Sermon Illustrations


I read a marvelous story remembered by Reverend Mary Moore Roberson. She writes:

"Some years ago, I served on the lay staff of my home parish under the supervision of the priest charged with pastoral care. Barbara took to appearing, first at the door to his office and then to mine. She was a member of a very large, very affluent church. She was neither affluent nor large – short enough to be easily overlooked. She told us that the bank was about to take her childhood home, the house in which she and her 10-year-old son Jeffrey lived. The treasurer gave her advice and offered to speak to the mortgage people, who went on and foreclosed anyway.

And for a time, we heard, she and the boy lived in her tired blue Chevrolet, eventually moving into the grand-sounding Jesse Jackson Townhomes, a public housing project filled with the crack of guns and cocaine, so dangerous that Barbara could not allow her child to go outside to play. The place might as well have had a sign over its entrance: 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here.' Or perhaps: 'Having abandoned hope, enter here.'

"But she did not abandon hope. Over and over during those long months, I would look up from my desk to find Barbara in the doorway, her short, round body fixed there, often with her taller pasty-faced child looming over her right shoulder. 'Jeffrey needs shoes for school, and I don’t have the money to buy them. Will you help?' 'I don’t have the money for car insurance.' 'I don’t have the money for gas.' 'Jeffrey’s not going to have any Christmas unless you help.'

"We gave her just exactly what she asked for, layer after layer of Band-Aids as our own selves became overwhelmed by her persistent need and our impotence in the face of that. We just plain came to dread the sound of our normally cheerful receptionist as she announced tiredly, 'Barbara’s here.'

"One day a member of the staff came to the pastoral care priest and me and said, 'Let’s stop messing around and really help her. It’s going to take a lot of money, and you know as well as I do who is going to say we’re crazy, but we can live through that.'

"He brought us up short. He brought us on into the room where the healing touch of our Lord awaited, reminding us by implication of the pledge that we make when we first stand in the doorway, the baptismal vows that we renew from time to time." The words we just said, "Matthew is now received into the holy Catholic church. Through baptism God has made him a member of the household of God, to share with us in the priesthood of Christ. I charge you, the people of this congregation, to nurture and to love him, and to assist him to be a faithful disciple."

Reverend Roberson continues:

"Those words came back to us, but, now, up close and personal. Barbara enrolled in nursing school, living in a furnished apartment donated for the time it took her to complete her education, driving a car provided by another parishioner, her tuition and day-to-day expenses taken care of.

"I don’t have the faintest idea where Barbara and her son, Jeffrey, are these days. I do, however, remember how she said she would tell the story called 'God Helps,' the chapters and chapters of mercy that came by way of her conviction that God would see her desperate need, would care about her, would cause her life to be reordered, and in fact, had brought her through the door into the place where God had chosen for that to be done.

"A straight-A student and only a step away from receiving her cap, Barbara announced, 'I want to come speak to the vestry at its next meeting.' She did come and stood there before the church’s leaders—the rector and the twelve rich business people and the civic movers and shakers. She stood erect in her white uniform, a stethoscope around her neck, and told her story of the eking away of her life and the miracle of her new life. And most especially of its purpose. These are the words that every person in that room believed then as we wept together, and remembers now most especially what she said last: "Thank you for helping me when I could not help myself. Because of you, I am going to help others. I want you to know this. Every single time I touch a person for healing, this parish will touch that person with me. You will be right there."

[The Reverend Mary Moore Roberson, "I Will, With God’s Help," Mark 1:29-39, February 5, 2006, Day]

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