The parson was sitting in his usual booth at the rear of the diner. His Chromebook was open in front of him. The parson was aware others in the diner thought he was diligently studying something. In truth, he was watching Tricia Helfer in the latest episode of “Killer Women.” He’d felt a little guilty about his deception, but ten minutes into the show he managed to fight off the guilt.
Texas Ranger Molly Parker was about to make an arrest when a voice broke the parson’s concentration.
“Parson, how are you?”
The parson firmly closed the cover of the Chromebook and waited for the sound to cease before he removed the earplugs. Before him stood Richard Humphries, a new pastor who had been appointed to his first church located in a village on the far side of the county. “Good morning, Richard. How are you? And how’s Susan and Rebecca.”
“I’m good, Parson. I’m good, and Susan and Rebecca are also.”
“Has Rebecca adapted to her new school?”
“She has, Parson. She has. And I don’t think we thanked you yet for putting in a good word for Susan. She really likes the job.”
“My pleasure,” the parson responded. “What brings you to this side of the county?”
“I have to renew my car tags. I thought I’d do it in person. I’ve never been in the courthouse before.”
“Well, if you run into the Sheriff, don’t tell him you saw me. Have a seat. Can I get you some breakfast?”
“No sir, I’m fine,” said Richard as he pulled the seat up.
“That would be nice. Thank you.”
The parson held up his coffee cup where Deborah, his server, could see it and pointed to Richard. Deborah nodded and headed off. In just a few seconds she was pouring Richard some coffee.
“How are things at the church?” the parson asked.
Richard replied they were going fine. A discussion common to two pastors then ensued as the two exchanged their stories of life in the pastorate. They both had finished their coffees when Richard leaned back, looked the parson in the eye and raise a modern issue.
“Parson, I need to ask you about something delicate.”
The parson folded his napkin, leaned back and said, “Okay, Richard. Go ahead.”
My brother was here a couple of weeks ago. After I preached on Sunday he asked me where I got my sermon. I told him I got it from a sermon service on the internet. My brother got a little irritated. He said he didn’t come to the church to hear some other preacher’s sermon. He was really touch on me. So, I’m torn.”
“What’s there to be torn about?” the parson asked.
“I’m torn about his attitude. Here’s the way I look at it. I pay a subscription for those sermons. The preachers who put them on the internet are selling them. So, unlike what my brother said, I’m not stealing the sermons.”
The parson asked Richard which sermon service he was using. Richard told him most of the time he got his sermons from a specific website.
“I know about that site, Richard. It’s owned by a publishing company. The preachers whose sermon you’re using don’t get a dime for those sermons. The sermons come from books they have written previously, before self-publishing was available on the web. The publishing company that owns the site also owns the copyright for the books. As such, the one who wrote the book gets no compensation from your subscription fee.
“But here’s the thing, Richard. I’m going to be blunt with you. There are some things here you need to think about. Tell me, what’s the annual price of the subscription?”
Richard told him.
“That is the price,” the parson said, leaning forward and lowering his voice almost to a whisper, “that buys your integrity.”
Richard started to say something. The parson held up his hand.
“Now, I know that’s harsh, but it’s true. Those people don’t want to hear someone else’s sermon; they want to hear yours. You know them; you’re their pastor. You can minister to them from your pulpit a lot more fruitfully than some anonymous preacher they have never met.
“You keep that subscription. You read all those sermons offered there. You glean those fields for some ideas and illustrations. But when it’s time to write the sermon you write it. And if you ever preach another’s sermon, you walk into that pulpit and you say, “Folks, I came across a sermon on today’s text that speaks to this Word far better than I can. The sermon was written by the Reverend Dr. John Doe. I want to share it with you.”
“I understand what you’re saying parson, but it’s a little harsh to say I’m selling my integrity.”
“I can be more harsh than that, Richard. You’re cheapening your calling.”
Richard stared at the parson without speaking.
“Richard,” the parson smiled as he reached across the table and placed his hand on Richard’s forearm, “you are the one ordained to preach the gospel from that pulpit. And you can do it well. Those folks are going to love your sermons because you’re a darn good pastor. You preach your sermon. They’ll listen. You’ll both be blessed.”