The effect of that first occurrence was so powerful that when, on Monday, the men assigned to control the system from the glass-front booth in the back of the church talked about getting out the kinks, Pastor Smithson balked just enough for them to put off the job.
The “second occurrence” a few weeks later was much shorter. The sermon topic that day was the dynamic nature of love. Smithson stressed how difficult it would be to be a Christian and not live in community with others. Our profession of faith, he said, needs to prompt a kind of activism. Suddenly, another male voice came over the speakers: “If you think of the true pleasures of life,” the voice said, “very few of them involve the isolated individual. Even reading is a shared activity--you are sharing with an author who has the capacity for getting into you and grabbing you.”
“Exactly!” Smithson said immediately, pointer finger raised. He never missed a beat in that sermon, whose concluding paragraphs some people can recite yet today, months later.
Something happened with the “second occurrence.” Because its place in the process of worship was so seamless, few parishioners even questioned the coincidental nature of the “radio event” when they left the sanctuary. What had happened, the collective mind of Delaney Street Church reasoned, was that God Almighty had steered a radio conversation from local station WOBR right into our brand-new sanctuary to highlight the truth. Needless to say, such special favor has immediate rewards.
The “third occurrence” was even more remarkably--probably because the radio voice was much less “fitting.” The subject of the sermon (the occurrences all have happened at approximately the same time in the service) in this case is immaterial. Smithson had trouble starting, as he sometimes does. He was looking for the right impulse, much like a pianist looking over the keyboard and flexing his fingers before beginning in earnest.
Suddenly, there came a voice, male again, this time pitched dramatically in the manner of someone reading poetry. “The blackened ash is planted as a covenant with spring,” it said, the words on a slow march, “but in its dead loins lies no life but the seed of fire.”
This was only the third occurrence, mind you, but the congregation had already become so accepting of the phenomenon that no one exhibited the least bit of annoyance. Rather, all eyes came to rest on Smithson, who understood instantaneously that this third quite unexpected and singularly elusive transmission had become, on the basis of what had happened already twice before, his text. He had to explicate because all of us, and all the new people who’d come to visit Delaney Street--and even Smithson himself--had already convinced ourselves that these transmissions were unique manifestations of the hand of God Almighty.
So, without thinking, he began to move into a detailed analysis he hadn’t planned on, delving into what he determined to be the truth of the line so almightily delivered into our sanctuary: that in this world of woe, death is always and only an end, never a beginning; only with Christ can life emerge from death. Or something to that effect. That morning, everyone in the congregation felt assured that they had been in the presence of something more than ordinary.
Tomorrow: Conclusion to "Occurrence at Delaney Street"