Friday, December 20, 2013

Proclaiming the ‘Reign of God’

The flyer said, “Proclaiming the Reign of God” is a Bible study, or perhaps better, a “learning community,” a group of people gathering to read and study the Bible…

It was our new pastor's first stab at a Bible study in his new church. As usual, duty called. I felt obligated to attend at least the first one, to see what it would be like. Sixteen weeks! One chapter a week, that's the plan. “Well,” thought I, “why not go and pick up brother M., take him to Ya Hala for a quick snack, and then go to the Bible Study together. After all, he doesn’t have a car, it’s raining, and that’s a long way to ride a bike—ten miles—in the dusky evening.” So off I went.

Luckily he was home. I was afraid he might've decided to try riding his bike there, but no. He came to the door, ragged Bible in hand, looking like he just woke up from a nap. I invited myself in, asked him if he wanted to go to dinner with me and then the Bible study. It took some coaxing, but finally he agreed. He said he was feeling a little sick, his arm hurt, he said. I didn't think much of it at the time. He got dressed, combed his hair, and we hopped into the van to find some baba ganouj, felafel and other Lebanese snacks at a cozy restaurant on the east slope of Mount Tabor (the other side of the in-town mountain that I live on in Portland). We arrived at Ya Hala, were seated and placed an order for some mezzes, just a light snack—it's not advisable to study the Word of God on a full stomach. But trouble was on the way. Actually, trouble had started a few days back, on Friday the 13th…

…my friend was served an eviction notice for non-payment of rent. A sum of $188.50 had to be paid by Friday the 20th, or they would start eviction proceedings. The guy has lived there for about eight years, he is semi-disabled and works only sporadically. His rent is on a sliding scale. Supposedly, if he doesn't have any earnings, it's free for that time period. I don't know exactly how that works yet, but I'll be finding out, because it's plain that his situation can't continue this way forever. Back to the restaurant…

…M. was getting more and more uncomfortable. Finally, just as the waitress brought the first plates and some pita breads, he stood up, said it was too painful and he had to get some medicine, and went outside. I knew there was nothing open nearby, so I hailed the waitress, told her what was happening, so she didn't think we were just leaving, and stepped outside…

Severe pain and throbbing in the left upper chest and shooting pains up and down the left arm. It had been going on like this, on and off, since he got the eviction notice. He is a faithful member of my church, goes to many services, was even there earlier that very day, at a weekday morning liturgy, having ridden his bike there and back. I was scared, but calm. I went inside, had the waitress bring me several ‘doggie bags’ so I could turn our food into ‘take out,’ paid the bill, and grabbed M. and drove over the mountain to my house. The pain was still very bad. I gave him medication, had him rest on the couch, and laid out the food on plates in the dining room. Guess there wouldn't be a Bible study for us that night, at least not a spoken one…

We literally broke bread (pitas), ate a calm evening agapé together, and I gradually learned more of the details of both his infirmity and the eviction threat. He said that usually when he got in a jam, our church had helped him out by paying his rent or bills, but that he was told the last time they helped—That was it for the year—you're on your own! Interesting…

What to do? Well, it was obvious. The Lord was honoring His disciples with a personal visitation and a real “session” (an interactive, multi-dimensional, non-verbal Bible study), not “just another version.” I said to M., “Come with me,” after we'd finished eating, “down to my office in the basement. Watch your step on those stairs, and… umm, don’t bump your head on that low beam…” He hadn't been down there with me in a while. I showed him my prayer cot, next to my office, where I sleep. “I thought you had a bedroom upstairs…” I smiled and winked.

Flash back, and voice over…
There's Romanós, Sunday morning, very early, stretched out on his prayer cot, agonising about something. Why do I keep getting this thought that I should not turn in my tithe at today's service? I've always done it, but something is making me feel like I mustn't. “Just put $5 in the collection plate. I have something else in mind for the rest of it.”

Back in my office…
The back wall behind the desk is densely covered with paper icon prints tacked in neat rows, with family photos intermingled. A tall green copper candlestick rising as the tail of a small mouse reading a book sits on a ledge in the corner. M. and I chat, while I go online and check my bank account… Yes, I can cover it! Okay, that part is now a ‘done deal.’ That's where the rest of the tithe is going this fortnight, with some of my mission fund money tacked on to make the full amount. But the fund is getting low. Better start up another eBay auction soon! There's so much I still have to sell. I turn to M. and say, “Now, praise God, but keep it under wraps. We'll go tomorrow and pay the rent, and they should leave you alone for another month, right?” He says, “I think so.” But I'm still more worried about his health. He tells me, “Yeah, five years ago a doctor examined me and told me I have a heart murmur.”

The evening has been interesting. Not exactly your usual Bible study. I drive M. home while meditating on what could "The Reign of God” possibly mean. What did we miss by not going to the pastor's group? Once again, I marvel that we don't even have to walk out of our door, hardly. The Lord keeps sending them to us. And He never expects more from us than we can give. But what of tomorrow? What about next month?

So do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat?
What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’
It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.
Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.
Set your hearts on His Kingdom first,
and on His righteousness,
and all these other things will be given you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow:
tomorrow will take care of itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:31-34 Jerusalem Bible

Originally posted October 19, 2006

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