Back when I was in college, Vicky Fought, my English teacher passed out a story that she had found in a magazine. I lost my copy of that story, but I’ve never forgotten the gist of it. One of the goals of my ministry has been to remember the lesson of this story. I want to put some present day flesh and skin on those fifty year old bones and share that story with you today:
Behold a preacher ascended to his pulpit and looked out on his congregation. Two-hundred eyes looked up at him, and in the eyes of the100 could be seen the eyes of the world.
The preacher sipped his honey and tea, and his voice was smooth as his words emerged from between his brilliant white smile.
Let us Pray.
Amen, said the 100, but there was no joy in their “Amen.”
The preacher, drawing inspiration from his tea, said,
Lord, we thank you for our health our ability to walk, and dance, and enjoy the wonders of creation, eyes that see and ears that hear. . .
The preacher was so enamored with his eloquence that he didn’t notice as a blind man felt his way down the aisle, and a woman, hard of hearing, went out into a world of silence. Crutches clicked and wheel chairs quietly rolled. Those who ate their food painfully, and others who nightly fought their beds to win a few moments of sleep, together with a man who just that day had read the bad news from an MRI, stepped out into the darkness--eight in all.
Taking a sip of tea, the preacher went on with renewed sweetness in his voice,
Lord, thank You for family and friends, those who love us, bring joy to our lives, and on whom we count as the years pass . . .
Residents of foul-smelling nursing homes far from families long-forgotten, the abused, the battered, the put-down, the abandoned, the lonely man who eats in isolation at the corner restaurant, and the old woman who lives behind closed shades, one by one, never making eye contact with one another, each going his own way, a dozen in all left the little group.
But the preacher, impressed with the power of his prayer and warmed by his cup, gave no heed and plunged on . . .
Lord, we may not be as wealthy as Trump or Gates, but we thank you for the material blessing that you have poured out on us—houses and cars, clothing and food, things that make our lives enjoyable.
With holes in their shoes--or none at all--clutching their rags against the cold wind, stomachs bloated by hunger, and minds warped by need, 20 more stepped into a world where they had no home and no prospects. Some in groups and others all alone, as they had for millions of nights, they shivered in the darkness, and both hoped for and dreaded the coming day.
But the preacher enraptured by the music of his voice continued . . .
We are grateful for virtuous lives, lives that point the way for others to follow, not like the masses out there . . .
Those that struggled with addictions of demonic proportions, a boy who sought out dark corners in his world so he could view that which was darker still and hated himself for it, a woman who secretly hated her father who came nightly to her room, those who struggled with thievery, prostitution, laziness, covetousness, lying and adultery, a quarter of a hundred in all, seemed to vanish through the cracks in the floor, and they were no more a part of that assembly.
Not because the people were leaving, for in his self-induced bliss, the preacher was unaware, but from sheer enjoyment of his own fluency, the preacher sped on . . .
How grateful we are, God, for the justice we receive—the fairness and equity of our world. We live and work and enjoy the fruit of our labor . . .
But before the words were out, the downsized, and the outsourced, the disenfranchised, and the persecuted, the ghetto kid stuck with a public defender who advised pleading guilty to a crime he didn’t commit, the children whose parents drank up their welfare checks, the Christian from Iran, and the Jew from Iraq, quietly--they had learned to be silent--stepped out into the world awaiting the next blow fate will deal them.
Lord, You are the God of beauty, and we thank you for the loveliness you have bestowed on us, pleasant faces and forms agreeable to behold . . .
Hoping no one would notice, the cross-eyed, the bald, and gap-toothed, together with the fat girl who endures daily bullying, and the skinny guy who avoided the rest room at school, the misshapen both real and imagined, clinging to the shadows, hoping no one would see, melted into the darkness and its momentary relief.
The preacher looked out as he his prayer oozed toward its finish and saw that the room was empty—no eyes looked back, no heads were bowed.
He rushed to the door and flinging it open he surveyed the darkness. He hurled his empty teacup into the night and cried in a voice no longer smoothed with honey,
Where have they gone Lord, Where are the 100?
And the voice of the Lord replied,
Because you have spoken of things that I did not promise, they have forsaken you.
When did I promise that in this world my children would be comfortable and well treated with kindness? When did I say that the way I asked my children to walk would be an easy road? Look at how they treated my Son.
And the preacher cried out,
Then, O Lord, what will you give us?
And the voice replied,
I will give you myself, and that is enough.
And the preacher called out into the darkness with a voice that was cracked and raw,
Oh, people, forgive me. I have promised you that which the Lord did not. He has given us Himself, and if we have nothing more that is enough.
Slowly, eyes appeared from the darkness, as they passed the preacher they gave a light of their own—the flicker of hope.
Behold, the preacher ascended to his pulpit and looked out on his congregation. Two-hundred eyes looked up at him, and in the eyes of the 100 could be seen the eyes of the world.
And in a voice plain and simple he said,
Let us pray.
And with joy the 100 said,