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Unbidden Fire

I have a theory that God can use anybody, “in a pinch.”

I cite an example from my time of teaching in a certain seminary. It concerns two very frivolous seminarians, who made a game, of sorts, in their preaching.

These two fellows were assigned to do a service each Sunday afternoon at a nursing home. You may know the sort of service; it involved very old, frail people in wheelchairs, gathered in the common room, singing “Rock of Ages,” “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” and the like, the high point of the service being the sermon.

Well, here’s the story, if you can believe it. These two meatheads took turns, Sunday by Sunday, doing the preaching. The problem was that they were preaching only for their own entertainment. They crafted their sermons as a kind of entre nous joke.

On this particular Sunday, it was the intent of the preacher to mention as many “animals” as possible in his sermon, to see if he could outnumber the “plants” that the other guy mentioned in his sermon on the previous Sunday.

Well, here’s what happened. About halfway through the sermon, one of the old men in a wheelchair suddenly flung himself onto his knees, raised his arms to heaven, and gave his life to God, repenting of his sins and making a full confession of faith.

The game was over! The two seminarians suddenly realized they had been playing with fire.

I love Annie Dillard’s assessment of what we should be doing on Sunday mornings: “we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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