A young Hawaiian man happened to cross my path about 36 years ago (yes, my memory goes back that far.) Wes was handsome with a contagious smile and an outgoing personality, which served him well since his "employment" at that time was dealing drugs.
At street level, drug dealing isn't always the sordid, back-alley affair we picture in our mind. Often it's the charming kid with the happy grin who seems to make friends naturally everywhere he goes, and who always has the "goods" ready in his little backpack whenever there's a party. The enemy of our souls knows how to market his wares, and often it's by putting an attractive and non-threatening face on the product.
The era of the Hippies and Flower Children was drawing to a close, and this young man had come to California in search of meaning for his life. Instead, he found only confused people living the same shallow, superficial lives he had left behind in Honolulu. "People are the same," he told us. "You can't run from yourself. You can only get heavier and heavier into your own ego trip."
That all changed the day he wandered into a Southern California house filled with what he called "fanatics", or as we called ourselves back then, Jesus People. Their open acceptance of him was disarming, and the truth these young Christians shared was irresistible. "People were sitting all over the floor, everywhere," Wes would later recall. "It was beautiful how they all had such beaming faces. By the end of the evening I was so full of the love that was pouring out of these people, that I couldn't resist so great an offer."
Wes was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in the roaring surf of the Pacific Ocean with other brothers and sisters. Sharing Jesus soon became "like breathing. Every time I open my mouth," he told us, "I'm praising the Lord." He said he had stopped selling drugs, "because I found something better that's free."
Wes had never been ashamed of the "goods" in his little backpack, or hesitant to turn his young friends on to a new experience at a party. Better living through chemistry was his philosophy, and he shared it. But in that rambling old house in California, he met people who were also not ashamed of what they had to share -- love, and Jesus. They knew that potent combination was more powerful than drugs, and they offered it for free.
In today's gospel reading from Mark, chapter 8, Jesus told us not to be ashamed of Him and His words, so that He won't have to be ashamed of us when He returns to gather all who have been faithful to Him.
St. Paul told the Romans he was eager to tell them of the gospel and was not ashamed of it, because it was "the power of God unto salvation for all who believe it." If we are faithful to that gospel, Paul wrote in Hebrews, God will not be ashamed to be called our God.
St. Peter wrote that if anyone suffers for the sake of the gospel, they should not feel ashamed, but loudly shout praises to God in Jesus' name.
Why, then, are we sometimes embarrassed to share the good news of Jesus with non-Christian friends? We have no reason to be ashamed of Him or hesitant to follow Him or share His truth with others. But is it His truth we're embarrassed by?
We live in a time when many Christians have nailed a long list of cultural attitudes, political allegiances, and many other supposedly God-sponsored ideas, programs and bumper stickers to the cross of Jesus. Is it Jesus and the simple truth of the gospel or the bumper stickers of which we're ashamed?
I have good news for you. If you share the real Jesus with a friend, the Jesus who promised that His yoke is easy and His burden light, it's not your responsibility to defend others' bumper stickers.
The gospel hasn't changed in 2,000 years -- we as Orthodox Christians especially should know that -- and it is our birthright as His disciples to share the simple good news as we find it in the Bible, without fear and without 21st century attachments.
Spend a morning at the park; get away from the television, radio, books and bumper stickers, and let Jesus speak to your heart from the Scripture.
Take along your Bible and a good devotional book, if you need help selecting a devotional book, ask your pastor or spiritual advisor for a suggestion.
Read the teachings of Jesus from His own mouth in the first century, feel the rhythm of His words.
Hear the message He sent to John the Baptist: "The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the deaf hear, and the poor and wretched of the earth hear the gospel and learn God is on their side."
Learn again that simple formula a houseful of believers used to introduce a young drug dealer from Hawaii to life, real life -- love, and Jesus.
It's still the most potent combination, and you'll never have to be ashamed.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
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