It has, I must say, been a wonderful day here in the “Almost Heaven.” Working at Tom Lively’s feed store seemed to go a little faster than most Fridays go. The mornings of every day go pretty quick, as the farmers come to pick up some feed or seed. They will walk around the store and look at our wears and dream of the day they can afford the water tank for the animals or some new chicken wire for the coop, and of course, salt blocks for the cattle. But the afternoons pass by slowly and I find my greatest job is finding a job to keep me busy so the time will pass quickly. But the day seemed to pass at a steady pace for a Friday. I was amazed by that as I did not have to climb into the old 52 Ford F1 pickup truck and make farm deliveries. There were no deliveries today to consume the time and I was amazed when the five o’clock hour arrived and Tom said: “time to get.” So I gathered my lunch bucket, tucked my sweater into the back of my bib overalls and left for my journey to the little cabin in the meadow.
As I climbed up the path in the meadow I could see the wisp of smoke coming from the iron stove chimney promising me that Miss Mary had a fine dinner cooking for my enjoyment with the kids. Friday generally is a great day to look forward too. As the weekend follows and is a time of home chores and family adventure. It also ends with a trip to the Church on the Knoll to enjoy the learning of God’s Word and fellowship with the larger family of the Church. People come early to the Church and stay late. We do that so we can share our past week with each other and explore the week ahead. Sometimes the Crawford boys and I sit around and speak of the old day of our youth. Then we listen to the younger sons and here how the adventures of youth have changed. It is never long before Johnny Crawford will speak up and say to the kids, that’s not the way it was when we were coming up. If we did the stuff you all are doing we’d spend a lot of time in the woodshed with our fathers.
But now I find myself resting in the backyard between two maple trees swinging in a hammock. Whoever planted those trees so many years ago must have had a hammock in their mind. The distance between them is just perfect for a hammock. Not only that they are perfect to catch the backdraft of the wind as it reflects from the mountain behind the cabin. The wind comes up across the meadow hits the mountain and comes back to the backyard. That backdraft is just strong enough to cause the hammock to sway back and forth ever so peacefully. I like that as I do not have to exercise my knees moving the old rocker back and forth on the front porch. But that old rocker is my favorite sport in spite of the effort it requires.
As I lay there swaying in the hammock I am fixed upon the stars in the heavens. There are two things that will rob my attention from everything else, a crackling fire and the stars in heaven. As I sway beneath the stars in my hammock I am always marveled by the inherent beauty against the backdrop of blackness. I sometimes ponder that the big cities are impoverished by the lack of stars. The glow of the artificial light hides the billions of stars that pass just above us each night and day. How sad that is the city folk miss such a grand artistry of God’s creation and never get lost in its beauty.
I’ve never been one to learn the constellations so far away from my little cabin in the meadow. But I have formed my own from time to time only not to be able to find them again at the next evening’s adventure of the night. When one of our dear sisters had passed from this world to the greater that next evening I did find Jesus up there praying over the world below. It was astonishing that shortly after that discovery a spring rain came down pelting the ground around me, as I quickly moved back to the cabin porch. As I sat there on the porch and pondered if He was not shedding tears for the shape that His creation below had fallen to.
As I looked into the heavens this evening at the stars twinkling above, I noticed again that some are brighter than others. I have thought that maybe they were smaller to the brighter ones. Then I thought maybe they were further away from earth and we could not see them as well. But this evening the thought came to my mind that is their distance, but not the distance from earth but the distance from the sun. That seemed to satisfy as Miss Mary hollered out from the cabin “are you sleeping out there tonight.” I could, really, but now I gathered myself and went back to the cabin to spend time with the children.
Just as I was about to make my departure I heard a familiar voice calling my name from the far side of the cabin. Why it is Brother Simms’ voice. I walked around to the front of the cabin just as he was sitting down on the porch swing to rest from his long climb up the path. Brother Simms is a little further along than I and if he has made the trip up the path in the meadow to see me it must be important. That path from the hard road to my cabin is a steady incline and for a man of his age, that is a tiresome thing. Brother Simms has only come up this way once before and that was several years ago. If Brother Simms made that journey just to chat with me, well that adds a great value to his visit. So I sat down in my rocker and looked at Brother Simms with my full attention.
The first time Brother Simms came to visit was shortly after he started to Pastor the Church on the Knoll. He was going around and meeting each member of the Church Family and one Saturday he made that climb up the path and stayed most of the afternoon. Miss Mary had made us some fried bologna and cheese sandwiches, lemonade, and a push-up for dessert. A feast in itself and worthy of the Almost Heaven. Miss Mary didn’t want the new Pastor to rush back doe that path without some proper nourishment. It is always an interesting adventure to sit and listen to Brother Simms speak, rather it be a Sunday or any other time of the week. As I have always said he is not dynamic but he is inspiring.
I remember what he told me the first time he came to visit the little cabin those years ago. He wanted everyone to know where he had come and where he wanted to lead us to go. It was very interesting to hear his life adventures and the wisdom just poured out of him and I learned a lot not so much about him as myself and the changes I should make. That is what a Pastor does, he leads his people spiritually.
Brother Simms came from a big Church in Capital City and he admitted that it had become too much for him in the later years. Brother Simms didn’t want to quit pastoring but he just wanted to ease the burden of a big Church. He explained how the Church on the Knoll and its twenty-five members would be just perfect for his abilities. Well, one just cannot argue with a pastor, certainly, that would be a sin of some sort. So I told him I was sure he would come to love the family of our Church and they, in turn, would love him.
That prompted Brother Simms to tell me a story of the big Church he had just left. He said he had quite a different welcoming there. Capitol City had a problem with homelessness there and he had a concern for them. He had been issued a call from the big Church by Elder Clint and decided to accept. Then he had second thoughts and decided to go incognito to the Church and see how they were. First, he went to the Salvation Army and bought some worn clothes for a couple of weeks before he planned to visit. He had meant to wait longer before going but Elder Clint called him and said they needed him to start sooner than planned. Brother Simms agreed.
His first Sunday at the big Church Brother Simms went dressed as a homeless person. It was winter time and he wore a greasy jacket that was not all that warm. Underneath the jacket, all he had was an undershirt that had several holes in it. One of the knees of his britches had a large path and the other just a tear in the fabric. For shoes, the soles were duct taped to the leather which was all scuffed up and no shoelaces. Brother Simms wanted to find out how his new congregation would receive him.
Before Brother Simms entered the Church he took his store-bought teeth out and when he smiled he showed a lot of tongue. All the folks in the Church were marvelously dressed. The menfolk looked very dapper in their find Sunday suits. The ladies at their side in beautiful dresses looking as if they were at a ball.
Brother Simms greeted everyone who would be greeted and offered his hand for a shake. Few returned the gesture and as he worked his way down to the front pew he stopped at some stations and asked for pocket change to buy lunch. Most just glared but he did gain .67 cents. Enough for a hamburger and a small drink at the Valley Belle. He finally sat down in the front pew and waited for the service to begin. An Elder of the Church came up and told him he would have to move to the back of the Church and find a place to sit there. He recognized the voice as Elder Clint. As he got up to move to the back he noticed that people at a distance stared but quickly turned away as he drew near to them.
After the opening prayer and hymns were sung Elder Clint took the pulpit and searched the crowd of the congregation. After a few moments, the Elder began to speak and said that this Sunday the new Pastor was to give God’s Word to them. The Elder waited a minute more and then asked if Reverend Simms was in the building. Slowly Brother Simms got up and started to make his way to the front of the Church to take command of the pulpit. All eyes were staring in amazement as he walked up the aisle to the pulpit. Brother Simms eyes were fixed upon Elder Clint who had the look of horror on his face. When Brother Simms reached the pulpit the Elder stepped aside and took his seat behind him.
Brother Simms greeted them with these words, “I Have come to this Church to preach the words of our Lord and Savior.” "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." (Matthew 25:41-45) Brother Simms than asked, “What then will you say to Jesus?”
This evening after Brother Simms left I looked at Miss Mary and told her that I thought I would spend the night in the hammock. Now as I lay here in the Hammock swaying back and forth in the summer breeze I say to myself I believe that I got this one right about the bright stars and the dimmer ones. It is a question of distance. Perhaps the brighter stars in God’s Kingdom are the saints that are closest to the Son.
Thomas N Kirkpatrick
Ballengee, March 30, 2018