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Monday, July 15, 2013

Pastorgraphs: “A Bum Breaks Up Church”

E-Vangel Newsletter
July 15, 2013

Pastorgraphs: “A Bum Breaks Up Church”

[Excerpts from my book “The Kudzu That Ate Yazoo City”, 2004, Xulon Press]

Many of my childhood experiences revolved around church and music. Not only did my parents want us to get a good education, they wanted us to get a good sense of values. Don’t get me wrong, no one is claiming moral perfection here. I’ve made enough mistakes for three lifetimes; but at least I know they were mistakes.

My parents did not subscribe to the notion of allowing us to grow up and choose which, if any, religion we wanted to select, any more than allowing us to grow up before deciding if we wanted to take baths, brush our teeth, go to school, do our chores and finish our homework. Today, I realize that having a firm faith foundation is about as important as anything a child can get. Too bad some modern parents don’t see it that way. If parents are fearful of damaging their children by giving them religion, just think how damaged they will be for not having it. So church attendance, thank God, was not an option.

In order to join the Assured Brethren Church, you first had to pass a physical just to persevere through the schedule. Sunday school and morning worship was followed by training and evening worship. It was not unusual for us to be in church six hours or more each Sunday. I never understood why I was so tired after the Sabbath day of rest. Then there were midweek prayer meetings, church outreach, choir practice, mission groups, and weekday boys and girls clubs. Bobby David Roberts, my best buddy who also attended Assured Brethren, once said, “Sunday school starts at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, and gets out about…Tuesday.”

Assured Brethren Church was located near the railroad tracks in Yazoo City. Occasionally, we would have a hobo pass by along the railroad tracks, visible through the open church windows. There was no air conditioning back then. Watching the hobos provided momentary distraction from Rev. Goodbody’s sermon. Once, we even had a hobo wait outside the church until services were over. He asked for food. Food was never scarce at church, and the ladies located some cold biscuits and jelly left over from the men’s breakfast that day. The hobo gulped them down with a mayonnaise jar of water before setting off again on his rambling journey. As long as the hobos kept their distance, and didn’t disturb worship, we kept a peaceful coexistence with them.

On one particularly bright Sunday, we arrived at church for our weekly infusion of Bible study, singing, sermonizing, and fellowship. About halfway through the sermon, we heard the church door open. At first, I thought it was my dog Topey, the righteous wonder dog, coming in from making a necessary stop at the fire hydrant outside the church. Then, I heard whispered voices. Boy, someone was going to get a whipping when they got home, because one thing you never did is talk during the sermon. I turned to see who had experienced this lapse in moral turpitude. My eyes became as big as saucers. It was a hobo, a bum, who had the audacity to come into our church.

Aunt Minnie began fanning herself faster and faster with her Stricklin-King Funeral Home fan as the bum worked his way up the aisle, stopping to ask a question to the startled worshipers who had the misfortune of being seated next to the aisle. “Wilburn! Do something, quickly! Wilburn!” she said. Rev. Goodbody tried to continue the sermon, but realized he had lost the attention of everyone to the stranger. The ushers composed themselves in time to grab the hobo and began escorting him out of God’s house.

“The nerve of some people!” one particular Assured member said out loud.

“Wait a minute,” Rev. Goodbody said to the ushers. “Bring that man down here.”

The ushers turned and walked the bum to the front of the church, right in front of the pulpit. His clothes were relatively clean but very shabby. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in two weeks. “Sir, in all my years in the ministry, I have never seen such a display of rudeness,” the pastor said. “Don’t you know I can call the Yazoo County sheriff and have you thrown in jail for disturbing a service of public worship?”

“I don’t mean no harm,” the hobo said apologetically, holding his tattered hat in his hands. “It’s just that…” Rev. Goodbody interrupted, “Yes, we know, you just wanted some food, but you couldn’t wait outside until we were finished. You had to come in here and ruin our service.”

“No sir, that ain’t why I come in here. I ‘et a good break­fast of bacon and coffee this mornin’,” the hobo said, managing a small smile for the good fortune of a meal.

Rev. Goodbody quickly responded, “Oh, so you want money. I should have guessed. We just took up the offering, and you thought you were going to get a share of it?”

“No sir, that ain’t it neither. You see, I hain’t been feel­ing too good lately. I run into a doctor man who looked me over and told me I have somethin’ pretty bad. He said I don’t got much time left. I saw yore church sign, and read where it said, ‘Looking for the Lord? Inquire within.’ So, I just thought I needed to find the Lord, and that’s what I been asking your good members. Can anyone tell me where to find the Lord?”

Silence, followed by more deafening silence. Then tears, hot burning tears running down the faces of everyone present. Then there came the shame for our quick judgment of the man.

Rev. Goodbody broke the silence. “Sir, I am sorry for misjudging you. I think I can tell you where to find the Lord.” He stepped down from the pulpit; put his arm around the poor man, and the two men talked in soft tones. I couldn’t understand what they said, but Aunt Minnie began singing, and others joined in.

“Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.
Calling for you and for me.
See on the portals, he’s waiting and watching.
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, Come home.
You, who are weary, come home.
Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling.
Calling for you and for me.”
(Softly and Tenderly, by Will L. Thompson)

After Rev. Goodbody and the hobo prayed quietly together, the Reverend said, “I think God sent a different sermon this morning than the one I prepared.”

Over the years, I have often recalled the day the bum broke up church. It needed breaking up, and so did our stony, Assured hearts. Sometimes, I wish he would show up at my church, and remind me and the whole congregation that pointing people to the Lord is much more important than making it through the service without interruption.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)

(Epilog: This really happened and was the best “Sunday school lesson” I ever received. It changed the way I think worship, ministry and service should be connected, not isolated from each other. It is a timeless message, and applies even more in the United States in 2013. So let’s all get out there and give a cup of cold water to a neighbor in need today. That hobo might just be the Lord in disguise!)

Bless you, all, Bill Jenkins

From the Quote Garden:
“The greatest man in history was the poorest.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

[Image credit: Fotolia, royalty paid]

Christ United Methodist Ministry Center
“Christ in the Heart of San Diego”
3295 Meade Avenue - San Diego, CA 92116 - (619) 284-9205

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