Jim's Kind of Preacher
Peter had just been told -- by God -- to do something he had always considered to be a sin. But Peter wasn’t allowed much time to think all this through, because some guys from Cornelius’ house showed up and said, “We’re supposed to bring you to our boss.” Cornelius was Roman – as in Italian. He sent some guys to see Peter, probably some big guys dressed in black togas with sunglasses on and mysterious bulges in their tunics. Peter probably didn’t ask many questions.
When Peter arrived, Cornelius literally fell at his feet. He probably figured that if an angel sent him, he must be special. But Peter’s response is really great – and, again, something Christians should take a lesson from. Peter says, “Stand up, I’m just a regular guy like you.”
Good mental health right there. So many of us feel unqualified to do the work of evangelism because we don’t feel spiritual. We feel so normal, so human. But Peter shows us here that being human is what it’s all about.
All this reminds me of a day I spent with my next-door neighbor, Jim.
Normally, my family’s Saturday routine consists of sleeping in a little, having a big breakfast together and making assignments for what has come to be known as “chore day”. All the things that get piled up during the week get unpiled on Saturday. Laundry gets done. Closets get straightened out. Bathrooms get cleaned. You know the drill.
There was a Saturday a few years back, though, that got interrupted before chores began. We were still sitting at the breakfast table. I hadn’t even managed to get my second cup of coffee before my next-door-neighbor, Jim, rang the doorbell. In an incredibly calm and even voice he said, “John, I need you to run me to the hospital. I think I’m having a stroke.”
He said it in the same way he might say, “John, I need you to run me to the store. I think I need some milk.”
I threw on a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans and spent the rest of the day in the emergency room. Oddly enough, 45 minutes after we got there, he was fine. Something had certainly happened, but he was fine. Still, by then, he’d already had blood taken and was hooked up to the machine that goes “Ping!” So, we had to stay for a while. He tried to run me off, but I stubbornly refused. After all, if I went home, I’d have to scrub toilets.
I stayed, and we talked…about everything, politics and religion (the two things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company). Jim was incredibly well-read and a deep thinker. He’d given up on church and was pretty sure Jesus was not God (a conviction solidified when his Episcopalian Priest one day told him that no one in seminary believed it anymore, that seminary professors scoffed at the idea, that the only reason anyone preached it from the pulpit was because that’s what they were paid for. Thanks for that, Mr. Episcopalian Priest!)
Still, Jim was a believer of sorts. He knew there was a God. He believed that God had written something of a moral code on his heart. He actually said, “I’ve never doubted what the right thing to do is. I just can’t seem to do what I know is the right thing.” He didn’t even know that his words came straight from the Bible (Romans 7 for those of you keeping score at home).
He was really concerned about the eternal destiny of his Muslim friend from work. He was still confused about why the Baptist church he grew up in fired the one pastor who connected with him. He didn’t understand why religious people are so afraid of mystery. He was angry at television preachers who stole money from his aging relatives.
More than anything, he was worried that, after 66 years of pondering, he may not have made any progress at all in understanding this God who he is convinced exists. I suggested that maybe God really is infinite.
“I don’t know, Jim. How do you measure progress against infinity?” I asked.
He laughed and said, “You may be my kind of preacher.”
I’ll take it.