Monday, December 8, 2014

Two by two

Some years ago, I used to go downtown on a Saturday morning and, with a friend, find a suitable spot near the marketplace or in a well-known public square, and read one gospel cover to cover aloud, taking turns. We did not preach or comment, nor did we stop reading for discussion with passers-by. When my friend was reading, I stood alongside him and quietly looked on at the people coming toward us, greeting them with a wordless smile. When I was reading, he did his best to do the same. People would sometimes stop and listen, but we were never attacked in any way. Once, when I was reading, some insolent adolescents threw a handful of change at my feet. I left it there for the next homeless person to pick up. Another time, a young couple walked by, and paused to listen, and as they walked off, the girl placed a short-stemmed red rose in my open bible.

As we became a regular phenomenon, regular listeners started showing up. One was a young ‘butch’ Lesbian, who liked to stand close to me as I read. She and I never spoke, and after listening while, she would walk off with a nod and a smile. The plan was for us to read aloud one gospel cover to cover, then take a break for lunch, and then return, usually to a different spot, and read aloud the entire book of Revelation, cover to cover. Our gospel was usually St John, but occasionally we read one of the synoptics, and though we almost always read the book of Revelation, once or twice we read excerpts from the Prophets, at random, and from the Epistles. Why we usually read the Revelation aloud, is because it is a kind of mystical ‘fifth gospel,’ and the only biblical book that includes an explicit blessing for those who read it aloud, and for those who listen to the reading, and ‘keep’ what it says.

Why did we do this? And how did we start? Well, once a few years earlier, I had seen a young man standing downtown on the sidewalk in front of the Saturday market reading the Bible aloud. I slowed my pace as I passed him, and then stopped momentarily to listen, and then continued on my way without saying anything. Afterwards it really bothered me, that I had not uttered a word of thanks or encouragement. After all, it was a very brave thing to do. I never saw him again, but I could not get the memory out of my mind. Yet I did nothing. It just lay there in the back of my mind like a sleeper waiting to be awakened. A friend who worked with me was a fellow Christian, a Baptist, and one day I told him about the young man I had seen. I mentioned to him that I would like to go and do likewise, but that I was too intimidated to go alone. After talking about the idea for a few days, we decided to give it a try.

It was both exciting and scary, the first time. We went downtown carrying our favorite bibles, he used the NIV and I the Jerusalem Bible. Taking the train, we got off at the Saturday market, and looked around for ‘the right place.’ It felt like we would be led, but neither one of us felt ready to start. Suddenly, I opened my Bible to the Psalms, and started reading the first psalm and started walking away from the market, nowhere in particular. Looking down at my open bible as I read, I wasn’t able to pay attention to where I was going, but my friend latched on to me and nudged me out of the way when I was about to bump into someone or something. It must have looked quite comical. But as I read psalm after psalm, somehow a confidence grew, and I began to look up as I read, reciting the psalms from memory. We were walking toward the Pioneer Square, so decided to make it our destination.

On the way I stopped my reading, and my friend opened his Bible and read psalms where I had left off. He was a generation younger, and not at all used to public speaking as I was, so at first he read little above a loud whisper, but soon he too was reading aloud with confidence. Presently, we arrived at the square and were just drawn to a spot at one of its entrances. Stopping there, we turn to the gospel according to St John, and I began reading, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…’ When chapter one was finished, my friend started reading. One by one, every chapter of the gospel was read aloud. I was reading it from the Jerusalem Bible with feeling and emphasis, as the Lord directed me, for now I was feeling the force of His presence in the spoken Word coming over me. Something similar was happening to my friend as he read his chapters.

People kept coming toward us, walking past, some pausing, a few stopping to listen, a few uttering ‘Praise the Lord!’ not in mockery but in honest thanks. After a short time doing this, it seemed like the Word was reading itself, we ourselves being as much an audience as the people standing around. Before we knew it, the gospel reading was finished. I raised my Bible to my lips, said, ‘the Word of God,’ and kissed it. My friend, having gotten used to my Orthodox ways, surprised me by doing likewise. Then we put our Bibles away in their pouches and headed for a restaurant we knew to have some lunch. Afterwards we walked back to the square and found our place unoccupied, and began to read the book of Revelation. The same thing happened. Most people walked past, but some stopped to listen, a few for a long while. Again, no one mocked or challenged us. They knew the words were not ours, but His.

Years have passed. Rarely do I go downtown to shop or do other business. Once in a great while, though, on a sunny day, I will take the train to the Saturday Market and, after browsing the stalls, continue walking to the Pioneer Square where with my friend I used to announce the Word of God. It still seems like a worthy endeavor, and I wish the Lord would call me to do it again sometimes, but the world has changed. At least it feels different. The winds blow colder now, spiritually speaking, and I wonder if the fields we once worked in are not only fallow but no longer fertile. Others, people who like to preach at people and warn them that their sins and faithlessness will earn them a place in the lake of fire with the devil and his angels, still are heard in a few public places, but their audience seems to have disappeared. Who would have patience to hear their own condemnation from a street zealot?

The Message, that is, the Good News of Jesus Christ, always has a place in the arena, whether it be in our daily walk amongst those who have not heard it, or once believed but now do not, or whether we go, not on a hunch or out of a feeling of obligation but by the call of Jesus, and literally preach (or read aloud) the Holy Gospel. The field is the world, and all we need do is ask the Lord to send workers out to harvest that field, even if the yield is meagre. It is never ours to judge, for we know so little, almost nothing, about who should go, when, how, and where. Only if the call comes to us, one by one or, more usually two by two, then we must go. How can we not? For the Lord who is faithful will always support us and endorse the Message, when we follow Him in simple obedience, doing what we see Him doing, saying what we hear Him saying, and loving the people as He loves us. Glory to God.

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