Lord's Lunatic- part six

intro and index

©02 Levite

Continued from part 5

Road Trip -3

Brotherly Argument

        Reverend Miller was waiting for me in the parking lot.

        We didn't argue. Much.

        We had a... long discussion, I guess.

        We went all the way around it twice, and came back to my problem with his title.
        He had been told it was unseemly for him to call himself Reverend, but he didn't think it was a Salvation issue.
        "It's not. But it smacks of Denominationalism." I said.
        "Is that wrong in and of itself?"
        "No. But if it becomes a stumbling block for those trying to get out of that world and find the Truth. Yes."
        He nodded. "I agree with you. But I am fighting for the dignity of the Church here. The last minister in this building was a plumber. He had preached in coveralls. He parked his van out front with a septic tank pump on a trailer behind it."
        "OK, that's a little extreme the other way." I said trying not to think about it too much. "But you have set yourself up as the Leader of this Church. It's the Church of Reverend Miller, not the Church of Christ. It's about You NOT the Lord."
        "You can't say that." He said actually looking down his nose at me.
        "OK. I can't. But They Can." I looked up the stairs at the two elders standing there watching.
        He glared up the stairs at them. "Well?" He demanded.
        One of them just stood there.
        The other one nodded.
        "Why else would the local preacher run every aspect of the Worship Service. The Apostles told the people to select Deacons so they could concentrate on the Work of the Lord instead of waiting tables. You are so involved with picking songs for the service and making sure the Communion Bread isn't greasy the Church Itself is getting away from you." I said actually feeling sorry for the man.
        It had been a shot in the dark. But it hit the bulls eye.
        "He who seeks to be first will be last." He muttered softly.
        I knew that wasn't a direct quote, but the idea was there. "That's kinda the idea." But I could see he wasn't ready to order new business cards just yet. "'Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.'"
        He looked at me. "Matthew twenty three. Twenty seven." He nodded. "It applies. Perhaps I had to be hit over the head with it." He looked up the stairs at the now several men and a few women watching and listening. Including one certain deputy sheriff. "I know a few who have been hinting at it for some time."
        "Paul and Peter had a disagreement. They worked it out. And both continued their ministries the better for it. We are all the better for it."
        "So that's why they called you here. Because they knew you'd pull something just out of line enough to force me to say something." He was actually grinning at the elders. "And they knew neither of us would back down. Paul to my Simon Peter."
        "Who were you fixing to circumcise?"
        "Nobody. But now that you mention it." He grinned at our audience.
        "Now that you two are done making a public spectacle of yourselves. This young lady would like to be baptized into the Lord." The older of the elders said.
        I looked up at the deputy in surprise. She smiled and nodded. Tears streaming down her cheeks.

        While I had been outside with Reverend Miller she had been in a slightly more civilized talk with a couple of the ladies of the church and an elder or two. They were doing the Lord's work while we were all but calling each other names outside.

        That evening I got to do the Dirty Dishes without interruption. And they loved it! Even Reverend Miller seemed to both enjoy it and get the message.
        I bowed out of the auditorium after saying I had to wash my dishes and found the kitchen on my second try just as they began the invitation hymn.

        "You were right." Reverend Miller said as I put my now clean and dry dishes back in their milk crate. "You delivered a Biblical Message using dirty dishes."
        "I wasn't worried about being right. And I didn't say you were wrong. It's not a Salvation Issue. There is no right or wrong as long as the Message gets out and the people hear and understand it. Like Paul said about speaking in an unknown tongue. It's pointless, he wanted the people to understand the message."
        He nodded.
        "I don't care if they remember my name in three weeks, but they will remember the dirty dishes, and then they'll remember the message."
        He looked thoughtful, but I still saw something in his eyes I didn't like. He tapped the counter and made another point quoting another passage of Paul's.

        A few minutes later I left for the motel.
        As I pulled into the parking lot a huge white car pulled in behind me. It was the old elder and his wife.
        "I talked to Miller for a few minutes after you left." He said. "You tried. But I don't think it got through to him. But I know you did your best. Like Marlin said you would."
        "Who said I would?"
        "Emory's oldest son. Larry."
        I shook my head. His wife saved me.
        "Doctor Marlin, the Shore Church in Cleveland."
        "OH!" Light dawned.
        "Yeah. I stay in touch with him since his father passed."
        I blinked. It was a small world, and no denying it.
        "But Miller's always been hard headed. And full of pride. I bet he'll be back right where he was inside a month."
        "Give him a chance to change Leroy." His wife said.
        "I will I will." The old man said. "You have a good evening Brother Samuel. See you tomorrow night." He put his car in gear and drove off.

Long Night

        I laid in bed and ignored the all night shopping channel wondering if there had been something else I should have said. Another angle to pursue. Another scripture to quote.
        Finally somewhere after the folding ski machine and a CD changer with remote I fell asleep still wondering about it. But thanking God that the lady cop, I'm sorry, I can't remember her name right off the top of my head, had decided to come to Christ in spite of me and Reverend Miller.
        It was still early when I woke up in a panic. Somehow I thought I had overslept and was supposed to get up and be at the church in a few minutes. But it was just after one in the morning. The TV guy was selling the Great Books on CD ROM with another disc of lessons and readings on them.
        It was a great deal. But I'd read Moby Dick and I'd seen the movie of Dr. Zavago, so I let it go and fell asleep again.
        Now it was four in the morning and I was watching a gentle rain outside. Was I right in bringing all that up to Reverend Miller. It was his church to run as he was called?
        Wasn't it?
        NO. I told myself. It was God's Church. And it was the Elder's place to step to him, but if he wouldn't listen to them. Like the one that wouldn't listen to the Third John Apostle John, well... one of them, then it had to be drug out into the open in front of the church. I fell asleep for a few minutes.
        Maybe I was his last shot at bringing himself around. Nobody had even hinted that he was doing something outside the church, or even inside it, that was all that wrong. He was just micromanaging the congregation to death.
        He hadn't said anything that was doctrinally wrong, in fact, we had agreed on almost everything that had come up in our talk. The problem had been in style, in the application of various passages. The main passage I had on my side had been the one about the Apostles acting as waiters. He had quoted several passages right back at me. Like in Second Timothy four where Paul had told Timothy to rebuke and instruct and so on.
        Then I had asked him why did we need Elders that were apt to teach if the Preacher was supposed to do it all.
        He had stood there like he had never thought about that before.
        I finished packing my dishes.
        "You're right." He said as he turned and walked out.
        I had wanted to say something else. But he had vanished into the huge building. I walked out to my car and put the dishes in it. After a brief visit with some of the young people and turning down a trip to a pizza joint I drove to the motel.
        Then I spent a good piece of the night worrying and thinking and trying to figure out what I needed to say Monday to try to accomplish what I felt was an actual mission.
        At six I got up and went for the breakfast special.

        After breakfast I went back to the Motel for a hot shower and to decide if I wanted to preach the referee sermon or not. The message light was blinking. It was from Reverend Miller.
        I took a long hot shower then drove to the church to meet the lion in his den.

        During the shower and the drive I had prepared for a war. I expected him to poke everything I had ever said full of holes. I half hoped he'd ask me what to do to bring their church into line with what I thought it should be. More realistically, I expected him to hand me a check for services rendered and a suggestion to be out of town by sundown.
        What I didn't expect was essentially a panel discussion with Elder Leroy, Reverend Miller, a younger man from the congregation, and a couple of others.
        It turned out that several of the elders had wanted to give the good reverend his walking papers and Elder Leroy had talked them into bringing me in as the last straw. If he didn't at least see the writing on the wall, they'd begin a search for a new minister.
        True to form, Reverend Miller hadn't seen it coming, had no clue that they were that unhappy with him, and was rather upset that they hadn't spoken to him before now.
        "We had." Elder Leroy said. "How many times did one of us ask if you wanted us to be worship leader. Or to run the board meeting?"
        "I didn't understand what you meant." He looked from man to man with wide eyes.
        After lunch I said I needed to get ready for the evening service. They let me go with their blessing.
        I drove back to the motel and set my travel alarm and crashed for a two hour nap. Then I went through my sermon and got ready for my dinner invitation at a member's house and the service.

Mr. Miller

        Before the evening service I stood in the entranceway with Reverend Miller and felt there was still an edge to the man I didn't like.
        I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and told myself that it would take time for him to change. But, still.
        "Oh, I believe I forgot to introduce you to my wife. Brother Samuel, this is Susan."
        I had seen her around. She had worked through lunch yesterday. He had had a dozen opportunities to introduce her. And, in fact, she had told me her name was Sue at least twice. But until that moment, I didn't know she was his wife.
        I shook her hand and said it was a pleasure.
        For a Monday night the crowd wasn't bad. Just a little smaller than it had been for the Sunday night service.
        The music service offered by the youth group from a church across town was invigorating and I found myself still out of breath when Reverend Miller introduced me.
        "Thank you Reverend Miller." I said walking up on stage still wearing my black jacket over my referee shirt.
        "Brother Samuel. Please. I think it's just Mister Miller now."

        Perhaps a leopard can change his spots after all.


        I slept a lot better that night.
        And the next morning I ate a hearty 'Early Bird Breakfast' before checking out. I didn't even mind the desk clerk that would have made the Pope look like a backslider. He was remarkable in the number of references to about four different Saints, the Virgin Mary, and his personal faith in the Rosary that he could work in to the transaction. I wished more people, of all faiths, had that devotion to witnessing.
        "I believe the Virgin did give us all very good advice about Jesus." I said finally.
        "Oh?" He seemed surprised I would say something like that.
        "In John two. The feast at Cana. What did Mary say to the servants?" I looked at him. He was clueless. "'Whatever He says to you. Do it.'"
        He was a good Catholic. But he was speechless.
        I thanked him for the nice room and plenty of hot water, suggested he read his Bible instead of his tracts. And left.

        It was a beautiful day for a drive. I had a new tape of good music, a gift from one of the families at the church that I had mentioned my serious lack of road music to. The car was running great on its new tires. And the traffic was really moving along.
        I didn't even stop for lunch.
        Tell City was one of those places I had heard about, but had never been to.
        Now I had been there. And I was driving around in circles looking for where I was supposed to be as the sun sank into the west.
        I had all the directions printed out from an email. But they made no sense whatsoever.
        Then I figured out I was in the wrong city, in the wrong state.
        The church I was to preach in was in Tell City, Indiana. My host's house wasn't. They were in Hawesville, Kentucky. And I couldn't get there from here due to a little problem called the Ohio River.
        Once I got across the bridge and got facing the right way, everything made sense and I found the house with no problem.
        I could smell the fried chicken from the porch.

        Mr. and Mrs. Randell F. W. Shorhill made me feel at home immediately. Them and their cats.
        After dinner I called home on my card and they took me for a walk around town. Without the cats.
        "We're just in time. You can get a better view from up here." He said and towed me up a small hill. "Here it comes." He pointed off to the left.
        And there it came.
        A riverboat.
        "It's a floating casino. But it's made like the old showboats from back when my dad was a kid."
        I had seen some of the river cruise ships that were remakes or restorations of old paddle wheelers on the river, but this one was something special. It was lit up like Las Vegas and playing music and tooting its whistle as it approached the bridge.
        After it passed I told them that that had indeed been something to see. The rest of our walk around their neighborhood was much less memorable.
        After the walk several members of a couple of the local churches happened by to say hi.
        In a couple of hours Mr. Shorhill suggested that his wife show me the upstairs guestroom.
        "Get out!" Mrs. Shorhill said to a big fat cat that seemed to think the bed in the room was its own personal kingdom.
        The cat gave me a very nasty look, then walked out with its nose and tail in the air.
        "I'll get you a fresh pillow case." The lady said assuring me the sheets and blankets had all been laundered that day.
        "I'm sure they'll be fine." I said. "I'm a little tired from the drive. I think I'll just turn in early if nothing else is going on."
        "Oh, that'll be fine. And don't worry about getting up early. We don't do much around here before seven."
        That cat smell wasn't real bad in the room, and I only sneezed at it a couple of times.
        And the next morning I smelled bacon cooking just after six, but I couldn't drag myself out of bed until closer to seven no matter how bad I tried to convince myself I had to get moving.
        After Breakfast Mr. Shorhill drove me back across the River and we spent a few hours visiting some of his 'Northern Neighbors'. There was a luncheon at the church and I was asked to speak about my travels and a few other random thoughts.
        This happens every so often. Actually, quite often. I was the featured attraction and something of either an oddity or a celebrity, and so people figured I enjoyed spontaneous public speaking. Unlike my sermons, I didn't have a pat speech ready.
        But I had several more or less well practiced observations and comments on everything from foul shots to decide tie soccer games to the idea of unorganized informal churches. The format I preferred for these things was to give a little background about who and what I was and then offer a couple of stories that I found mildly amusing, then open it up for questions.
        I said that and the host minister nodded.
        Since you already know who I am, if not what I am, I'll skip that part. And two of the stories I told we've already hit in this essay. But I did talk about my experience on the bus of a college baseball team that broke down on the highway.
        "It was an older school bus and it stopped right dead in the middle lane of Interstate 70. Just stopped. We sat there for a few minutes while the coach called for help. A State Trooper pulled up behind the bus with his lights on and walked up to the door. He asked if everything was OK, and the driver told him that it just quit. Turned out later that a gear in the rear end had stripped clean. The trooper asked him if he could get it over to the side while we waited. The driver said it wouldn't move. Then the cop looked back at all these baseball players and asked who they were." I chuckled a little. "He told them they were a baseball team. The cop made a face and jerked his head towards us, 'Get this bus off the road.' He said."
        "So all of us got off the bus and with the cop sitting in his car behind us with his lights going. We all pushed it onto the shoulder. It was another hour before the wrecker got there, they had to make the game up next week. The next time I interviewed the coach on the radio he said the college had gotten a slightly newer bus for them because they were tired about hearing on our show that the team would be better off riding horses to out of town games."
        It got enough of a laugh.
        I answered questions about sports radio talk shows, and the differences between churches I had been to, and so on.
        Then the subject came up that I had been dreading.
        The host church had women deacons.
        Somebody asked me what I thought about it.
        I stood there like the idiot I was.

        "It's not scriptural." I said finally. There was some dissent from here and there in the room, but I held my hand up and waited for quiet.
        "It's Not Scriptural. There is no way around it. That's not a difference in interpretation, the language in Timothy, and Acts is plain. However. I don't think it's a Salvation issue. So I'm not going to either condemn it or support it. My personal feelings about it are just like the ones I have about the Designated Hitter in Baseball. I know what I think, and we can discuss it from now until we run out of coffee, but it's not liable to change anything, and the American League is going to do what they want to do in spite of both of us. So we move on."
        That elicited a bit more of a response from them. Evidently everybody in the room wasn't happy with the situation, and some didn't like my stand on it. I decided to provoke it some more.
        "Well?" I said. "Is it absolutely prohibited in the Church to have women SERVE?"
        Once they thought about it, they got quiet.
        I continued in a few seconds. "Deacon is not an Office of Authority. It is an Office of Service. At least the first ones were. In Timothy the qualifications are separate. And in Titus, I don't think Deacons are mentioned at all. So evidently the church is not Required to have Deacons as it is to have Elders." I stood there and looked at them. "So. If you've got women serving the church.... What's the big deal about calling them 'Deaconesses' or something like that? Is it hurting anything?" I thought about it. "Maybe it Could be a stumbling block to some that still read the King James only and think women should be quiet in the church... And as such maybe you shouldn't make a big deal out of it on National TV..." I coasted to a stop.
        "What do You say about it?" One man asked me.
        "I wouldn't be comfortable with it in my home church. But I'm not going to call down the Fire of Judgment on you for having them. If your church wants to, it's between you and God."
        They muttered to themselves for a minute. Then somebody asked a question about serving the Lord's Supper on Wednesday evenings.
        That was an easy one.

One Night Wonder

        We went back across the river after the luncheon.
        "You did fine." Mr. Shorhill said. "They bait everybody with that Woman Deacon stuff. And they really don't have women deacons." He said.
        "They don't?" I said. "It said in the bulletin from last Sunday that there were two of them serving this week."
        "Oh, yeah. They serve." He grinned at me as we turned off the highway and wound up the hill to his house. "They make and clean up the communion trays. They do the housekeeping. They even fill in once in awhile passing the plate if they're short help. But it's not an every Sunday kind of thing."
        "So it's they're just starting it." I said.
        "Maybe. But it's been like that over there for a couple of years."
        "Does your church over here allow women to do what they do over there?"
        "No." He said.
        Mrs. Shorhill wanted to say something, but she didn't.
        "Do you think it's wrong?" I asked him halfway over the river.
        He didn't answer until we were sitting in his driveway waiting for the garage door to go up. "Almost." He said finally.
        I didn't push for a better answer. And I never found out what Mrs. Shorhill wanted to say.

        Later back in Indiana at the church I had to beg off further discussion of the issue. Evidently the women did a few more things than Mr. Shorhill had said, but they weren't running the church, yet.
        Well, they were. I know of several churches where the women's organization actually run the place, and they let the men on the board sign off on it to make it look proper for the casual observer. Here at least, there was little smoke and mirrors to cover it up.
        I looked at last month's newsletter. Three women had been at the last board meeting as full voting members of the church board. While not completely unheard of, the fact that two were listed elsewhere as 'Deacons' or 'Deaconesses' (the terms were used interchangeably for the ladies) was unusual.
        The more I looked into it while preparing for my sermon, the less I liked it. Being servants to the church was one thing. Sitting as treasurer, serving on the worship committee, and even filling in as Worship Leader made me wonder if this was over some line or other.
        Fortunately nobody else approached me and demanded a doctrinal statement and sentence outline with multiple Scripture references on the whole thing.
        But the uneasy feeling that maybe this local church was walking a little too close to the out of bounds line on the fairway of life gave me some 'Juice' to preach with that evening.
        I flew in and out of the jumpsuits. I ran through every verse on church organization I could remember. I ranted and raved and pointed at the sky so often some people were glancing up as if the ceiling had a hole in it.
        And then I was done, and in record time too. Out of breath and sweating as they 'Amen'ed and Mr. Parker came up and thanked me. "We've got a few minutes. Would any of you like to ask Brother Samuel any questions about his presentation?"
        I didn't pass out. Not entirely. But I did drain my sport bottle of every drop of water it had in it.
        "Doesn't he do the Old Testament in one sermon?"
        I nodded.
        "I wanna hear it." Somebody else said.
        "Well. I don' think..."
        "I don't mind." I said. "In fact, I've got my notes out in my car. It only takes about fifteen minutes."
        They wanted to go for it. I just asked for a couple of minutes to catch my breath and get a drink.
        "OK, sure. We'll sing a song or two, and when you're ready..." He smiled.
        OK, I'm a glutton for punishment and maybe a bit of a ham too. But it went over great and they loved it.

        That night I slept like a rock, cat on the end of the bed or not.
        Thursday night I delivered one sermon instead of two. Again, full of the 'Juice'. Blowing my whistle and throwing flags like a man possessed until they were shouting back and 'Amen'ing every other sentence. I was on fire. 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' wouldn't have went over any better.
        I was exhausted and sat in the 'afterglow' eating chocolate pecan pie and sipping coffee in almost a daze as they talked about the service around me. I was asleep before I got to the guestroom and have no idea if 'Snuggles' was in the bed with me or not.

        And the next morning I headed for Nashville.

Continued in Lord's Lunatic part 7

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