Tuesday, May 23, 2017

His name was John

A true sad story of many years ago was to mark my time at a suburban church.


It was a clear Sunday morning.  Sitting near the rear of the church I observed a man walk in.  His arrival was about ten minutes ahead of the sermon.  The man was dressed in a dishevelled way. He had layered clothing suitable to the cool-weathered season.  Arguably, he was wearing too many clothes for daytime yet maybe he needed those clothes to get through the night.  The outer layer of clothing was dirty.  While I was not located immediate to him, I expected that his body shed quite an odour.  The appearance of such a man was uncommon in my suburb, so I assumed that he was passing through.

Odd to the man’s transitory state was that he was not carrying anything.  He sat awkwardly: he squirmed in his seat.  Behind him, the two male ushers stood cautiously with an eye to the man.  The two ushers seemed prepared to remove the man if necessary.

The Rector commenced the day’s sermon.  Minutes after the sermon started, the dishevelled man rose from his seat and proceeded out of the church.  The ushers happily opened the internal doors for his exit.  I sprung to my feet and followed the man.  I begged the man to stop at a point before he departed the building.  “Can I help you?; May I assist you”, I said.  It was then that I noted that the ushers had followed me - we were a huddle of four. 

The man responded in a manner that was incomprehensible.  He let out mutters that were impossible to understand.  I changed tact thinking it best to pray.

“What is your name?”, I asked.

Further incomprehensible mutters followed.  Within the mutters I detected “John”.

“John”, I said, “May I pray for you?”

And then he was clear – not through words, but through body language – yes, I could pray for him.  I requested the two ushers and John to bow their heads.  I offered a prayer for John’s safety and for his peace.  While I had my eyes closed, I had the distinct impression that the two ushers had one loose eye each upon John.

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers,
 for by so doing some people have shown
 hospitality to angels without knowing it."
Hebrews 13:2 NIV

After the prayer John seemed more relaxed.  His speech slowed and while it remained incomprehensible, John seemed appreciative that someone cared.  He departed in peace.

The two ushers and I watched as John exited the building.  I then turned to re-enter the church.  The sound of the sermon faintly could be heard through the inner doors of the church.  One of the ushers was wide-eyed and seemed eager to communicate: 

He said: “Do you think it right that you leave the church during the Rector’s sermon?”.

By the look on the other ushers face the statement was being made by both of them.

I was flabbergasted! 

Could it be fairly said that I made my leave from the sermon? 
Was my departure specific, or incidental, to the timing of the sermon? 
Would it not be fairer to say that I attended to the work of Christ?

Thinking quickly – and in some (righteous?) anger – I let fire my response: “You don’t understand what I have just done.  Has it been worth your time listening to any sermon?”.

It was Law against Spirit.  And the moment was sealed.  Until now.


Note: Go in peace.

Note: I've been reflecting on this event while preparing a sermon on 2 Kings 7.  The connection between this event and the 2 Kings 7 text is that faith requires action.

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