The church pews were polished, the carpet vacuumed and instruments tuned. Sunlight and shadows danced through the stained glass windows. Fresh flowers graced the piano and organ planters, wafting sweet fragrances.
Church ushers James and John Thunder opened the sanctuary doors. Arguing in whispers about who stand in front, the brothers still managed to greet and shake hands of those entering. Soft organ music added to the mix of friendly humanity as the church pews filled.
“Why, hello, Mr. Newton! So glad you‘re here,” Martha Handson exclaimed. “How COULD he bring a donut into the sanctuary! Now I’ll have crumbs to clean up!” she inwardly seethed.
Up ahead, Sarah Lot piously opened her Bible, placing it carefully on her ample lap. She frowned as the members of the Praise Team gathered on the platform.
“Oh, for the days of spiritual hymns,” she thought yearningly. “The instruments are too loud, and WHY do they wear such sloppy clothing?” she griped to herself in disapproval.
Across the aisle, Judas Lambert closed his eyes, inwardly planning to persuade Brother Andrew to invest in a business scheme. Seated next to him, Job Tenacity rubbed his arthritic knees. In pain, the crippled man trembled as he rose to his feet to sing.
Dorcas Helpston, ladies outreach director, was chatting with friends in stage whispers, soliciting their assistance with the clothing drive.
Meanwhile, Pastor Phillip was unsuccessfully attempting to start the service. With raised voice, he began with his usual hearty welcome.
Then, a strange thing happened.
His hands reaching out in supplication with eyes closed, he lifted his face toward heaven. Lingering murmurs died down and heads bowed for prayer.
And then, silence. Seconds slowly passed and people began to peek around. Pastor Phillip remained in the same reverent position as before. Peter Haste, the lead assistant, moved from his assigned place, ready to rescue the awkward silence with his usual aplomb. Matthew Armstrong, the church treasurer, was hoping that no catastrophe was going to interrupt the morning’s offering, while Thomas Skeptic just KNEW this break from the normal would prove the young preacher’s incompetence, something he had predicted from the start.
In a back pew, Ruth Loyalty re-arranged the pillow behind her frail mother-in-law, silently praying for God’s provision of someone to help carry her load.
Five pews ahead, Jasmine, an unwed and obviously pregnant college student, was worried about her baby’s future. Directly behind her, Daphne Judgemont thought, “What brazenness! If she thinks she’s going to a baby shower from our Social Committee, she’d better think again!”
And, in the front row center, Mary Heartful’s tearful eyes focused in rapt attention on the wooden cross on the platform wall. Simultaneously, across the aisle, Daniel Values’ mind wandered to his dilemma of no foreseeable means to provide for his family. He had been fired from his former job because he refused to work on Sundays.
Suddenly, Pastor Phillip’s tearful voice broke through each one’s thoughts.
“Our Forgiving Father, we are undeserving of Your love. Each of us here is guilty of wrongdoing. We acknowledge our sins in the light of Your holiness. Please forgive us for greed—pride—criticism and judgment of each other. Thank You that You are in our midst as we celebrate Your mercy in setting us free from what we really deserve. Open our spiritual eyes and ears so we recognize our desperate need for Your Presence in our daily lives. Please take away earthly distractions, so we can see and hear and worship only You, and may Your love flow through us and spill over into our other relationships. AMEN! Brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re not going to follow the bulletin this morning. Instead, I would like us to join hands in a circle around the edges of this room and sing praises together to our God.”
Slowly, people formed the circle, Martha clasping Mr. Newton’s sticky hand and not minding at all as she watched his tear-stained cheeks. Daphne, observing the bags under Jasmine’s eyes as they joined hands, felt her heart melting and gave whispered words of encouragement to her. Thomas, sorry about his doubts about Pastor Phillip’s adequacy, clasped his hand firmly and marveled at the harmonious blending of their two voices.
That day became an epiphany for many of the diverse personalities represented in the church that day as they humbly accepted their spiritual brothers and sisters as themselves, sinners saved by grace, joining together in adoration and thanksgiving for Christ’s unconditional love.
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