Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Jonah and the Visitor--a story (i)

On old story from Reformed Worship, many moons ago, describing an event that lots and people remember in a lots and lots of churches. Just for fun.
I don’t care what anybody says, I’m mad. I’m not writing another sermon for church next week because nobody heard a word of the last one.

I’ve been holding forth for so many years I’ve lost track of time--80 or 90 or 150 years old is what it feels like. After last Sunday, maybe most all of Methuselah’s 900.

Sometimes it feels like a curse to be a preacher because you see every last sleepy eye from up front, in my years dozens more than my share. And this was a Jonah sermon, one of the great stories of the Bible, a real slacker gobbled up by the whale and spit out on shore like bad sausage.

The blame for what happened lies squarely on our frightful guest—I know that. If it wouldn’t have been for him, I would have had the people’s attention under lock and key. Last night we had one in the sanctuary--what I want to know now is how many more uncles and aunts and cousins will flit in uninvited and ruin sermons I’ve spent half my week planning. A bat--one of those black-winged, horror-story blood-suckers flew in Sunday night, uninvited, and destroyed everything.

Bats chirp, but mostly you don’t really hear them, but you see them just fine. They swoop in and turn on a dime as if they’re being dangled by one of Satan’s own evil puppeteers. I spotted him first during the hymn, saw him float around against the stained glass above the empty balcony before anyone else saw him, turning on a dime, coasting on unseen drafts. Everyone else was looking down in the hymnal at the words of a song I probably shouldn’t have picked because no one knew it. This time at least, it was half a blessing.

Burt the janitor wasn’t in his usual spot right then either. I looked for him, but he’s got a way of sneaking out once things get started. When the sanctuary temperature is just right and the speaker system’s operating the way it should, he sees things are moving and just like that he’s out for a puff on one of his fat black cigars he relites, Sundays only. He won’t admit it. If I ask him, he’ll tell me he was in the basement for a toilet running over.

So what could I do but hope that little devil with wings would find some nice warm spot to hang on and not make a run into the sanctuary.

Wishful thinking.

I read scripture, started in on the sermon, and everything looked fine. Through the story of the storm at sea, even the children were attentive. But when I came to the part where the affrighted sailors hoist Jonah overboard, I started to see those same kids looking straight up, a penguin chorus. That bat was somewhere in the peak of the ceiling, looking to perch.

Now First DeKalb is an old church, high ceilinged, with sanctuary lights suspended above the benches from long poles. This much I know about bats--like the little devils they are, they love the darkness. This one--he had wings a foot across--stayed up in the peak for most of my exposition, except for an occasional sortie towards parishoners’ heads, once right for beanpole-ish Durword Blankenship, whose bald pate always beckons lightning by pointing so way up high.

At that, the whole crowd sucked in a deep breath so deep that could have sucked the flame off votive candles, if we were Catholic. Mothers clenched their children, and little girls placed tented hymnals over their heads so the sanctuary looked like military camp. Reggie Gullikson, who’s been out of control since he was three, start flicking paper wads every time the bat made a dive.

But if you’d have seen their eyes, you’d have thought the whole assembly had lost their wits--everybody, young and old, all of them following that demonic bat’s every last dip and flip, tracing every corner he cut, every dive and swoop, a hundred whites of a hundred eyes, a chorus of rolling eyeballs.
Tomorrow: The visitor comes to roost.

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