When I was a 22-year-old Seminary student, I was just cocky enough to believe the world would go to hell if I didn’t do my part to detour them to heaven.
So, when a local church invited me to preach a revival, I accepted. In case you’re wondering, a revival is a series of church services held every night for a week — guilt in its most concentrated form.
On my very last sermon, just as the drama was rising, one of the parishioners loudly announced a woman passed out.
I quickly stuttered my intent to conclude the service.
“No, no.” I was chided by the woman’s pew mate, who was a nurse. “Keep preachin.’ ”
Reluctantly, I continued.
Suddenly, the nurse announced the woman was having a seizure and we should call 911.
“OK, ladies and gentleman,” I said, walking away from the pulpit, “we must dismiss.”
Protests rose from the deacons urging me to keep preaching. Assurances were made that this woman did “this thing” on a regular basis.
Shaking the incredulity from my face, I jump-started my last tear-jerking illustration and introduced the most critical part of my sermon — the invitation.
It is called the invitation because the preacher publicly invites the repenting parishioner to pray at the altar. As is the practice, I motioned the music director to begin our invitational hymn and announced my willingness to abridge the invitation.
The deacons responded to my suggestion with a damn-the-
torpedo approach and firmly instructed the music leader to sing all six verses.
Finally, somewhere in the midst of those verses, common sense barged through the door in the form of paramedics. With walkie-talkies blaring, they pushed the gurney up the center aisle and stopped short of the communion table, the one engraved, “This do in remembrance of me.”
Now, I’m not making this next part up. I signaled the director to stop, but he was taking directions from the deacon. Four more verses were ordered.
On the last verse, patient and paramedics made their escape.
When the service ended, I popped a breath mint and shook the hands of those exiting. In the exit line, a deacon stopped to assure me the woman has fainted multiple times on multiple Sundays. He then pointed toward a spot where the woman had once lain while parishioners had stepped over her to get to Sunday brunch.
“Just a normal Sunday,” he reported.
Upon hearing that, it was all I could do to hold my breath mint and not spray him with Certs spit.
Normal is a funny word. We use it describe what has become customary. But customary isn’t always right.
This congregation had settled into a new normal, which involved building detours around their wounded. But church people aren’t the only ones capable of doing this. We all do it.
These days, our normal life involves people losing their jobs, houses and loved ones in war. And we’ve become good at building detours around those painful thoughts. We go to the mall, we fill up our cars with overpriced gas, and we detour the pain.
Like these church people, we can make one of two responses. We can use our own pain as an excuse for detouring around the pain of others. Or, we can become involved in the hurts of others and thereby lessen the load of every one of us.
The first option will seem the safest one, but we just end up isolated and alone.
The second way will seem fraught with risk, but then again, faith always is risky. I think that’s why they call it faith.