Summary: The great dilemma of loneliness. This sermon gives some consolation and gives us confidence of God’s nearness.
Psalm 68:6 -- “God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”
Psalm 68:6 (From Moffatt’s Translation) -- “The God who brings the lonely home. . .”
l. THE LORD OF THE LONELY
-Every man has at some point experienced loneliness.
William Penn -- “They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.”
At Christmastime men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. And with that I begin this true story. It happened in December of 1953. It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Great men had preached in its pulpit. Great saints had prayed at its altars. People from all walks of life had worshipped there and that was one of the things that made it so beautiful.
But the good days had passed from this section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer and faith they could get it back into shape. Together they began the wholesome task.
But in late December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church--a huge chunk of rain soaked plaster fell off the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully, the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole.
That afternoon the dispirited couple attended an auction held for the benefit of the youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out a handsome gold-and-ivory lace tablecloth. But it, too, dated from a long vanished era. There were a few half-hearted bids. Then the pastor seized on the idea with what he thought was a great idea. He bid it in for $6.50.
He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of if shimmering handwork cast a fine holiday glow over the altar.
Just before noon on Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. “The bus won’t be here for forty minutes!” he called and invited her into the warmth of the church. She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as a housekeeper to one of the wealthy families in the town, but she had been turned down. She was a war refugee, and her English was imperfect.
The woman sat down in a pew, chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed, quietly but desperately. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great ivory-and-gold lace cloth across the whole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps. She looked at the tablecloth. The young pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage but she didn’t seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers.
“It is mine!” she said. “It is my banquet cloth!” She lifted the corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. “My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels!”
For the next few minutes she talked excitedly. She explained that she was from Vienna; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and had decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately to decrease the risk of being captured. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border.
She never saw him again. Later she learned that he had died in a concentration camp. “I have always felt it my fault--to leave without him,” she said. “Perhaps all these years of wandering have been my punishment.”
The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.
As the church begin to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look’s it best by candlelight.
After the service, the young pastor stood in the doorway; many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced, middle-aged man--he was the local watch repairman, looked rather puzzled.
“It is strange,” he said in a soft accent. “Many years ago my wife--God rest her--and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table”--here he smiled-- “only when the pastor came to dinner.”