Monday, June 18, 2012

The way God happens

She grew up in a family that didn’t go to church. She didn’t even know what people did when they went to church. But she had heard about God. And she had heard about heaven.

When she was six, her father died of a long, drawn out disease that turned a fun, vibrant man into a person who scared her. After his death, she imagined his corpse waiting to jump out at her in every dark place, and she was terrified. She desperately wanted to believe that her father was in heaven, but it all sounded so far-fetched to her. God seemed like a fairy tale adults had created to keep children in line, kind of like Santa Claus. If you’re a good little girl, someday God will take you to be with him in heaven. Yeah, right.

She used to cry herself to sleep at night. And she would pray to a God she really doubted was even listening. “God, please let me know if you’re real.” It was her prayer for years. She wanted to believe in God, even though she knew he probably didn’t exist. Eventually, when God didn’t respond, she felt like she was talking to a wall and gave up.

She did go to Sunday school a little bit in elementary school, when her neighbors took her. And she was carted off to Vacation Bible School with her cousin a couple of times. Then, during junior high, she had two best friends she did everything with. Together they were like the three musketeers. It just so happened that the other two went to the same church. When they attended confirmation classes on Saturday mornings, she tagged along. This was also when she learned about what people did in a worship service. At the end of three years, she was confirmed with her two friends. In fact, she was baptized on the same day because she had never been baptized before.

After that, she rarely attended worship and didn’t really believe the stuff they said in church, anyway. But a big part of her still wanted it to be true.

Then came college. She ended up rooming with three other young women she didn’t meet until the day she arrived at her dorm. As it turned out, they were all a little weird for college students back then; they went to church on Sundays. But she never went with them. By now she was convinced that religion was for people with weak minds, people who needed a crutch to help them deal with the harsh realities of life. As she became involved in late-night debates over pizza about the existence of God, she took on the role of the skeptic. 

During her sophomore year, she met a young man who was really cute. As she got to know him, she realized that he wasn’t your typical college guy. It wasn’t until she fell in love with him that she learned the reason why he was the way he was. He was a deeply committed Christian.

Suddenly, it seemed like everywhere she went, people of faith were in her face. She sat down to eat in the Student Union and the students at the next table were engaged in a discussion with their Bibles open. She went to the park, and a group of people were having a prayer meeting under a picnic shelter. She walked across campus on a Sunday morning and a young woman was being baptized in the pond beside her dorm.

Mind you, this was not a church college; this was a state university. Everywhere she turned, God was saying to her, “Here I am.” It started out as a gentle nudge, and happened more and more forcefully until,  eventually, she felt like God was giving her a smack upside the head.

She decided to give church another try and started with the flavor of Christianity she had known when the three musketeers went to confirmation classes together back in junior high -- a Lutheran church. But she also went to other churches, as well. Most Sunday mornings she worshipped twice. Once at the Lutheran church and once at some other church.

Whenever she went to the library to study, she managed to wander into the stacks of religious books and spent hours searching for answers to the questions she had been carrying around for years. By the time she graduated, she was being drawn to seminary. Completely clueless about what the church taught, she had no awareness that back then, in the ‘70s, it was a new thing for women to go to seminary.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that the she I’m speaking of is me.

Each of us has a faith story. Yours may be more traditional than mine. You may have grown up in a churched family and have always been a churched person. Or you may still be in a place where you’re not so sure about this guy called Jesus. But the fact is, no one would be a follower of Jesus today if those who came before us had failed to respond to the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

When I consider my own story of faith and how I came to adopt the Jesus Way of being in the world as my own, I know that God sent all kinds of people into my life who were evangelists to me: neighbors who took me to Sunday school, friends who brought me to confirmation classes, the people I saw reading the Bible in the Student Union, a college roommate who faithfully said her prayers every night. Not one of them ever sat me down and tried to convince me to become a Christian. But, all together, they were God making God’s self known to me. Most of them have absolutely no idea they did that and many of them don’t even know I exist. That’s the way God happens. God comes to us through other people. Not one person, but all of them together.

When you hear Jesus commanding us to go and make disciples, don’t think it has nothing to do with you. Even though you may never use the word evangelist to describe yourself, if you are a follower of Jesus, it has everything to do with you. You’re a part of the communion of saints that opens the way for other people to follow Jesus long after you’ve moved on from this earth. As preposterous as it may be, the world will come to know God through people like you and me.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

1 comment:

Bill Bolen said...

Awesome lesson. Could be the "Environment" rollo at VdC. Thanks for sharing. It causes me to remember those that have influenced me over the years. And also, how I might influence someone today.