“Welcome everyone to the 99th Annual Summer Church Picnic. What a beautiful day that The Lord has made!”
“Amen, sister! When are you gonna auction some pies?!?” Laughter erupted in the open-aired tent.
“Slow down, Pastor! Many folks are still eatin’. We are so glad you-all could make it, from the youngest to the oldest; and from the newest saint to the founding families. Speaking of the founding families—we’re now going to hear a word from our oldest saint, Sister Elizabeth.”
Sister Elizabeth, now in her mid 80s, feebly rolled over to the aged, mobile wooden podium in her wheelchair. Sister Mary adjusted the microphone, pointing it down so everyone could hear her message.
“Thank you, Sister Mary. I am so thankful to be here. This will probably by my last Summer Church Picnic with all of you—until the marriage supper of The Lamb. Don’t act so surprised. As many of you know, I’ve been battling major health issues the last few years. I’ve been prayed for dozens of times and Jesus has miraculously healed me—and I’m still here, thank The Lord. There is a reason why I’m still here—one of them is sitting right here. Pastor Michael, my loud, silly, ever-joyful son who happens to be the Pastor. He loves making you laugh.”
“Preach it, sister!” Everyone laughed again.
“Now, Michael, you know how I feel about you callin’ me sister.”
“It has come to my attention that there is a division in the camp.”
“Not now, mama—we don’t wanna learn math!??!”
“Not that kind of division, Michael. There is an argument about whether or not this is the 99th Annual Summer Church Picnic or the 100th Annual Summer Church Picnic. I am thinking really? REALLY? You people want to argue about what number the picnic should be when there are a host of folks right around this pretty park who’ve never heard about the Good News of Jesus? Really?!?”
This time the people clapped in agreement.
“Let me explain. Back in 1972 we had a tornado outbreak in this area and it devastated most of the town, but thank The Lord our church building survived. The Annual Summer Church Picnic that year was cancelled; instead we used all the food and beverages to help families who had literally lost everything. We used what the Lord blessed us with to help others… Sister Mary, can you bring me that ice cream bucket—the one in the back of the tent…right—that one you will clean tables off with later.”
Sister Mary obeyed, smiling.
“Now, I am going to ask the church leaders—especially the Ladies Ministry leaders to come up and sit on the front row by this podium. Come on now, don’t be scared, I ain’t gonna bite you.”
One by one, the good people came and sat in the front row of plastic blue folding chairs. Sister Elizabeth looked toward heaven, and prayed a short prayer, asking for forgiveness for herself and the church.
She then wheeled over to the Pastor.
“Take off your sandals. Gimme your foot.” Shaking his head, with tears, he lifted up his right foot and Sister Elizabeth washed it. Then, she washed his left foot.
Sister Mary stood up as if she was going to leave. “I’m not doing this.”
Sister Mary froze. “Who said that?”
“Who said what? We didn’t hear anything, except these folks crying.”
“Someone said my name.”
“The Lord is speaking to your heart. You might want to stay, Mary. It’s your choice.”
For a few seconds Sister Mary hesitated, hovering in that eternal moment between fear and faith.
She chose faith.
“Forgive me, forgive us for squabbling over the stupidest little things, Father.” Sister Elizabeth washed Mary’s feet. Mary knelt by Sister Elizabeth, hugging her around the wheelchair, weeping.
Pastor Michael stood up and stepped over to the podium, pointing the microphone so everyone could hear him. “Let’s not wait for another tornado to do the right thing, right here, right now. For far too long, we have—I have—been content in the status quo, living in our own little world when there are precious souls all around us. Let’s take an hour—just one hour of this precious day—and reach out and invite people to join our Church Picnic. The number of the picnic doesn’t matter—the souls around us matter. I will start by asking those boys over there playing basketball.
“Will you join me?”
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