Sometimes it’s a really big thing: an alcoholic discovering she is indeed loved by the One who created her; a marriage dissolving is slowly mended by a gracious turn of repentance and forgiveness; a lonely child realizing his worth is found in the life-giving words of Jesus, not the words of his tormenting peers; a man reading in Scripture to “give away all your wealth to the poor,” and he literally does just that. Dramatic moments where the Spirit blows into a person’s life and there is an immediate, definitive, life-changing moment.
And then there are those times, where the change is almost imperceptible, where the transformation is so small, it barely registers to others, let alone the one changing; a moment where recognizing the presence of the Spirit takes a little more time, a little more attention. I would imagine most of us fall in the latter category. Although we love the stories of the big, dramatic moments, more often than not, it’s those small ones that paint the picture of God meeting us in the world.
Maybe you’ve heard Pastor Tom talking recently about how we’re going to “stir up our stories” here at Bethesda; how we (ordinary Jesus followers) are going to tell the story of where God meets us, of where we’ve been changed in ways both big and small. So, in that spirit, I’d like to share one of my little conversion moments. I have yet to give away one of the bottles we made for homeless people last week. My children have. In fact, they’re now looking for homeless people to help, with the enthusiasm of “Where’s Waldo” aficionados. I, however, am finding all the reason in the world not to give them away. It’s not that I don’t want to help people–I do. It’s not that I think this is bad idea–I don’t (I think it’s amazing!). Instead of looking at this as a gift of service and compassion, I’ve made it about me. I’ve turned a selfless act by this congregation into something entirely self-centered. “What if they don’t want it?” I think to myself. “What if they don’t need it?” “What if they wonder who this ‘crazy frumpy mom in the mini-van’ thinks she is by offering to help me?” And I get scared and figure one of you kind souls has already given them one, so I don’t need to help them anyway. And then this morning, I got a little nudging from the Spirit…”Sarah,” she said. “Sarah, helping that man on the street is a whole lot like helping me. And you know what else…(God really does talk like this)…helping that man on the street is going to help you too. You spend too much time worrying about what everyone else thinks. You spend way too much time turning inward because you’re too scared to turn outward, so follow me and give away the bottle. Because in doing so, you’ll not only be saying ‘yes’ to him, and you’ll not only be saying ‘yes’ to me, but maybe more importantly, you’ll be saying ‘yes’ to you.”
So, I write this about to get into that mini-van, and the next time I see that man on the corner, I’m handing over the bottle. And I might just say thank you to the God who receives it.