I Am Not From Here

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There are some people you meet and immediately feel like you’ve known them forever.  He was a friend of a friend, but across the years I’ve heard enough stories about his interactions and relationship with my friend and his family that it was good to finally meet him and his wife in person. For many years, the man served as pastor of the church my friend and his family attended.

Preachers can be strange creatures, but this guy seemed fairly normal.  In addition, his sense of humor and personality was a drawing card.  I could tell that he isn’t a stranger to the concept of having fun.  He certainly isn’t the type who walks around with a big Bible under his arm calling attention to himself by chanting “Holy, Holy, Holy” under his breath. He is a regular guy.  He puts his trousers on one leg at a time and is content to be treated like the guy next door rather than the preacher down the street at the church. 

Yet, sometimes despite consciously choosing to go incognito, his identity and profession has a way of catching up with him.  He and his wife were escaping their routine and embarking on a cruise.  He told his wife, “I’m not volunteering information to anyone that I’m a pastor.  I don’t want to be shunned because I’m thought of as different.  I just want to be a regular guy”.

Theirs was a cruise where assigned seating at dinner was part of the ambience.  Fortunately, it was a homogenous grouping of people assigned to the table where he and his wife were seated. So far, so good!   No one had asked: “What do you do for a living?”

Yet, his anonymity proved to be short lived.  A young woman from across the table asked: “Aren’t you the pastor of a church in (naming the town where he resided)?”  Without waiting for an answer she said: “I’m a flight attendant.  I got in from a flight late one night and turned on the television in my hotel room. I remember an ad about your church.  You were talking and then it showed the congregation”. 

Once the secret was out of the bag, it wasn’t long before the pastor forfeited the privilege of remaining incognito.  One of the couples at their table announced they were celebrating their wedding anniversary.  “Would you mind setting a time for us to renew our vows?”  Another couple said, “We’ve had some rough times lately.  Would you mind providing counseling services?”

I guess you could say it proved to be a working vacation. As it turned out, when he was conducting the wedding vow renewal service for the couple, someone from the upper deck looked over the railing and yelled to those on his level: “Hey – A wedding is taking place!”  In as fast as you can count to ten, there were 500 people crowded around the railing to see for themself.

Do you remember the time when being on vacation was synonymous with being away from work?  I guess we can thank technology for affording us the opportunity to simply “put work on dim” while we attempt to vacation and stay involved with the office at the same time.  I don’t know about you, but I hate that.  Maybe I’m old school.  When I’m off work I don’t want to be obligated to the office.

This past Friday and Saturday evenings, I had the opportunity to visit with my friend’s former pastor. You may wonder: “What do two preachers talk about?”  The short and truthful answer is: “Many things”.  At some point in the evening he asked: “Are you familiar with the concept of Synchronicity?” 

Instead of answering his question directly, I simply replied: “Tell me more.”  That was like baiting the hook.  I’ve never met a preacher yet who didn’t have more to say.  Had I truthfully answered his question, he would have known I don’t know much.  I had never heard the word “synchronicity” before.  I had no idea that synchronicity is a concept, first explained by psychiatrist Carl Jung, which holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no casual relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related.

 He went on to provide me an example. He said: “I was the guest preacher for the morning Worship service at a large church.  The service began with five baptisms of college age youth by the college pastor.  Turning to the first candidate for baptism standing next to him in the baptistery, the college pastor said to the congregation: “It is my privilege to baptize Katy as an expression of her faith in Christ”.  Katy looked at him with the look of surprise and said: “My name’s not Katy, it is Sara.”  Laughter filled the church.  In addition to Sara, four other college-aged youth were baptized: Jacob, Halle, Matthew and Seth.

The visiting pastor quickly entered the names of the five college students in his cell phone.  When he later stood to speak, he said, “I’d like for us to begin by praying for the young people who’ve just been baptized. Let’s pray for Sara, Jacob, Halle, Matthew and Seth”.  After an abbreviated pause, he said: “I also want us to pray for Katy. We don’t know who Katy is or anything about her needs, but God does.  Let’s pray to God for Katy as well.

After the close of the service, the visiting preacher was asked to meet a young woman who was now seated on the front pew.  The person making the introduction said, “I’d like for you to meet Katy. She had made a profession of faith this morning.  Looking at the visiting preacher, the young woman said: “My name is Katy.  Last night I decided I needed to make some lifestyle changes. I wondered if God could make a difference in my life.  I came here this morning and you mentioned my name.  You asked others to pray for me.  As you were leading in prayer, I heard others around me praying for me.  God has answered the prayer by giving me new life.”

My new preacher friend shared one other story that left me with a sense of awe.  The preacher had reportedly driven to his home one afternoon.  Although he didn’t express it, I knew that he lived in a fairly remote and upper middle-class exclusive neighborhood. My friend had told me about his home.  

He said that as he turned in to his subdivision he noticed a man standing on the corner near the entrance. He was wearing a Corrigan sweater and looked like Mr. Rogers from the neighborhood.  He waved at the man and the man returned his wave. 

He drove three blocks to his home and after getting out of his car, he looked and the same man he had waved to a couple of minutes earlier was now standing in the street next to his driveway.  He asked: “Are you the pastor of (naming the church)?  The pastor walked to the curb and as he said: “Yes.”  He then asked: “Do you live in this neighborhood?  I haven’t seen you before.”  The man replied: “I’m not from here.” 

The Mr. Rogers from the neighborhood (look alike) then asked: “Do you have a faith relationship with Jesus Christ?”  The pastor affirmed that he did.  The man then asked: “Do you preach from the teachings of the Bible?”  The pastor affirmed that he did.     

Puzzled, the pastor asked: “Are you visiting someone in the neighborhood?”  Once again the man replied: “I’m not from here.”

I can’t remember exactly the phrase the pastor shared with me regarding what the man said next.  It was a comforting affirmation that the pastor was where he needed to be and that he was doing what he needed to do. God would bless him in the process.

As the man turned to walk away, the pastor turned and walked to his front door.  He obviously wasn’t thinking.  Why didn’t he ask the man if he needed a ride?  He turned to do so and the man was gone. Walking quickly to the end of his driveway, he looked both ways and the man was nowhere to be seen.   

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The pastor returned to his car and drove through the neighborhood.  There was no sign of the man, or was it an angel unaware?  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

All My Best!

Don

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