NEVER SAY NEVER

By John Thomas Tuft

For the announcements section of our time together today: I received a nice little note from Facebook. ‘Dear John, Congratulations on the umpteen thousands of responses you’ve received to your posts.’ Okay, umpteen is my grandmother’s word, but you get the idea.  So, I wrote back a very nice little note: ‘Dear Mr. Zuckerberg, You don’t have to tell me! They’re the greatest. In fact, we’re thinking of having tee shirts made.  “Words are magic, and writers are wizards.” Signed, The Eye of the Needle Klub.  Yeah, K, because we’re trendy kind of folks.’

Now open your hymnals or get your thumbs busy on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get music and find “Never Say Never” performed by The Fray, the soundtrack for Transformers.  Hey, don’t say I didn’t warn you last time!  Personally, I think we’d all have a real blast in worship together, but maybe that’s just me.

“Some things we don’t talk about, rather do without/And just hold the smile…”

Now for today’s message:

Worship was over.  I made the traditional solemn walk to the doors during the recessional to greet the people as they left.  The assembled perishables filed out, shaking my hand.  I noticed one young couple hanging back. I didn’t know them well, but they were very active, one was some sort of executive, the other a banker.  They did not look happy.  Not at all.  Oh, did I mention it was Stewardship Sunday? Yeah, every minister reading this knows where it’s headed next.  The concept of stewardship is not for the faint of heart.  My mentor, Dr. Gordon Jackson, wanted me to go into a doctoral program for pastoral counseling. But nooo, I ended up in the local pulpit and now the pen. Sometimes divine humor escapes me.

“Rev-er-en-d Tuft, we’d like to speak to you.”  When they give your silly title four syllables, you know you’d much rather be watching the Steelers lose. In overtime.  In the play offs. In Pittsburgh. And you’re out of Coke and ice cream. So, we set up a time that evening.  They arrived punctually. With another couple for reinforcements. Honestly, I’m not all that scary! Seems I’d used a story in that morning’s sermon of a young couple sitting at their kitchen table reviewing their finances. They’d recently purchased a new home. New vehicles. Gone overseas on vacation. No children. Retirement plan account was healthy. And now they were discussing what to give to the work of the kingdom. How to decide what amount to part with? And I might have innocently asked, how do they decide?  And, maybe I posed the innocent question of, what would be different if they’d started their financial discussion there? Maybe. Seriously, honestly, I had no earthly idea I was describing their situation. Not a clue.

Well… How dare I!  The very idea!  Didn’t I know everything they did! And our friends here can attest to the fact that you have overstepped the bounds of decency, Mister Tuft! They know us! We are devout! Just ask this other couple sitting here staring righteous darts through you! Up one side of me and down the other.  What was I supposed to say? …. Gotcha?!  And it was obvious as they went on and on, that they were the ones who did not have a clue. They left in a huff, stony faced, their compatriots close around helping them to lick their wounds.  And my heart broke. Never say never.

Another time. Another assembly of perishables. On the table in front of the room is a cup of wine and a loaf of bread. The front two rows of pews are fashionably empty.  Except for one lone figure. I’ll call her Millie. I had met Millie when she came to the back door of the church, where you meet the hungriest of souls. She needed food. I invited her to make use of the food pantry. She asked if I knew who she was. I did.  She turned tricks for cash behind Fat Eddie’s and the local American Legion. We talked. She thanked me for being kind. I invited her to worship. And she came this day. In her finest.  A way too short dress that revealed what was left of a once attractive figure.  Bruises on one side of her face, framed by unkempt hair. What could have been needle tracks on her arms. And on her feet a pair of patent leather red shoes, with gold sparkles and faux diamonds.

Worship proceeded.  Millie was out of her element. Or maybe we are out of ours. The music is unfamiliar to her. The bulletin is a language she doesn’t know. But she listens. I notice that she cannot take her eyes off that cup. And that bread. She is so hungry. So thirsty. Like every last one of us. It is time for the offering. She looks around, bewildered. The other perishables sitting behind her cast sideways looks in her direction as they place their gifts in the plates. She lowers her eyes to avoid the stares. The ushers skip past her. The organ crashes. The offerings are brought forward. Millie bends over. Slips off those outrageous shoes. Brings them up to the table. And places them before the cup and the bread. And without a word, leaves by the side door. 

So…if you are ever crazy enough to hand me the clipboard and set me in front of the door of the Eye of the Needle Klub (with a K) one night and any misanthropic philanthropists approach, I don’t care if it’s Mr. Bezos, Mr. Gates, Mr. Zuckerberg, or those two couples. They damn well better be wearing that pair of red shoes…with the gold sparkles…and the faux diamonds.  And just hold the smile…

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.