I have heard the Gospel - and it was foreign to me.
I have heard the Gospel and it was the gospel - good news.
The Lord has been giving me a word lately, over and over: simplify. I have believed these words were directly related to my materialism. I do love a good shopping spree. Not something the good Christian should admit to, I suppose. What I have realized is that He wasn't talking about those things at all. He was talking about my definition of my own salvation.
He sent a man to my family - my parents, my brother, Conor and I - this last week. A South African man who, along with his wife, has resided in the United States long enough to lose his lovely accent but, I suspect because the Lord appreciates a thing of beauty, still pronounces every syllable with the merry, lilting sound of someone entrenched in a world seas away. This is who brought me the Gospel. And it is on those terms that I hand it back to you. They aren't his terms, but rather the Father's, and so I am suprised after twenty-nine years alive to not have heard it before.
There are two stories here - both true. One involves me and a friend in a Starbuck's about a year ago. She is looking at me, knowing that I know she is seeing another woman, and tells me, plainly, as though stating a fact, "I know I could marry her. I know it would be all right. But something in me knows that if I were to marry a man, it'd be better." That is the beginning of one story. It is not over. But the second happened thousands of years ago and has long since been given its share of dust. Just like all other stories in Scripture, it holds truths that, were we to glimpse it clearly, would blow our minds.
This second story involves, ironically, two friends, as well. Two young men - one, the son of the king, Jonathan. The other, an aid to the king, and Jonathan's best friend: David. The king, a man named Saul, a man tormented by his own avarice and ambition, knows what many others are beginning to know: God has anointed this young man, this David, and is preparing him to rise in power. Power that leads directly to the throne. Saul determines to kill David. And so, in a field outside the palace walls, David and Jonathan weep together, knowing one will remain with a vengeful father while another must flee for his life. Jonathan reminds David of something that would bind their households together forever: a covenant made between them in friendship that said that the Lord was a witness between them in their commitment to each other, between not only David and Jonathan, but also their descendants - forever.
Later, when Jonathan, along with his father, is killed in battle, David is in anguish. He cries out for his friend, calling him a "dear brother" for whom he is "crushed" (2 Samuel 1:25). There is a great love between them that cannot be fully understood in words. A love that was entrenched in sacrifice and honor. And David is true to his word, true to the covenant he made with Jonathan. Because of his love for his friend, David asks, after years have passed, after he is the crowned king, whom in the house of Saul - whom in Jonathan's line - is still living that he may honor the covenant he made with kindness? There is someone. He's not a hero. His name is Mephibosheth. He is living in a land far from David, a land marked with barrenness and of no consequence. What's more, he's a man who has lost use of both of his feet. We can imagine how he approached the king when summoned, with great pain and tremendous humiliation: "Shuffling and stammering, not looking at David in the eye, Mephibosheth said, 'Who am I that you pay attention to a stray dog like me?'" (2 Samuel 9:8, The Message). David lifts his chin and tells him not to fear. From now on, he is one of the king's household. Royalty. He and his family will eat at the king's table and will never worry about provision again. Because David loved Jonathan, Mephibosheth's father.
But Mephibosheth is a man, not unlike his grandfather Saul, who is tormented. Perhaps it was his crippled feet. Perhaps it was the fact that his family once set plans to kill this good king. Perhaps it was shame over secrets in his past, or anger with the father David so dearly loved, or lack of faith in a God David so ardently worshiped. Whatever the reason, Mephibosheth is not a man who can understand David's offer. Imagine David incessantly bestowing favor upon this man and his family. Imagine how often he must have seen the bent body, hobbling from place to place, all but shouting out, "I don't feel worthy!" Imagine what it must have been like for David when, after years, Mephibosheth, as much a son to David as any of his children, looks into the aging king's eyes and says, "What right do I have to appeal to you?" Imagine the sorrow. The frustration. "Oh, Mephibosheth! Will you never understand? It's not about you! It's about Jonathan!"
You and I are Mephibosheth. A people - not Christians, but humans - who are marked by defect, caught up in our own web of shame and humiliation, bent over and broken down, unworthy and unable to bring anything to God to earn even a crumb from His table. And yet He invites us to be a part. To be His children. But just like Mephibosheth, we make that invitation about us. We decide it must hinge on our actions or our words or our ritual - be it baptism, or communion, or charitable services, or tithing, or praying, or reading the Bible, or going to church, or never cussing or smoking or drinking or lying or sleeping around or being gay. Because it doesn't make sense otherwise. The offer doesn't make sense. If we aren't good enough as we are, then surely we have to earn it? But it's not about us. It's about Jesus.
We are accepted because God made a covenant with His Son. And we can live in the freedom of that acceptance if we'll simply take Him at His Word. It's not about us. It's about Jesus.
So back to Starbuck's. What was it that this girl got that I didn't? How could someone who'd been living what everyone else around me would call a "fallen" life have an answer to a question I'd never thought to ask? How could God reveal the truth of Christ to me through her? The truth of Christ is this: we are free. My friend was right - she could marry her girlfriend. God would still love her if that's the choice she made. Why? Because it's not about her. It's about Jesus. And yet - does that mean just because it would be permissible it's automatically beneficial? No! Jesus came to set us free from right and wrong. We are not slaves to the law. We are not slaves to rules. We have been set free. But not so that we can bow to our human nature. Rather, so that we can listen to the quiet stirrings within us that point to something better. Something higher. Something holier. As Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth: "Looking at it one way, you could say, 'Anything goes... But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well" (1 Cor. 10:23, The Message). My friend knew it. She knew there was something better. There was a way to live well! Not right! Well! Fuller, deeper, richer, more meaningful lives handed to us from the very Throne of Grace!
God has called me to simplify. This isn't about me. This isn't about my not being gay. This isn't about your not getting drunk - or whatever else we use to define our sense of self-righteousness. It's isn't about us at all. It's about Jesus.