Reverend James Ogden braved a nasty storm to drive twenty-three miles and have the heat and lights on in the country church building that Sunday morning. He sat listening to some praise and worship music while waiting for the sanctuary to warm up, and for the local folks from surrounding farms to arrive.
He checked the clock on his phone again. He knew it was time to start, and he’d learned that, even though country life can’t always be scheduled, the church congregation was punctual about attending worship.
Ten minutes past. Hmm. Well, there’s no point leaving lights and heat on. I knew when I accepted this parish there might be times like this. I know I prayed and prepared the message I knew God placed on my heart, and I’m glad I did. ‘S good truth.
He got up, turned off the music, and was reaching to adjust the thermostat when he heard a vehicle pull up outside. Standing, he waited until the wizened old rancher pulled the door closed behind him, stomping the water and mud off his boots. Hat in hand, he walked over and offered a calloused hand.
“G’mornin’, uh—Charlie, isn’t it?” The old man nodded. “I was just about to shut everything down, because I know you all are careful about being to church on time, and I didn’t want to waste power or gas. Have a seat, and I’ll play the song I chose to go with this message.”
While the 4Him song played, the young minister looked at his sole parishioner . . .
"We were boyhood pals, the best of friends And time was on our side And we thought the world was in our hands We were young and full of life But in the twinkling of a moment Before a chance to say "So long" You were taken from our world And now you're gone But I'll see you when I get Home In the sweet by and by And we'll walk along the streets of gold With angels by our side And time will have no meaning there In a land of no goodbyes Oh, it's good to know I'll see you when I get Home . . .
He was dressed in Country Sensible, a staple of which is almost always faded Levi’s or Lee Premiums and western boots of one type or another. Weekdays called for broadcloth workshirts; yet on Sundays, the men always wore one of their “dressy, go-to-meetin’ ” western snap button shirts. This morning, Charlie’s was a bright yellow.
The minister was surprised, as his eyes traveled up and focused on the old farmer’s face, to see twin rivulets coursing down the sun-creased cheeks and dripping off his chin. Wow… Lord, no wonder You kept reminding me of that song.
Oh, what a celebration I hope you all will come Oh, the Father now is waiting And soon He'll take us Home And I'll see you when I get Home In the sweet by and by And we'll walk along the streets of gold With angels by our side And time will have no meaning there In a land of no goodbyes Oh, it's good to know So good to know, it's good to know I'll see you when I get Home Turning from shutting off the player, Pastor Ogden was stopped by the sight of Charlie bent over, face in his hands, weeping as only a grown man can do. His shoulders shook with great, gasping sobs, and it seemed like five minutes passed before the old man could catch his breath, loudly blowing his nose on the old red bandanna pulled from his right hip pocket.
Seminary never covered this . . . Closing his Bible and laying it on the small pulpit, he stepped down from platform to check on the distraught man. “Can I get you some water or something, Charlie?”
The grizzled, white-haired man took a deep breath as he shook his head. Pausing a few seconds, he directed a level gaze at his young pastor. “James, I’ve said from the first sermon you preached here you were one of the best we’ve ever had. But I ain’t – haven’t – been real welcoming to yuh, an’ I’m fixin’ tuh work on that.”
“See, I heard all kinds of preachers claim to be hearin’ from God. But I haven’t heard one yet who’s convinced me of that until the message you just preached to me.”
With raised eyebrows, Pastor Ogden began, “What? But I nev—” Charlie interrupted him. “Yeah, you did. You just didn’t know it. Every other preacher I’ve ever knowed – known – woulda kept his Bible open and commenced tuh speakin’ forth. You didn’t. You heard from God to play that—that . . .” Here the old man’s voice got husky again. “That song. There’s no way you could’ve known how I needed to hear that message, but God shore did.
“See, there’ve been some things stuck sideways in my craw I ain’t – haven’t – wanted to do anything about. I knew they was wrong, that they was keeping me away from God and those I said I loved. But I didn’t wanna do nothin’ about ’em. Fact is, I kinda liked being a pain in everybody’s butt. I don’t want to go into it with you right now, ’cause I gotta do that with God first, and I have a hunch I’m gonna get beat down, some.”
“I wanna thank yuh. An’ if you have time this week, I’d like to meet you at Annie’s, buy yuh breakfast, and tell you the story behind the best sermon you never preached.”
Long after the sounds of Charlie’s old Dodge farm truck faded, James sat there.
“Lord, what this boils down to is that this ministry thing isn’t about me at all. It’s about You, about Your Word, Your power to change events and lives.”
In his dusty 12-year-old Nissan, he couldn’t help himself. He kept glancing in his rearview mirror, watching the church building recede into the distance until even the spire had disappeared. Sure, it’d be nice to land a pastoral charge at a big, city church with all the trimmings. He’d always secretly envied the guys who always seemed to get them. Yet something told him few times like this morning would happen there.
Given the choice? If he was honest, he would like to have more such times of seeing God move, of feeling, sensing the Holy Spirit wo-o-oshing His personal presence like that.
After he’d pulled into his driveway and shut the car off, he pulled out his phone, clicked on the calendar, and for Monday morning he typed, “Call Charlie RE breakfast and The Story.”
© D. Dean Boone, April 2020
Lyrics – 4HIM, Album: Face The Nation