One of the continuing debates among theologians and New Testament scholars has to do with the essence of the Gospel, the good news, that Paul preaches and writes about. Some speak of a gospel of Paul apart from Jesus. One wonders if they have spent any time with our reading from Galatians.
Paul says that this is his Gospel, not something he repackaged, but imparted by his experiences of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. We do not know the nature of the teaching, whether or not Jesus appeared again in bodily form, or revealed it through living in the Grace of God with a healthy prayer life including meditation.
He goes to great lengths to deny any contact with the Apostles or anyone else who had heard the Messiah preach and teach. All this, it seems to me is a bit esoteric until we realize that Paul’s experience might not be very different from our own ‘religious’ experience.
I have often referenced a talk by the Rev. Frank Ward, retired Rector of St. Alban’s, Washington, D.C. who spoke at length about the various kinds of ‘good news’ that is out there. There is of course the literary good news—that that has come down to us from the recorded words of Jesus; there is the imperialistic good news which says you must believe and experience like I do; and finally, like Paul there is the gospel of personal experience.
Fr. Ward went on to say that the personal gospel is the most powerful, when we speak about our experience of Jesus Christ in his Church. That’s what Paul did, taking the form of his understanding of the Grace of God, sufficient to save us and the believers core sense of hope and joy in their relation with God.
Each of our personal God stories in whole or in part are what we should share. They are our gospel. Perhaps it is the sense of love we feel at a Cursillo retreat—boundless and accepting of the true who we are. Perhaps, in the midst of trauma or painful experience, it is a wave of feeling that everything will turn out as it should.
These are the things we should think about from time to time in our own lives and be willing to share with others.
This close to our Memorial Day observance I am reminded of the message I received in a rice paddy in Vietnam in the midst of my armored personnel carriers and my platoon of American soldiers. My wife at the time not Marianne was pregnant, and I had seen some combat action and people grievously wounded.
And I prayed about my hopes, fears and concerns. And I received a message—that I would be all right; I might be wounded but not maimed and that God had something important for me to do.
Now you are probably thinking that the important something was becoming a priest and pastor and there may be some truth in that. But I also think of the wonderful children I have fathered and the pretty miraculous experiences of the births of Ann and Veronica.
Ann was borne Labor Day 1978 because Marianne’s OB-Gyn had the duty at the Army Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany. It was a hard and protracted labor and as Ann was born, I saw her cord was wrapped around her neck but she soon pinked right up. Several months later the wife of a fellow officer lost her baby to a cord wrap days before she was to deliver. Ann was our first miracle baby. And I have carried that experience with me as part of my gospel.
When Marianne went into labor with Veronica—a true native New Yorker in every respect, we were living outside of Watertown at Ft. Drum. I was hundreds of miles away at Ft. Eustis, VA, on the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay for a training conference.
I was able to catch a flight to DC and from there to Syracuse. It happened by coincidence that our airfield commander had flown to the military side of the airport. There was an extra seat and we flew to Watertown.
By coincidence my boss was there to meet the plane and took me to the hospital. I expected to find Marianne exhausted and the new Margrave in the nursery.
Nope. Mama’s labor had stopped the minute they made her lie down in bed but once I got there things started to move. After a while the doctor came by and we were talking in the hall when the labor nurse called out that Veronica’s head had crowned.
We rushed into scrubs and entered the delivery room. Veronica soon came fully into the world and that like any live birth is a miracle in and of its self. But the real miracle when I saw a knot in her umbilical cord. I pointed it out to the doctor who said ‘no’ it was just a kink and he began ‘milking’ the cord. Imagine the look on his face when the cord knotted. Veronica had been living with a slip knot in her cord. The implications were right there to be seen and the doctor’s face showed it.
I carry around many such experiences in part of my personal gospel. I am sure many of you have similar experiences if you stop and think about it.
Imagine the personal gospel of the widow of Nain and her son or the widow of Zarephath and her son. Whatever happened exactly in those two events the results were quite clear. God made a special God moment for those people.
The God moments are what bring people into closer connection with Jesus and with a community of people who treasure their own God moments, their personal gospel and are willing to share them so that others might also come to a closer relations