At the association pastors’ prayer breakfast this morning, Deputy Sheriff/Pastor Eddie reported on the recent theft of the SUV owned by a fellow pastor. The account went like this.
Pastor Melvin stopped at a gas station to buy a newspaper and a cup of coffee on his way to his business, a barber shop, in the church community where he serves.
It was a cool morning, so he left the vehicle running. While paying for his purchases, he glanced over his shoulder to notice his SUV moving. He dashed out of the door and ran alongside and then behind the vehicle, hitting it with his newspaper, to no avail. The car and culprit disappeared down the road.
About 12 hours later the suspect was arrested at his father’s home. Melvin’s gun and credit cards were found in his possession. He led the officers to the place were Melvin’s SUV had been wrecked.
He is now in our county jail. Compassionately, the pastors had Eddie take the leftovers from our breakfast over to the jail.
Melvin is famous in our area for memorable sermons built on illustrations from his life: The Fainting Goats, False Teeth on the Freeway, A Bag of Bones, Momma’s Cheap Perfume, Lost in the Swamp, Wildcat Loose in the Car, Deer Hunting with Brother George and many more.
When he preaches these messages, he reminds his listeners again and again that, “You just can’t make up stories like these.” True. But Melvin seems blessed with experiences that both entertain and inform about the gospel.
Our conversation naturally turned to what lesson Melvin might draw from his experience with car theft.
To set the stage for our “sermon helps,” let me briefly share the theme of the sermon on fainting goats.
Melvin tells about going to a church to conduct a revival. The church leader in whose home he stayed had an unusual breed of goats. When they hear a loud noise, they fall over in a dead faint. Melvin used them to illustrate “faint heartedness” of some church members.
We sent the fruit of our labors to him, along with the request that he invite us to the service when or if he uses it.
Here is what we came up with.
Title: “Going Home.”
(1.) Many events in everyday life are grounded in sin. The violation of God’s commands is sinful, and our reaction being sinned against is often sinful too.
We went immediately to the Ten Commandments. The 10th commandment says not to covet various things, including a neighbor’s donkey. (Ex 20:17) The modern version of a man’s donkey is, of course, his SUV.
The culprit had a valid goal of going to his father’s house. But not having a way of his own, he coveted. And in coveting he went on to break not one, but two of the commandments. He stole from another person.
But Melvin, in his reaction to the thief, also broke one of the commandments, at least in his heart. Chasing the vehicle, he surely he wished that it was his gun and not a rolled-up newspaper in his hand, so that he could have yelled in his best Clint Eastwood imitation, “Go ahead, make my day.”
Sin’s impact upon us, even preachers, is like that. We can be sailing along righteously and then some unexpected thing happens and the old nature reasserts itself.
(2.) By leaving the SUV running and unlocked, Melvin inadvertently contributed to the temptation of another person, albeit one who was already deep in sin and under suspicion of the sheriff on other charges.
We are our brother’s keeper. We cannot deny it. So, we need to exercise care. Among the many biblical passages which address this is 1 Corinthians 10:31-32.
(3.) Desiring to return to one’s father is a good thing, but it must be done in the right way and for the right purpose. A third text Melvin might use is John 14:6. This has long been the heart of the message that Melvin preaches. Jesus will get one to the Father.
Our hearts at breakfast went out both to Melvin for his loss and to the one who now is in jail for the crime. But we are prayerfully excited about both the possibility of salvation for the thief and the message Melvin will bring for us after he reflects upon this new experience in his life and ministry.
Of course he may take a very different tact. That is one of the great things about reflecting on life theologically. The same event holds many truths.
Given his past performances, we expect Melvin’s will far outshine the feeble effort we offered in writing.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.