My good friend, Will, invited me to take a road trip with him to Oil City, PA yesterday. Will is a newly minted pastor with the Salvation Army. He invited me to come see where he worked and to help him teach a mixed martial arts class to the youth group. This was the first time Will taught the class and he thought that it would be good to have a trained assistant.
Oil City got it's name for being at the epicenter of U.S. Oil Boom. The first oil well was dug in nearby Titusville. Oil City quickly established itself around the hastily tapped wells just miles away.
Prosperity ended when the steel industry left Pittsburgh and Big Oil turned its attention overseas. Oil City is a shell of itself. Will drove me through blocks of blighted neighbors and abandoned businesses. Everyone who could leave Oil City has already left. Will and his team works with those left behind in this used husk of a town.
Evening came and it was time to run the martial arts class. I noticed one disinterested teen sitting on the wall, hacking away a text message. This youth stood out to me all night. He was heavy set, very intelligent, and very sarcastic. He seemed to come to the Salvation Army for the sole purpose of holding court and condemning everything and everyone in eye sight.
I invited him to join us. He assured me that he already knew how to fight and that Will had nothing to offer him.
I asked him if he knew that Will was a former cage fighter with a 10-0 record. Did he know that when the UFC began their expansion, Will's school was one of only six schools certified to teach UFC-style mixed martial arts?
The youth turned and sized Will up one more time. He turned to me and asked "So why he is here?"
This kid wasn't stupid. He knew that the biggest and the brightest had already fled Oil City. There was no good reason that someone with Will's pedigree would come to this poverty-stricken city and invest in teens. No reason. The only intelligent conclusion was that I was a liar.
I think Zechariah had a similar thought process going on when the archangel visited him (Luke 1). Zechariah was a priest who served among the rural poor. He was chosen by lot to go to Jerusalem to go into the temple and to pray for Israel's Salvation. He prays and Gabriel appears. The angel told him that his prayers have been answered.
The priest looked at his people and their political oppression. He remembered the poverty of his dirt-village. He remembered that God didn't give he and his wife a baby. They would die childless.
Zechariah looked at his circumstances, and then sized up the angel. And he thought, "So why is he here?"
I look back at my own life and all my cynical responses toward God. I'm like that angry kid in the gym, with arms crossed, challenging Jesus for daring to disrupt my view of the world.