One morning some years ago, a young bookstore clerk named Deborah arrived at work early to open the shop. Standing at the door waiting for the store to open was a man dressed in the characteristic garments of a Hasidic Jew. As Deborah was unlocking the door, the man quietly asked if he could come in. She hesitated; it was nearly an hour before the store was supposed to open, but the man seemed polite and evidently needed something right away, so she decided to let him come in early. After turning on the lights, she said, “Would you like any help?”
Softly and with an accent he said, “Yes, I want to know about Jesus.” This was not an altogether surprising request, since the store specialized in books on religion. So Deborah guided the man upstairs to the shop’s ample section of books about Jesus. She pointed to shelves filled with scholarly volumes of Jesus research and books about the early history of Christianity. Then she turned to go back downstairs, but the man called her back.
“No,” he said, “I want to know about Jesus the Messiah. Don’t show me any more books. You tell me what you believe.” Was this man asking for interfaith dialogue? For spiritual counsel? For evangelism? Deborah was unsure. All she knew was that she was being asked what she had almost never been asked before: to put her faith into words.
“My Episcopal soul shivered,” she said later, recalling the encounter. “I gulped and told him everything I could think of… as much as I could sputter out in my confusion, in the dark.”
I suspect that a few of us might have had shivering Presbyterian souls had we been in the same situation. And yet I also know dozens of Covenant folks who are very much at ease when sharing their faith and their personal journeys.
Tom Long, in his book Testimony, argues that we don’t have to have everything figured out before we talk about our faith. Indeed, it is often through talking and sharing stories with others that we come to a deeper understanding of our faith.
Moreover, we can share about our faith in a spirit of friendship. As Deborah recalled her encounter in the bookshop, she was worried about transgressing interfaith boundaries. She wanted to be respectful of the fact that her conversation partner was himself a person of faith. Deborah wrote, “I am not ashamed of my faith. I am, and will always be, a Christian. But the God I catch glimpses of is a large-hearted God, one to whom all hearts are open. Spiritual arrogance is inexcusable.”
In the almost a year and a half that I have been with you, I have been touched and moved by the stories that you’ve shared with me. And I believe that many others have been touched and moved and inspired as well.
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus sends the disciples out on their own for the first time. They go out and proclaim the gospel, taking nothing with them except the clothes on their backs and relying completely on the hospitality of strangers.
What kind of gospel were they sharing at such an early stage in the Jesus movement? It seems doubtful that the disciples would have had a highly developed Christology at this point. They certainly didn’t know the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed.
I suspect that they did the very thing that you and I can do when talking to a friend. We can share about that moment when Jesus looked us in the eyes and said, “follow me.” And we can talk about what it’s been like on the journey ever since.
Grace and Peace,