(Read Luke 17:20-21.)
Church was over. Rev. Ed Thompson was in his office, hanging up his robe and stole. He could hear his wife, Joy, in the hall outside, excitedly talking to the Friedmans—Don Friedman, Ph.D., and Toni Friedman. The Friedmans and the Thomspons had lived in the same duplex building during seminary. It was really a surprise for Don and Toni to stop in that morning for the service. Ed slipped his jacket on and stepped into the hall. For a moment, he was the center of attention. His wife took him by the arm. Don extended his hand: “Good sermon, Ed.”
“Oh, well, thank you. Of course, I couldn’t go into the exegesis the way you do in the classroom, I’m sure.”
“Well, I feel exegesis and homiletics have different goals,” Don reassured him.
“You two!” scolded Joy Thompson. “Come on, let’s eat.”
Everyone laughed, and Ed and Joy led the way to the parking lot. The Thompson’s Mercury Cougar was the lead car to the restaurant.
There were folks at seven different tables who hailed the Thompsons as they followed the waitress to their own. Ed was still well-liked by his congregation, and half the congregation was in the restaurant.
The two couples ordered iced tea and then went through the buffet line. Ed invited Don to say grace.
“Why don’t you?” Don sort of mumbled.
“Our most gracious Lord…” Ed said a prayer that gave everyone goose bumps.
“Where are the kids?” asked Toni.
“They’re at Grandmas,” was Joy’s quick reply. Ed munched his salad.
“Well,” said Toni, as though she had expected more than that. “How did they adjust to this school system?” Her memory was of thirty-minute recitations of accomplishments of the Thompson children.
There was a moment of silence. Ed spoke with the slightest strain in his voice, but there was also bravado—a “you-can’t-challenge-me-about-this.” “The kids are living with Joy’s folks for a while.”
Don fumbled for the right question: “Was, was there a problem, uh, well, with the schools?”
Joy poked at her salad. “Let’s just say that we all needed a vacation from each other.”
Ed was looking at the plate piled with roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy and broccoli and cream-style corn. He had looked forward to eating a pleasant meal with old friends. Why had he thought that such a thing was possible? Suddenly, he wished Don and Toni had not come to town after all.
“Well, hey, we all need that now and then, don’t we?” Toni almost purred and injected a new mood into the group.
“Say, now Ed, this is good food,” Don said as he buttered a roll.
The conversation turned to seminary days. The “kid” problem slipped away as laughter over old anecdotes filled the air. Ed just was not up to explaining that he had hit Eddie with his fist, and the marriage had almost broken up, and the grandparents had insisted on taking the children while Ed went to counseling.
The hour and a half began to become pleasant after all. Then, Don hit Ed with a question. “Say, Ed, I was wondering. Has your church ever considered hiring an assistant pastor?”
Ed laughed. “I am amazed! I just was talking with our Board last week. They may be interested in getting me some help. What…you have some promising student?”
“Well, to tell the truth, I was asking for myself.”
Somehow this table could not endure serious conversation. Joy and Ed were staring at Don. Don was looking full into Ed’s face, his mouth down turned. Toni was looking across the room to tables where people were laughing and enjoying their food.
Joy could not contain curiosity: “I thought you were settled into teaching.”
Don glanced at Toni, as though looking for permission. “Well, teaching has not settled on me, I guess you might say.”
Ed was glad to be in the driver’s seat. “Well, listen, I can make a few phone calls and we can get this thing rolling. When would you be available?”
“Look, keep this sort of quiet, can you?”
“What…what sort of salary are we looking at?” Don was embarrassed.
“Well, I think I can get you thirty-two thousand plus a housing allowance. Do you two think you could live on that?”
Suddenly, the conversation was joyous. There was real hope. Joy could not wait to have Toni once again to talk to. Ed was thinking of ways he could use Don.
The conversation moved to the parsonage for coffee. Then, the two men went to the church. Ed led Don on a tour of the plant. He gave him a run-down on the staff and the major power-players in the congregation.
A phone call interrupted their conversation. As Ed talked, he could see that Don was studying his bookshelf, especially looking at his grouping of eschatology books. He was pulling one paperback after another from the shelf, flipping through pages, reading back-cover descriptions. Finally, Ed’s call was over.
“Are you still into this ‘Last Days’ thing?”
Ed was a little defensive: “Well, I taught a series of lessons to the men’s group last fall on the Second Coming. Men can really get turned on to that stuff sometimes. Especially if you emphasize the geopolitics and military aspects.”
Don laughed. “Right. I guess Dr. Van Heusen could not help you. You were incurable in seminary.”
Ed laughed too. “Now, I learned stuff from him. I’m not some cultist. You know that.”
Don let his friend off the hook. “Well,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “What kind of timetable are we looking at here?”
Ed got a fresh legal pad and started to make notes: salary, job description, interview dates—they covered all the bases.
When they left the office, the sun had dropped from sight. Two boys were riding bicycles along the quiet street as they walked through the pleasant spring air. They would be ready for supper. Ed was filled with happiness. His life was definitely changing for the better.
Don seemed to want to talk a little more. “Ed, uh, you’ll need to know this. The reason I left the seminary.”
Ed could not stop himself: “Left? You mean you have already resigned?”
“Well, yes. There was a morals charge.”
They were no longer walking. Ed was standing on the curb, his toes supporting his weight, his heels hanging over the edge. “You mean…sex?”
“Well, this guy started talking. He went a little crazy, I think. He seemed to believe he should out the whole world.”
Ed did not speak. He could not find words.
Don spoke softly. “I’m getting…we’re getting some help. It was not something…I don’t think it is something that will come up again. Toni has been helpful. She keeps telling me that she is praying for us.”
“Well, this may be difficult. We’ll need a full statement from you. I don’t know if the committee can handle two problems.”
Ed continued the walk home. Carefully, trying to use clinical terms that did not sound so awful, he told his own problems of child abuse. He completed his recital by saying, “I don’t know, Don, I just don’t find much strength to live for God at home after pouring myself into the pastorate. Sometimes, I envy your—I mean, I used to envy your academic position. Man, what a joy—just studying all the time.”
Don snickered. “You have no idea what it’s like. I mean, you saw it from the pupil’s desk. You should be up in that teacher’s desk sometime. And the community—there’re are always fights about this new book or that social issue. Sometimes I wondered if any of us were in touch with God.”
The men tried to change their mood in the last few paces before entering the front door of the parsonage. Ed called out from the foyer, “Joy? What’s for supper?”
There was no answer. Don followed Ed as he began a search through the parsonage. Living room? No one. Dining room? No one. Kitchen? No one, and no visible supper. They climbed the stairs. Ed could see through the rungs of the banister that the door to their bedroom was closed. He reached the top of the stairs, Don close behind. Ed stopped on the very last step, gripping the banister with his left hand. His right palm was thrust into Don’s path, almost into his face. It spoke a silent command of “Freeze!” Don obeyed and caught on quickly to Ed’s focus on the crack of light under the bedroom door.
The two could hear the feminine sobs and the alternating voices of their wives. It was obvious that they were praying. The men stood, doing all they could to be silent. Their mouths were slightly open, cautiously mouth-breathing, controlling each breath.
Ed had not heard this kind of praying since childhood. His “prayer life” was mostly a brief blessing with his secretary two or three mornings a week. At first he wanted to hear what they were saying. Then, he just wanted to be there. He envied the holiness behind that door. He shivered and realized he was not wearing his robe and stole. He had searched for the Kingdom in sermons and Bible studies, to no avail. Now, he found it in a crack of light under the bedroom door.