My profession calling presents one with interesting encounters. And so it was a few weeks ago.
I was sitting in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Atlanta, I had taken someone there for a post-op evaluation. The person I’d taken had been in the doctor’s office, or maybe the X-ray department, or maybe in the lab, gracious knows where, for a while. I had my technological wonder called the Google
Chromebook in my lap. I was working away on next Sunday’s sermon.
I was in the middle of a moment of joy. I’d just searched the internet to find a really great illustration of my third point of the sermon. I was in the process of copying and pasting that illustration into my “notes” page when the voice interrupted me.
“Excuse me,” he said. I looked up and beheld a man in his late thirties. He was well dressed, with a decidedly professional look. He asked me if I was a pastor and named my church. I confessed I was guilty. “Oh, my goodness,” he said, “I visited your church a while back.”
I stared at his face, desperately seeking some recognition. It didn’t come. “I’m sorry,” I said, “did we meet?”
“Oh, no,” he replied, to my relief, “I was with the Jenkins’ family and we left by the side door. I didn’t get a chance to speak to you then.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to greet you,” I replied. “I hope the next time you come I’ll be able to do so.”
“Maybe next year,” he said. “Our family, the Jenkin’s, are getting together for another reunion. Maybe I’ll have the opportunity to attend a worship service.”
“I’d be pleased if you would,” I said.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” he said.
“Not at all,” I replied.
“Do you actually believe all that stuff?”
“All what stuff?”
“All that stuff you preach?”
“Everything I preach I believe,” I replied.
He stared for a long moment. His right hand went to his head where he ran his fingers over the hair above his right ear. He started to say something. He paused. He started to speak again. He paused. “Excuse me,” he finally continued, “but that sounds like there are some things you don’t preach.”
“Some things I don’t preach,” I replied.
He asked, “Do you mind if I sit down?”
“Not at all,” I said, pointing to the chair next to me.
He sat. He continued to look at me. “I don’t mean to be intrusive,” he continued, “but when you say there are some things you don’t preach, may I ask what you don’t preach?”
I couldn’t help but size him up. It was a strange conversation. He’d been at my church; he’d heard me preach. But I didn’t know him. I stepped out in faith.
“What I do not preach,” I said, “are the things I don’t understand.”
He turned back and focused his eyes on mine. “So what do you preach?” he asked.
“I preach the things I do understand.”
Once again he looked away in contemplation. Eventually he turned back. He looked me directly in the eyes. “What do you understand?” he asked.
“Oh, I understand things like, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” There was a silent moment. “But I need to confess something to you,” I said.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Sometimes,” I replied, “I just don’t want to do it.”