Don’t Sit Next to Me

I was relieved.

The gentleman sat in the pew across and in front from me. He had shuffled down the center isle during the priest’s sermon, stood silently at the front pew on the other side, until his presence was felt and everyone scooted over to give him a wide perch. He silently sat. The priest never missed a beat or sweat a drop.

If preaching was an Olympic sport, I’d give him a perfect 10.

I’ve had people disrupt sermons I’ve been delivering on a few, rare occasions, but nothing like a shirtless, shoeless man in obviously soiled britches. Wow. His body odor could set off the Telica volcano.

But it didn’t.

I assumed this man was drunk. Intoxicated. Really lit. After the service, other visiting friends seated in the back had likewise taken note of this man’s slow shuffle to the front of the isle. They also noted that no one else in the Cathedral had reacted with behavior out of the ordinary. Kids weren’t holding their nose and adults weren’t rolling their eyes. He was one of them and we were mere visitors.

Hum. I could sense the Spirit’s daring, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. What’s up, God?

The youth hanging with our missionary team on the front stairs back home shed the light. No. He wasn’t intoxicated. He wasn’t crazy. He was dying. “Infermal” was the word they used.

Why, oh Lord, would you smack me like that?

I think of church as a community of faith, people who are tightly connected, yet always looking to add to the circle. Church is where we can love God and love neighbors and love enemies alike. Church is the boat we take together on the river that leads us back to God.

Church is where we weather together life’s storms. You know, like illness and death. Like terminal illness. Like infermal.

Thank you God, for the cross and blood of Christ. Because I’m so full of assumptions, biases, and sin that I could make the Telica volcano blow. I think I just did!

Have you ever thought to yourself while in church, “I hope he doesn’t sit next to me “? If you have, you’re in good company. This sinner is right there with you.

Next time, I pray he sits next to me.

You in?

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