Gary Davis sat on the platform and wearily waited for his turn at the pulpit as the choir finished singing “The Old Rugged Cross.” As he waited, he looked to the front row where his dear wife sat with her eyes closed. Gary could just barely make out her lips moving. She’s praying for me. Gary smiled. He looked out over his congregation and his smile faded. The heaviness in his heart returned. The things I know would make my hair curl, if I had any left.
There was Brett and Debra Peterson on the second row as usual. He was a doctor and she looked elegant in her designer clothes. They appeared to be the perfect family with their three tow-headed daughters. Few knew, as he did, that their marriage was on the rocks. Just behind them sat Franklin Cooper. He inherited several million from a rich uncle several years back, but continued to put only $5 in the offering plate each week. On the other side of the aisle from Franklin sat Tom Fuller. Cancer was preventing Tom from harvesting this year’s crop. Mike Farlow and his family sat in front of Tom. Mike was unemployed and his family was about to be evicted from their apartment. That was just in the first few rows.
The needs were great, but without his inside knowledge, he wouldn’t suspect a thing. Everyone was dressed in their Sunday best, big smiles painted on their faces. In a minute I’m going to stand up and preach a sermon that won’t make one bit of difference in these people’s lives. The song ended and it was his turn, but he didn’t move. He looked down at his sermon notes and sighed a prayer. Lord, use me. The congregation got antsy as the moments ticked by. Finally, Gary stood up slowly and walked to the pulpit, leaving his sermon notes on his chair. He looked at the crowd.
“Love one another,” he said simply. He stood quietly for a second and then went back to his seat. When no one moved, he returned to the pulpit and repeated his “sermon.”
“I said, love one another.”
Gary was slightly amused at the confused expressions on his congregations’ faces. People turned their heads to their neighbors and shrugged their shoulders. Gary looked down at his wife. She looked confused also as she glanced nervously around the sanctuary. Then their eyes met and she understood. She quickly bowed her head and started praying.
The first one to move was Franklin Cooper. Franklin stood up, walked to the pulpit and spoke into the microphone. “I have a rent house that just became available. I was wondering, does anyone need a place to live...rent free?”
There was shocked silence. Timid Meredith Baker stood up, paused as she gathered her nerve, and then said, “The Farlow family would never ask for help, but I know they need a place to live. They have two small children.”
“Perfect,” said Franklin. “The previous renters even left a swing set in the yard.”
When Pauline Willows started up the steps to the pulpit with her cane in hand, two deacons on the front row rushed to help her. She gingerly made her way to the pulpit and then took a moment to catch her breath before speaking. “I’m too old to do physical labor, but I’ll cook a meal for anyone that will help plow Tom Fuller’s field. He has cancer, and can’t do it.”
Immediately, five men stood up and said, “I’ll do it.” Tom looked down at his lap and wiped his eyes.
Brett Peterson was next at the pulpit. “I haven’t been the husband I should. Everyone’s doing for others, so I hate to ask; but I’d like to do right by my wife. We need some time alone, but we don’t have anyone to watch our girls.”
Three different mothers stood up and said they’d arrange everything. Debra covered her face and sobbed as Brett patted her on the back.
For the next hour, people filed up to the pulpit, admitting needs or offering help. Gary sat in his chair, dumbfounded. Thank you, Lord. When the service finally concluded he stood at the back and shook hands with a different congregation. As Bill Harper left he said, “That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I can’t wait to hear next week’s sermon.”
Gary Davis smiled to himself. Neither can I.
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." John 13:34 (NIV)
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