Tuesday, May 10, 2005

May 8 Sermon -- A Letter from Home

Luke 11:33-36

Well, I thought I’d do something a little different and share with you a letter from my family in Jericho Springs, MO. You might enjoy hearing about some of the happenings at the Jericho Springs Progressive Church of the Ozarks. I don’t think I’ve ever told you about them before. My Great Aunt Georgia is a long-time member there. In fact, my family has been attending there for generations. Anyway, it’s a place like most other home churches–muddling through the same old issues and made up of the same old wonderful people, with a few colorful characters and one or two certifiable nut cases thrown in–my family excluded, of course. Anyway, here’s the letter.

Dear Matt,
Hello to you and Christy, Zoe And Elias. Well, we just got back from a quick trip to Branson. Your second cousin Elton bought me tickets for an early mother’s day gift. I went with Miss Adelaide to see the legends of accordion at the Lawrence Welk resort. I’m not much of a fan, but that Jo Ann Castle can make an enthusiast out of anyone. I’ve never heard “Flight of The Bumblebee” played on an accordion like that before. This year’s mother’s day gift is much better than last years’s. Last year your cousin Elton got me a toilet cleaning brush, a new screen door, and a gift certificate to Weight Watchers. I wasn’t impressed, and I think Elton got the hint when I cracked him over the head with that toilet brush a few times. And don’t you laugh, either. Your mother told me about the time you gave her that set of football team glasses that you got for free at the gas station with a fill-up. Some say beggars can’t be choosers, but I say a lame mother’s day gift is as useless as dried spit.

There’ve been some strange events at my church, The Jerico Springs Progressive Church of the Ozarks. It all started about a month ago. Our minister, Pastor Sanford, has always been a Bible-preaching man of faith. He also has bad taste in clothes. He will wear the same rumpled suit for weeks on end, complete with a tie that looks like a trout. He says he wears it to remember that Jesus wants him to be a fisher of men. I’ve dropped some money to him, anonymously, and suggested he buy himself a few respectable ties, but he usually just gives the money away to the poor, and keeps knotting that trout tie around his neck.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, as church was about to begin, Bea Jimson was thumping away at the organ and we waited for Pastor Sanford to enter. Ten minutes later, pastor was still not out, and I was beginning to get edgy. All of the sudden Bea stops playing, jumps to her feet and says in her best carnival voice, “Ladies and Gentlemen, straight from the Arkansas border I present to you, Brother Elijah Hope.” I’m thinking, “I didn’t know we had a guest preacher today. I sure hope he doesn’t bring snakes like that last idiot we threw out of here.” We aren’t THAT progressive. Little did I know that I was about to see something much worse. As soon as Bea sat back down at the organ, out comes Pastor Sanford in a rented white tuxedo, complete with gold buttons and white tie. His graying hair was all slickered back on the sides, and tufted up to an oily pompadour on the top. Adelaide thinks he was the living image of what Elvis might have looked like if he was still alive. I think he looked like Col. Sanders.

I didn’t think it could get much worse, until he started to speak. “Brothers and Sisters,” he growled, “The Lord has been-a-speaking to me. He said to me, Brother Sanford, I’m about to change your name. From now on, you will be called Elijah Hope. You will be my anointed prophet and a mighty healer. Go back to your church, and let the healing flow from you like a river of hope.” We all just sat there, wondering if this was his mid-life crisis. I looked over to see what Sister Eliza Sanford, the pastor’s wife, was doing. I half expected to see her dotting her teary, mascara-smudged eyes with a satin hankie. Instead, she just sat frozen in the front row, her jaw set sternly in place and her eyes, from what I could see, popping out a like rockets at her lifemate.

Well, Pastor Sanford, AKA Elijah Hope, AKA Col. Sanders Supercharged, started strutting around the stage, talking about how God had anointed him to preach and heal, and how he needed 400 acres of land to build a new faith healing center in Jerico. He kept eyeballing me when he talked about land. He knows I have 400 acres of good grazing land – I guess he thought maybe the Spirit would move me to donate. I just sat there with my arms crossed like two big ham hocks, and gave him a mean squint every time he looked my way.

I didn’t think it could get much worse, until the faith healings began. About this time, the only one who was enjoying Elijah Hope’s antics was Bea Jimson. I don’t think Bea believed it so much as she was thinking how much fun she was going to have telling her 4 sisters about the pastor’s mental breakdown. Anyway, Elijah Hope got down on his white polyester-covered knees, squinched his eyes tightly, and said, “God wants to do a healing. God wants to fix you up. He’s speaking to me right now, and he’s telling me that there’s someone here with a short leg, and God wants to grow it right back.” Then he jumped to his feet and started scanning the crowd. “Who is it?” He shouted. “Don’t be afraid. Come right on up.” Almost on cue, the back door opened, and Daryl-Bob Broadfoot walked in (you remember Daryl-Bob? He’s Molly and Vernum’s grandson – your forth cousin). Daryl-Bob hung his head low as he shuffled to the front, dragging his limping dawg in tow. The dawg was a mud-colored hound mutt named Jenny. Jenny is as old as sin on Geritol, with bald patches on her hips. Daryl-Bob brought Jenny right up to Elijah Hope and told him that the dawg had a short leg and needed the anointing. Elijah Hope didn’t waste any time grabbing that dog’s bad leg, and shaking it furiously in the name of Jesus. The dawg never even flinched. She just looked over her shoulder with those tired-looking eyes to see what was keeping her from a morning nap. Pastor Sanford was grabbing and pulling that dawg’s hind leg like he was a kid fighting over a piece of candy. Then the prophet leapt up and screamed out, “Jenny, Be healed!” With that, Daryl-Bob pulled a greasy napkin out of his jacket pocket, slyly unwrapped a chicken neck, and fed it to Jenny as a prize for putting up with having her leg stretched by a maniac in a white tuxedo. The dawg was so excited to be fed, she scampered off the stage and proudly ran down the center aisle with the chicken neck in her drooling mouth. I guess the dawg wasn’t lame – she was just real hungry. But Elijah Hope called it an honest-to-God warm-up miracle.

Elijah Hope was glaring at us now with lightening in his eyes. He was sweating like a pumpkin in the morning dew, and he told us that since we just saw what God can do, it was time for a real miracle. “Albie Beydler, come on up here,” he cried. He pointed his finger at the front row, and Albie Beydler was the target. Albie never saw the frothing prophet pointing at him. Albie was blind. Lost his eyesight when he was a child. He wasn’t even just part blind. Sometimes when we went to lunch in the town of Lickskillet, we would see Albie sitting in front of the Blue Tick Convenience Store. We’d go up and say hi, and Bea Jimson would wave her hand in front of his face to ensure he was still blind. Albie would never flinch. Well, as soon as Albie’s name was called by the prophet, we all got a little panicked. Now the pastor was going too far. It’s one thing to heal a hungry dawg simulating a short leg. Now he was about to embarrass Albie Beydler in front of the whole town.

Someone helped Albie up to the stage. Elijah Hope draped his arm over Albie’s shoulder and said in a gentle voice, “Albie Beydler, God wants you to see. Do you believe God wants you to see today?” Albie just shrugged and said, “Don’t know. I reckon if God wants me to see, I’ll see.” That answer was good enough. Elijah Hope jumped in front of Albie. Then Elijah spit into his own hands, rubbed them together, and smeared them over Albie’s eyes. Holding his hands in place over Albie’s eyes, the pastor howled out, “Albie Beydler, God says the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. You be healed now.” With that he violently pushed Albie back, and waited for the results. Albie landed on his rear end, and just sat there for a moment. We were all too stunned to even help him up.

All I can say is it was a miracle. A loose connection must have gotten knocked back into place in Albie’s head, for all of the sudden Albie told us he was starting to see lights, and then colors, and then blurry forms. Pretty soon, he was jumping and hollering for joy. And Pastor Sanford, the faith healer, seemed quite pleased with himself. After that, Pastor Sanford gave up faith healing for good. I don’t know whether his wife gave him a strong talking to, or whether he couldn’t afford the rental tux anymore. Maybe it was his moment to do something for God.

All of this crazy excitement has got me to thinking a lot blindness. Poor Albie had a real problem. He couldn’t hit the wall with a wet mop. But now he has light in his life. You know, I’m no saint. I say and do things I know I’m not supposed to. Then I make excuses for my dumb behavior. I try to blame it on someone else, all the while making my wrong choices become a part of my daily routine. Sometimes I think I’m just as blind as Albie Beydler was. Except my blindness is a spiritual blindness, and it’s the result of my own cockamamie desires.

Well, I don’t need Elijah Hope or any other faith healer to spit on me to make it go away. No crazy antics will fix this problem. What I need is to let some light shine in my darkness. Jesus said it best: Keep your eyes open. Your eye is like a lamp, lighting up your whole body. If you live in wide-eyed wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body will be like a dank cellar. Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.

For me, that means I wake up every morning and make a decision to let my faith in Jesus shine in and then shine out. I’m not going to rely on someone else to do it, or blame someone else when I fail. My job is to let light shine, first on my own life, and then out of me for others to take notice. When I become a light for God, well I guess that is a real miracle in its own right – that God would take a dim lightbulb like me and use it to make some good light again.

Matt, tell the people in that new church of yours to be lights in the darkness. Life’s too short to let ourselves be dimmed by our differences. Imagine what happens when a bunch of lit-up followers of Jesus come together and shine all at once. Why, it would be brighter than the lights at the Lickskillet Veterans Memorial stadium. That kind of light would be irresistible. I think that’s what Jesus invites us to be.

It wouldn’t hurt you to clean up your act a little, either, but we’ll deal with you some other time. I need to scoot. Zeb Chambers had a fire in his field. The fire company came and put it out. Problem is that they sprayed so much water, now they’re engines are stuck in the field. I’m going to drive over and see what kind of progress they’ve made.

Aunt Georgia

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