My heart kicks up and every gust of wind, and my hunger grows stronger in search for the milk of human kindness.
It's always surprising to me what - and who - God will put in my path when I start out in a journey of faith. And, how I find the things I'm looking for in others - and myself.
One of the men who is working on landscaping the yard came over to me this morning during his break. "The Boss tells me you are a minister. That right?"
"Guilty as charged" I said, as he chuckled.
"God bless you," he said.
"Thank you. I really need that," I said, and I meant it because I had been just been fretting about my sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter.
"Oh, I know," he said, "I sometimes wonder how you carry all those stories in your heart." There was something about the way he said that which confirmed my intuition that this was not going to be just a good-morning-how-are-you kind of pleasant conversation.
"You know, I don't have a story," he said. "I only know what I know and that is my truth. I don't have a story to tell. I have my truth to share."
"And, what is your truth?" I asked, looking down at him from my deck as he stood near the water..
"The truth is," he said, clearing his throat, "that I been through hell, but nobody drove me there but myself. And, God came and opened the Gates of Hell and said, 'Come out, son', but I said, 'Lord, save me'. And, God said, 'Son, I opened the gates. What more do you want?' So, the truth is, I had to get myself outta that mess that I created. I made my own hell and I closed the gate behind me. God opened the gate and gave me another chance. And I said to myself, I said, 'You better get yourself together. You drove yourself in here. You had best drive yourself out.' And, so the truth is, I did. Oh, I had Jesus to follow, that's for sure, and Jesus helped me every step of the way, but I had to take every one of those steps myself. And that, Pastor, is my truth."
I took a deep breath and then looked had him square in the eye.
"How long you been clean and sober?"
"I just celebrated one year two week ago," he said, returning my gaze.
"Well, then, it's true. You can't really preach the gospel unless you've lived it. And you, sir, have had the privilege of knowing about salvation because you've lived it. And, you're living it now. And, you've just preached me the gospel. Thank you. God bless you."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, "I surely have and I surely am, and here's the thing. Salvation is not some high falutin' thee-ology or whatever it is you ministers call it. My pastor says that 'thee-ology' just means 'God-talk' and that's what I talk. God talk. And, the God talk I talk is that Salvation is a gift but you gotsta open it up every day. It don't come just once, but every day. Every day is a chance to live the gift of salvation. And, it don't make no sense to just open it up and say, 'Oh, that's beautiful' and put it up on a shelf and not think about it no more. You got to live it every day. Every. Day. One day at a time."
I put my hands on the railing of the deck and took another deep breath. I think my hands were shaking. It's a powerful, awesome, amazing thing to stand in the presence of another person's truth.
"You know, I've been sitting in there, at my table, fretting about the words I might be given to preach on Saturday night and Sunday morning. I think you just gave them to me. Thank you. God Bless you."
"Well, if you just tell people the truth - your truth - and talk some God talk at the people, those who have ears will hear. If they don't, well, all you can do is open the Gate and say, 'Come out'. They gotsta do the rest for theyselves."
"Amen," I said, quietly. "Amen".
"Now, pastor, would you give me a blessing so I can get some work done for you?"
He took off his baseball cap, moved closer to the railing, and bowed his head. I put my hands on his head and prayed words I didn't know I had in me. I thanked God for the gift of the day and the gift of our salvation. I prayed that we find the strength and courage to open that gift every day and follow Jesus on the long, continuing, winding road to Eternal Life.
And, for some reason, I prayed that we be given the heart of a young lamb, that we might continually find the way to The Old Lamb who knows The Way.
It wasn't until later that morning that I found a book that is an old, dear friend. It's "Deep is the Hunger: Meditations for Apostle of Sensitiveness" first published in 1948 by Howard Thurman - a poet, mystic, philosopher and theologian who knew how to talk God talk in such deeply profound ways as to stir the soul, challenge the mind and inspire the weary heart.
Here is the Thurman poem I found:
A night so wild with theIt's Maundy Thursday.
glory of the moon
that the earth covered its face
On the pathway of my mind
long, long thoughts run riot.
They are quieted; not by the
beauty of the moon
On the covered face of the earth—
But by the passionate swelling
of awful harmony:
“De Old Sheep, they know the road.
Young lambs must find the way.”
My heart whispers to God:
“Let me always be the young lamb.”
Let us gather the flock of young lambs and follow Jesus through that "awful harmony" to Gethsemane and Calvary that we might be ready to meet him at the Empty Tomb.