seem like such a hard thing to do?
The truth is
The truth is, the longer I’ve been in the Church the tougher it gets to share my own faith. This is especially true since becoming an Episcopalian. You know, faith to us is something that is very private—it’s kind of like shopping for underwear with your mother. You’re never really all that comfortable, but you know you gotta do it.
But the thing that draws honest spiritual connection from me is when I get to know people. It’s when I’m made aware of my inability to say anything clever, or catchy, and I’m left only able to tell someone why God matters to me. Often it’s a chance for self-deprecating fun, but as long as God shines through—I’m completely alright with that. In the end it’s the honesty and the connection that makes the difference. Besides, people are getting a skewed enough view of Church and religion. A little honesty might go a long way.
So why does God matter to you? What keeps you coming back to participate in the mysteries of the sacraments? What keeps bringing you back to be with people with whom you might otherwise have no other connection?
If we can’t answer it for ourselves, how can we answer it for others?
St. Paul says
St. Paul says that by having the knowledge and gift of the gospel he has an obligation—a responsibility to share it. When I think of how messed up I am and how much I really need God; I can imagine that there are other people just as messed up and just as in need as I am. I think that alone is obligation enough for me to share with people why God matters.
That’s not to say that I’m out to convert people; that’s God’s work. So, if sharing the gospel is about being honest and connecting to people—maybe it’s not as awkward as shopping for underwear with mom after all. However it is something we have to do.