So I decided to take a walk, and explore the town I'm living in. It was a nice, if a bit overcast, day. Well, ten minutes and a couple of wrong turns later I ended up in a shady part of town. Buildings had boarded up or broken windows, the few spots of ground that weren't covered with pavement were covered with overgrown and unkept grass, buildings were decorated with grafitti, litter was scattered around. I quickly began to wonder how I got there, and better yet how I could get back out. As I slowly and cautiously walked down the pavement I heard: "Mark!"
I glanced around, not seeing anyone I knew. In fact the only person I saw was a man, obviously homeless, sprawled out on a bench and snoring. That's odd,
I thought as I started to quicken my pace.
"Mark!" I heard the voice again and this time I knew it came from the direction of the homeless man. I turned and looked at him again. His eyes were closed, his mouth gaping open. It obviously wasn't him that was shouting my name. So more than a little freaked out I started to turn to quickly run away when I heard it again. "Mark!" My mouth dropped in unbelief because this time I could have sworn it came from not the homeless man, but the little blue newspaper vending machine a couple feet to his right. I took a step closer and peered at it. It was a sad, neglected machine. It's blue paint was peeling off in large chunks revealing the grey metal underneath. The window that was supposed to reveal the newspapers inside was yellowed and cracked. There was a huge dent in one side. Did I seriously hear it call my name? "Come closer," It was evident, now, that the vending machine was in fact speaking to me.
"Come closer Mark, for I am the LORD your God!" Now I've heard some preposterous things in my life, but I think a newspaper vending machine claiming to be God is clearly at the top of the list. If I hadn't been so freaked out at the time, I may have even laughed.
"Excuse me?" I sputtered. "YOU are God? Is this some kind of joke? Is this Candid Camera or one of those shows."
"No, those shows are clearly a distinct product of sin in the world. I am God! As I revealed myself to my servant Moses so I have chosen to reveal myself to you."
Now I knew something was up. "God revealed Godself to Moses in a burning bush. You are a dilapidated old newspaper machine in a shady part of town."
"I revealed myself to Moses in a burning bush because he wouldn't listen to all of my other attempts. Plus, the whole burning bush thing is kind of cliche. I reveal myself to people everyday using all sorts of methods, it's just most people don't realize or recognize... Oh, and that part about the shady part of town reminds me... Remove your shoes for you are standing on holy ground." I looked down at my shoes and then gave a nervous glance over to the homeless man who had woken up and was rubbing his eyes. "Don't worry about him," the Voice said. "That's just my child Randall."
"Are you sure?" I whispered. "What if I take off my shoes and he tries to steal them... Did you notice he's not wearing any?" I moved closer to the newspaper machine and hoped that Randall couldn't hear me.
"Randall is a good man," the Voice said. "He's had some hard times, and made some poor choices, but his heart is full of love and compassion. He won't steal your shoes."
"I still don't know... Regardless of whether he'll steal my shoes or not, I don't know that I want to listen to a newspaper machine. And even if I wanted to listen to a newspaper machine, my Mom has always told me not to go outside without my shoes on. It's bad for my socks."
"Wow..." the Voice said. "I wasn't sure if it was possible, but you are proving to be denser than Moses."
"Hey!" I yelped. "I've read the story of Moses, I've taken the Hebrew Bible classes in seminary. That wasn't very nice!"
"Even so, it didn't take him long to realize that the burning bush was indeed the God of Abraham and Jacob."
"But if you think about it, the neat thing about the bush was that it was burning and not consumed. You're just a crappy old newspaper machine. What's so awe-inspiring about that?"
"Perhaps that it is being used as a vessel for God?" the Voice asked.
"Although that sounds impressive and awe inspiring, really you could just be a speaker and your voice could belong to someone in a nearby building speaking into a microphone. So maybe I'm NOT as dense as Moses... So there!"
Suddenly there was a break in the clouds and one single beam of sunlight rested on the newspaper machine. It seemed to glow and I swear I heard an angel chorus, if somewhat faintly, singing "Aaaaaaaaaah!" just like in the movies.
"Okay, I'll admit that was pretty good. And hard to do, unless you are in fact The Almighty." I said, beginning to believe that this could actually be God. "You promise that if I take my shoes off that he won't steal them?" I said looking over at Randall, who at this point hocked a major loogie and spit it onto the pavement.
"You have my word," the Voice said. "Oh, that was funny..." the Voice chuckled. "You have my word with a lowercase double-u, but I've also given you my Word uppercase double-u! I made a joke!"
I laughed, but mainly just to be polite. "Okay, I'll take off my shoes..." I bent over and slowly began to untie them, even still glancing warily at Randall. I fumbled with the laces, at this point feeling kind of awkward in the presence of the Divine. Normally I try to get prepared for encounters with God, like when I get dressed up for church. Here God had caught me in my unawares and I was wearing an old pair of running shoes, a pair of cargo shorts, and a t-shirt that was stained from a youth event when I let kids hit me with whipped cream pies... Not exactly the outfit I would have chosen.
So there I stood on the cracked and dirty pavement, against my mother's best advice, in my sock feet. I held my shoes in my hand and looked at the vending machine.
"Now what?" I asked. "When you spoke to Moses in the burning bush, you gave him some big important mission. Am I going to do something big and heroic and be remembered through the ages? Am I going to get to free an enslaved people?" Now I was kind of getting excited. I thought that this would be the time that I finally got the fame and recognition that I knew I deserved. God had chosen ME!
"Moses lived in a much different time and place," God said. "His people - MY people - were held in oppressive captivity by the Egyptians. I chose Moses to be my mouthpiece to Pharaoh, to proclaim that my will for the Hebrew children was to be released and allowed to go to the land that I promised their ancestors. People aren't really in that kind of slavery anymore, Mark. At least not in this country. So there's no need for you to go and liberate a nation from bondage to physical slavery."
I visibly deflated. "So what the hell are you talking to me for?"
"Don't get me started on humanity's concept of hell," God said. "That's a topic for a whole 'nother discussion. Talk about misinterpretation... Anyway, I'm getting off subject... People are still enslaved, Mark, but this time it is to sin. Just like the Egyptians overpowered the Hebrews and it was beyond their power to free themselves, people today are overpowered by sin and it is not within them to free themselves. And just like I performed signs and wonders-"
"Like the frogs, right?!?!" I interrupted. I like the plague of frogs. I think it's my favorite.
"Yes, Mark, like the frogs." When God said that, God used a tone much like my first grade teacher used to use with me. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but I let it go. It was God after all. "And just like I performed signs and wonders to liberate the Hebrews from slavery, so I performed the most wonderful miracle to free people from the bonds of sin."
"JESUS!" I yelled, just as any good Sunday School student would have.
"That is correct!" God replied.
"So... I still don't understand what I have to do with this."
"Just as Moses was my mouthpiece to announce liberation to the Hebrews, so you will be a mouthpiece to announce to all of humanity that they have been liberated from the bonds of sin and death." God answered.
"Cool, I'm the mouthpiece of God." I stood a little straighter when I said that and started to do a little strut.
"Hold up," at this I stopped my strutting and turned to the vending machine. "I didn't say THE mouthpiece... I said A mouthpiece. Truthfully it is every Christians calling to proclaim this Good News."
"Oh..." my shoulders sagged. "So I'm not special?"
"I'm not saying that, either, Mark. You are, indeed, special. But it is not your calling alone to spread the Good News. I have called every Christian to share this Gospel. There are many other things that make you special... believe me. So go, therefore, into all the world and proclaim this Good News, Mark."
"If we're comparing this to Moses, isn't this where I protest and say I'm not capable, and you should send someone else?"
"Remember what I said about being dense?"
"Just asking, now go, therefore."
"Yes sir... I mean ma'am... I mean, um...."
"Just God, is fine."
And so I walked away from that encounter with the Divine. Back down the cracked and dirty sidewalk, past the broken and boarded windows, and back into a neighborhood I recognized, in my sock feet. Randall, on the other hand, was strutting up and down the street in his new pair of slightly worn running shoes.