The fourth Sunday at the Garsonville Church was marked by the return of Deacon Smitters, who entered the building with very little ceremony, but much pomp over renewing his efforts as Chief Usher.
He immediately became distressed because there was no bulletin to hand out–just a chalk board in the narthex with these words scrawled upon it:
Welcome to Church
1. Our thought will come from Luke the 18th Chapter, Verse 31 through Luke the 19th Chapter, Verse 1
2. Take a moment to think about what you need
In an environment which was experiencing tremendous upheaval, the absence of a reassuring piece of paper to guide the congregants through the minefield of spirituality seemed cruel and unusual.
But everyone made their way into the sanctuary and sat in the first five pews, with Deacon Smitters making sure he was as far back on row five as humanly possible.
Promptly at service time, Reverend Meningsbee walked in and addressed the congregation.
“If we do not know why we gather in this building, we will very soon ask ourselves, why are we gathering? Makes sense, don’t you think?
You don’t have to look very long into the ministry of Jesus to realize that he never preached. He taught his disciples, but when he was in front of the masses, he only offered two possibilities: he was always ready with a healing touch or a great story.
More often than not, it began with a healing.
Even though I look out today and we have a few less than we did last week, what we should be focusing on is what the few of us here really need in our lives.
I just don’t think you need a retelling of the story of Jonah and the whale.
So let’s look at what happened over in Luke the 18th Chapter, verse 35, through Luke 19:1.
Jesus was on his way to Jericho when he was interrupted. He was stalled by a blind man who refused to shut up and observe how the service was supposed to progress. The man kept screaming for mercy.
Jesus asked him what he wanted and he flat-out demanded healing.
So Jesus did.
Then, from the excitement of that encounter, Jesus took his entourage, including the blind man, through Jericho, where he caught the attention of a non-spiritual, cheating, lying tax collector named Zacchaeus.
Do you folks really think Zacchaeus would ever have listened to Jesus if he had not heard the excitement of the crowd, celebrating the healing of the blind man?
Of course not.
It is why the people of Garsonville would much rather stay in their homes, eat waffles and watch television than come here. They don’t feel any excitement coming out of the building when we dismiss.
So from now on, in this church, we will begin our services by listening, praying and believing for those who have a specific need. So it’s the blessing of people that will set the direction for our service.
You can see, there are two chairs up here. Does anybody want to come up and begin the service by sitting down for prayer, to have their needs met, like the blind man, instead of waiting for comfort?”
Reverend Meningsbee took a long moment, pausing to allow someone to make the brave step.
At length he spoke.
“That’s fine. It’s new to all of us. But understand that every Sunday we will begin this way and flip the service by having our singing at the end, as praise, before our departure.”
Suddenly a hand was raised in the congregation, and a woman, Betty Landers, sheepishly stood to her feet and said, “I don’t really have a need, but I’d like to report on what happened when I left the church last Sunday and went out to be reconciled with my cousin, who I have not spoken to in eight years.”
The pastor nodded, smiling.
Betty continued. “She only lives two miles from me, but we had a fight, and we have succeeded in avoiding each other through all family gatherings and piano recitals for the children.”
The congregation chuckled.
“Well, I went to see her, just like you said, and she wouldn’t let me into the house. It was weird. I just stood at the door and spoke, hoping she was there. I apologized. I told her how crazy it was for the two of us to be angry at each other. I even told her why I had come, based on what my minister had challenged us to do.”
Suddenly, in the midst of Betty’s story, a woman appeared in the rear of the sanctuary, and interrupted.
“I apologize for disturbing your service. I feel real silly. But what Betty is saying is true. My name is Clarice. Betty really did come to my door and talk to it like a crazy woman.”
A big roar of laughter.
Clarice continued. “I’ve spent the week with my heart pricked by her actions. I woke up this morning feeling the need to come here, find her and tell her that I am equally sorry for our silly argument.”
Betty scooted past a couple of people, ran to the back of the auditorium and embraced her cousin, as they wept.
The congregation sat very still, afraid to move. After a few moments of tears, the two women turned awkwardly to the pastor and said, “Now what do we do?”
Reverend Meningsbee said, “Go out and have lunch together. We’re done here.”
The two women left, hugging each other, and Reverend Meningsbee led the congregation in an a cappella version of “We Are One in the Spirit.”
The service was over.
The attendance was dropping.
But the spirits were soaring.