Friday, May 27, 2016

The Right Word at the Right Time

It was the autumn of my seventh year of school, my first experience of the wider world of middle school with its changing classrooms and multiple teachers.  It was a time of blessed transition from the strictures of grade school.  The world was a place of broadened opportunities.

I was lying on the living room floor watching our 19” black and white Zenith TV.  A Pepsi commercial came on, and the voice sang “You’ve got a lot to live, and Pepsi’s got a lot to give…because Pepsi helps them come alive.”  I heard that ditty many times, but for the first time I knew what they were singing about; I understood. In that moment a door opened for me.  The world had become a place of endless opportunities. You see, I was in love—as much in love as a 7th grade boy can be. Her name was Theresa, and she had long hair and was on the cheerleading squad.

My infatuation faded as I realized Theresa was just leading me on for her own gratification. After a month, I found a new girlfriend; Shannon was her name.  She was truer of heart.  But it was not the same, Shannon was not my first love.

In my infatuation I was ready to embrace a new piece of the person I was becoming. The Pepsi commercial spoke to a new capacity in me.  It was the right message at the right time.

Seven years later I was a freshman in college, and life was opening up around me again.  I had left behind the provincialism and tedium of High School.  My professors were opening up to me new vistas of knowledge and giving to me the freedom to think my own thoughts.  I found I was a standout accounting student and already could see a comfortable career as a CPA, a job where I could make a good living and not get dirty or risk debilitating injury.  I could see myself to having everything I could ever want, yet I sensed there had to be more to life. 

I was not attending church anymore.  I come to believe in a God who only instilled guilt and fear, both of which were designed to make us behave.  It seemed to me that all this talk of God’s love for us only served as a pretext for God’s judgment of us when we rejected that love.  Nonetheless, I did believe in God and thought that God had created me.  So I began to read the Bible, thinking I might find something there to make sense of life.

My parents were away on fishing trip, and I was alone in the house; it was a Tuesday night.  I read the story of Nicodemus in my red-letter edition King James Bible that I had received in the fourth grade for memorizing the books of the Bible in order.  The story recorded there stunned me.  The beauty of the Gospel washed over me.  For the first time I got it.  The words in red took on transforming power. I handed myself over to the grace of God without reservation.

I had heard countless sermons, attended endless Vacation Bible Schools, and sat through years of Sunday School.  Yet I had never really gotten the message.  In that brief exchange between Jesus and a Pharisee, it all broke open to me.  It was like waking up from a coma to a sunlit room on a fresh morning.

I was ready in that moment to embrace a new piece of the person I was becoming. That story spoke to a newly-birthed capacity in me.  It was the right message at the right time.

God is always birthing new things in our lives, pushing us to grow, to risk, to rely.  I think this should make us patient, patient with ourselves and with those around us.  We all are on the way to becoming someone we have not yet been.  And, yes, we each are at different places on that journey.  The important thing is to walk through the next door when it opens.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minster-American Baptist Churches of New York State