Here's the steeple. Where's all the people?
In the late afternoon, I will occasionally get this sudden urge to ‘lay before the Lord’ in my office.
I call it my quiet time. On most afternoons, my quiet time is very quiet. Sometimes God speaks to me on these quiet afternoons. He once said “Percy, the UPS man is at your door watching you sleep.’ I later learned it wasn’t God after all. It was our secretary Dorothy on my speaker phone.
But today it was Lester Lane who woke me up. Our newest council member charged his way into my office, saw me on the floor and came totally unglued. Not that he was ever put together. He kept yelling at me that I should resign. At first I thought he was the UPS man. So I asked, “Where did you say to sign?” He shot back “I didn’t say ‘Sign!’ I said ‘Resign!”
The idea sounded wonderful right then. So I did. I took it as a sign from God and moved to Maui.
If only I had. I crawled back to my pastor chair, put on my pastor glasses and took a pastor pose. That’s when you fold your hands as if playing ‘Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple’ with a child. Then you slowly tilt your head so your chin rests slightly on the steeple. Then you squint, stroke your goatee and very calmly say “Can I help you?” Takes a few minutes if you do it correctly. But for Lester, it took him less than 10 seconds for him to say everything he marched in here to say.
I heard that you said “Rodeos are straight from the pit! I also heard you have a secret gambling habit”. Since Lester is a veteran bull rider and our head usher who counts offering every Sunday, I knew we had a problem. I removed my chin from atop the steeple and leaned in close, looking Lester straight in the eyes. They were angry eyes. So he looked in my eyes. My eyes were sleepy.
But fortunately for my sake this gave the appearance of calmness and control. That was not the case at all. I was anything but calm. The reason I looked sleepy is because I was asleep. At least partially. I stared at him a long time. Trying my best to pretend I was wide-awake and attentive. But I said nothing. He took this as a sign of guilt or regret. I just couldn’t think of anything to say.
Plus he hadn’t fully convinced me he wasn’t the UPS driver. But if he was, where’s the package?
He eventually calmed down. I asked him to explain why he thought I was gambling and who told him I thought rodeos are from the devil. After some detective work, Lester and I figured it out.
Hilda called Ida saying ‘Lester Lane is moving out of state and won’t be our head usher. He quit.’
So Ida called Flo and said ‘The Lanes are in a very bad state. And I guess Lester is starting to spit’.
Flo told her husband Leo to tell Minnie to pass it on to the prayer chain. She was going to Bingo.
So Leo rang up Minnie Bosch and said ‘Minnie, Flo says you need to have the ladies pray for the lanes or roads. I guess they aren’t straight. And pray Pastor will stop spitting the pits out of his peaches. And pray my wife wins at bingo. We need money to start a strike against the casino’.
Minnie then called Henrietta, Lester’s wife, who Lester says is hard of hearing. Minnie told her that Pastor Percy said ‘Pray the road to hell is straight and that he won’t spit while he preaches’. So she called Lester and said Pastor said ‘Rodeos are straight from the pit of hell and please pray he’ll win the bingo prize so he can pay back his debt at the casino. Or the choir will go on strike’.
The original story? ‘The Lanes are moving to another state so Lester is quitting as head usher’.
And the person who started it was none other than Lester himself. Who told his mother Hilda.
After wading through all this, I was more confused than ever. Lester explained he was moving and said ‘That’s why I had to resign’. I said ‘Where did you say to sign?’ I was very sleepy after
all this investigating. So I wasn’t listening very well. Lester said ‘I didn’t say ‘Sign’. I said ‘resign’. So I said ‘OK, but do you think you can get me on at UPS in Maui’. He shook his head and left.
I suddenly felt the urge to lay before the Lord. So I went to bed. No one woke me up. Not good
on a Sunday. I think my wife left early to stop the choir’s planned walkout during the offertory. So I showed up late. Lester met me at the door. I told him I was going to clear up the confusion and explain what happened. We had to stop these rumors. He begged me not to. But I insisted.
So I did. After my short sermon on James 1:19. ‘Be quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to anger’.
I first asked Lester if he would come up and announce his news. So it came from him. Not me.
He shook his head ‘No’. I shook mine ‘Yes’. He refused. His wife shook her head ‘Yes’. So he did.
I then explained how news of Lester’s move gradually morphed into the scandal that never was.
The laughter began with the first ‘prayer request’. By the end, we were all laughing hysterically. Myself included. But as pastor, I had to restore order. So I yelled ‘Let us pray!’ They all stopped. Except my wife. As I prayed, I heard outbursts of muffled laughter. But it gradually grew quiet.
In the silence, with my eyes closed, I thanked God for bringing order out of chaos. And helping us avert a crisis. I thanked Him for the rumors as they illustrate our need to ‘be slow to speak’.
Still in the posture of prayer, I said ‘Amen’. Lifting my chin from the steeple, I said to my wife,
Where's all the people?!
Unable to speak (as she was still laughing), she pointed to the entrance (which is also an exit).
I panicked. I must have angered them when I threw water on one of the happiest moments our church has enjoyed in ages. Laughter is medicine. And I made them spit it out! With a prayer!
Embarrassed by the whole fiasco and how I handled it, I told my wife ‘I’m going home’ and left.
As I walked out the door, a thunderous applause broke out. And then a song. A song I hadn’t heard for a year. ‘Happy Birthday to you …’ An outdoor picnic was all set up with food, birthday cake and presents. But before I had a chance to apologize, Lester came, put his arm around me and said ‘We decided to celebrate Pastor Appreciation Sunday and your birthday a week early.’
Then he added ‘By the way, I am moving, but not out of state. I found a house on State street. And I’m only quitting as head usher so I can give more time to bull riding. As for all the phone calls, they really did happen once I told my mom Hilda. So we’re buying hearing aids for all the ladies on the prayer chain. And Leo. But once it got back to my wife and I, we spiced it up a bit.”
He continued, “I planned to tell you about my move and the phone calls today. Which I just did. But it wasn’t my plan to tell everyone. Or for you to tell everyone. I hope we didn’t embarrass you. We love you too much to do that.” By this time, I can’t stop laughing. But once I looked at Lester and my precious friends, I realized how much I love them. I started to cry. As did they.
To break the silence, my wife brought one of the gifts up front and they all asked me to open it.
A box of peaches. I asked ‘Who’s it from?’ She said ‘Don’t know. UPS driver left it in your office.’