Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:
People were fascinated a few years ago when the story broke about a man who found a precious jewel worth thousands of dollars at a flea market. Obviously, even the seller didn’t know what he had. Hundreds of shoppers had passed it by day after day because the gem was casually displayed, and they assumed it was cheap costume jewelry.
It’s even sadder that precious children of God — people for whom our Savior died — are often ignored and passed by too. Sometimes our “mission emphasis” is more a matter of pious phrases than hands on action.
Years ago, a friend of mine was doing graduate work in counseling. He wanted to experience firsthand what it was like to seek the counsel and aid of a clergyman when you’re really down and out. So he went without food for several days, didn’t bathe or shave, and put on some of his oldest paint clothes. In this condition he visited several churches in the large southern city where he was studying. He made it a point never to ask for money or physical assistance. In fact his approach was to seek spiritual counsel about a real spiritual problem.
At the first church, he was greeted curtly by a secretary who immediately accused him of being drunk. She also hastily referred him to an inner city mission which, she said, they supported. As she put it, “They take care of people like you.”
At his second stop, a large church dinner was about to begin. He was intercepted by an officious minister who quickly took him aside from the group and quietly explained they didn’t have time to deal with him. My friend also noted that the pastor quietly asked some of the men of the church to watch him as he left, to be sure he actually exited the premises.
In the third church, my friend was passed from one clergyman to another. His final “counselor” seemed to assume my friend had some sort of criminal record. In any case, without even listening to his problem, the clergyman gave him directions to the Salvation Army.
The fourth church, an obviously wealthy congregation, passed my friend to a “lay minister” who lectured him about social responsibilities and then quickly ushered him out. My friend noted, as he left, the words carved in fine marble above the church’s door: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
The fifth and final church was a small congregation where a black minister was setting up a film presentation for his youth group. When my friend apologized for interrupting, the pastor insisted he stay and they would talk after he had the film started. This pastor not only carefully listened, guided and prayed with my friend, but he expressed genuine concern for his physical needs. He would not let him leave the premises unless he accepted some money and directions to a place where he could stay.
We frankly don’t have to look far for an understanding of what our Old Testament lesson refers to as “a stiff-necked people.”
But neither do we have to look far for an understanding of what Paul meant by saying, “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”
The mark of how well we share the Gospel is often shown in the company we keep. Our Lord was criticized for welcoming sinners and eating with them. In His amazing love, He saw precious and priceless gems where others saw nothing but cheap costume jewelry.
My friend’s experiment came to the attention of a reporter who ran the story of his experiences in a Sunday edition of the city’s largest newspaper. Scores of clergy, many assuming he had visited their churches (although he had not), sent scathing and defensive letters to the editor. None, however, seemed to see the irony of the situation nor grasp the inner feelings my friend had experienced firsthand.
Mission work always begins with self awareness: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy….” It’s only in that light that we can see the lost coin, the lost sheep…the lost sons and daughters of our Lord.