(Read Luke 18:9-14.)
Jackie Drinan was up early on Sunday morning. He had rolled over and pushed the “Snooze” button on his alarm clock. But the summer sunshine set the soft pink miniblinds ablaze, and his mind was already beginning to grind on the details of Sunday Services at Smith Memorial Church. So, he arose and started for the downstairs bathroom of the Parsonage. But then he heard the growling snore at the rate of eight or nine per minute coming from the guest bedroom. He turned back to the bedroom and put on a robe to cover his body, naked except for briefs. He had forgotten that Ed and Cindy were here. He luckily remembered to reset the alarm before it went off again—an event sure to set his wife, Millie, in a bad mood. A short time later he was in the kitchen fixing his coffee, cereal, and toast for breakfast.
After he had eaten, Jackie enjoyed the peace of the morning a few extra minutes by sipping on his coffee and reflecting on his visitors. Cindy was his sister, born to Charles, who was killed with his left hand on the wheel of a ’51 Ford and a fifth of Jack Daniel in his right. Cindy was twelve and Jackie was one when that happened. Two years later Mother married Corban Drinan.
Brother Drinan was a fiery preacher, sang tenor in a gospel quartet, and owned a small publishing house that custom-printed gospel tracts. Brother Drinan had taught young Jackie when he was four years old what a modernist is and what a conservative theologian is. By six, the little guy was on the road with Brother Drinan, singing solos and giving his testimony. Jackie understood congregational government and episcopacy, Calvinism and Arminianism, law and grace, demonology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, One-ness, Pentecostalism, tongues and interpretation, discernment, Scofield Bibles, and every other aspect of the American religious scene by the time he was sixteen years old.
Cindy was another story. Cindy did not like Corban. She ran away three times in her junior high and high school years, ending up each time in the house of one of the brothers of her deceased dad. Her mother wept for Cindy because she knew “She is just Charles all over again.” After high school, Cindy went through three husbands in fifteen years. Finally, she landed with Ed. By that time, Jackie was ordained. She asked her little brother to marry them. Jackie was torn between marrying his thrice-divorced sister to this sure loser and losing her entirely from the family. He finally decided to bite the bullet and performed the wedding on the sly in his mother’s home.
But Jackie had to admit that Ed was good for Cindy. He had a steady job as a mechanic at a new-car dealership. Cindy had her youngest child, Shandra, by him, and Ed was a proud father. And Ed kept Cindy’s other two—Hank and Wade—in line. So, now the five of them were on vacation: the old Travelall was loaded down with camping and fishing gear. They decided to pop in on Jackie and Millie on their way to Lake Texoma.
Typically, they arrived at eleven on Saturday night. And Cindy wanted to talk until one. But Jackie reminded her that he had services and left them with Millie. Jackie wondered if they would be going to the service that morning. He doubted it. He wondered when the last time any of them had been in church.
His thoughts were broken as he noticed the time. He had to shower, shave, polish his shoes, dress, check his Sunday School lesson, make sure everything was ready for the service. The details grabbed possession of him, and he quickly went to work.
It was an hour later before Ed and Cindy were up. Ed slipped out on the back porch with a cup of coffee and went through two cigarettes. He was in a particularly foul mood. Cindy had made a big deal in the bedroom about his going to church that morning. Cindy had always acted like she owed Jackie something big-time for letting her marry Ed and for performing the ceremony. Ed was really anxious to get to the lake and get the tent set up and find out where they’re biting. But the pleasant, clear morning and the smooth, warm coffee and two cigarettes changed his mood for the better.
He stepped back into the house to find Cindy fighting with the kids.
“Now we are going to go to church. And we are going to behave ourselves,” she said.
“I just don’t see why we gotta go.” Wade was being ugly.
“To hear your uncle Jackie preach, that’s why!” Cindy looked at Ed for help.
“Get your ______s ready and let’s go to church!” No more was said.
About an hour and a half later, Millie Drinan stood in the foyer of the church. She had caught a glimpse from her Sunday School class of her in-laws coming up the walk. She had hurried around to greet them as they entered the front door of the church. The acolytes were about ready to light the candles.
An usher handed them each a bulletin. He could not help noticing that Ed had missed a patch of beard under his left jaw. Ed wore his only jeans that were not oil-stained. He had on his favorite cowboy shirt and cowboy boots with the jeans stuffed inside. Cindy wore black jeans with silver buttons down the seams. Her jacket matched her jeans and partially covered the halter top that revealed her navel. The boys were in sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts. Little Shandra had sneakers, shorts, and a T-shirt.
As they opened the heavy, swinging doors into the sanctuary, Ed could feel the bass notes of the massive organ. Millie led them down to the pew where she usually sat. Jackie was sitting on the platform. His face was a mask as he hid his amazement that Ed and Cindy were really coming. He noted the bulge of the cigarette pack in Ed’s left shirt pocket.
Ed watched with curiosity as the candles were lit. He studied the bulletin. He tried to follow what the guy up there was telling everybody. Suddenly, everyone was standing up. Cindy had found the hymnal page and shoved the book in front of him. He could not figure out where people were singing. After a while everyone sat down. His eyes now had time to look more carefully. He noticed the sweeping curve of the frame of the huge window at the front. The wood was exquisitely sanded and stained. The glass was cut into little sections of different colors, maroons and blues and browns and blacks. It formed a giant picture of a long-haired man with a mustache and beard and blue eyes. That was Jesus. Underneath, it said: “Come, all ye who are weary and heavy-laden.”
After a while, Jackie stood up and started talking. Ed tried to follow what he was saying. Jackie was wearing a black pin-striped suit and a fine-looking tie. He really looked slick up there. He told some good jokes and a couple of stories. Ed was beginning to like it in there.
Finally, everybody stood up and sang another song. Jackie prayed and then everybody started to leave. Jackie made his way back to the swing doors, shaking everybody’s hand, laughing and really enjoying himself. Slowly, Ed followed Cindy, Millie, and the kids toward the center aisle and then up the aisle to the swinging doors.
Just as the family reached the doors, Jackie, seeing that there were no more hands to shake, disappeared down the hallway to his office. An usher was closing the doors as Millie, Cindy, and the kids entered the foyer. The usher hesitated and waited for Ed to come through. But Ed had stopped in the middle of the aisle, ten feet from the doors. The usher shrugged and closed the doors. Ed was alone in the sanctuary. He turned back and looked at the stained-glass window with Jesus looking down at him.
“Come, all ye who are weary and heavy-laden.” Ed read the words. “Dear Jesus, I guess I am like that. Please help me.” He found himself saying the words out loud. Suddenly, he felt a rush of something. It started in his mouth and rushed to the top of his head and down his spine and then into his chest. Then, he knew something. He did not understand it, but he knew something. He knew that Jesus had helped him. He knew that he was different.
Across the vast expanse of pews, at the front right of the sanctuary, just off the chancel area, Jackie Drinan stood in a narrow doorway. He could see Ed looking at the stained-glass window. “There’s Ed,” he thought. “I suppose he’s looking at the window. Oh, no, he won’t see the baptistery, the communion table, our new candle-sticks. Why is he such a hick? Forgive me, Lord, I know I sound judgmental. But why did Cindy marry this character? And now she’s just like him. I think he must drink. And the smell of that smoke. Well, thankfully, I am a patient man. I guess going down to the jail once a month has helped me to deal with some of this kind. Look at him. I suppose he thinks he’s having some religious experience. He probably didn’t comprehend anything I said in my sermon. Oh, well, I guess we need to go home and eat. I really am getting hungry.”