Making a Big Ash of Myself

I hadn’t lived in St. Louis very long when I was called to St. John’s Mercy Hospital to minister to a family who had just lost a loved one to death. The person who had died was not a member of our church so I wasn’t exactly sure of his name. I went to the information desk to see if I could figure out where the family might be gathered. I told the elderly nun at the desk the man’s last name and that I thought his first name was Clyde. As she did a search on her computer I noticed she had a nasty-looking bruise on her forehead. We had had some ice earlier that week so I wondered if she had slipped and fallen. In no time she found the information and directed me to where the family was.

As I left the information desk, a Priest walked up. I noticed he had a hospital badge identifying him as a hospital chaplain. But what really caught my attention was the nasty-looking bruise he had on his forehead too.

Now remember, I hadn’t lived in St. Louis for very long and was totally unfamiliar with the Catholic Church culture of our city. So when I saw his matching bruise, my very first thought was, “That poor nun and priest must have butted heads with one another! How embarrassing!” It wasn’t until I got halfway down the corridor when it hit me, “It’s Ash Wednesday, idiot!” I felt like such a goober, but at least I hadn’t made a comment to either of them. Thankfully God and I were the only witnesses to my stupidity.

I eventually found the grieving family who had gathered in one of the waiting rooms. I recognized my secretary who was a member of the family and went to her and asked if I could gather the family for prayer. She gathered everyone and we held hands in a circle as I prayed for Clyde, their brother, husband, and father who had just passed. I heard the sniffs of some of the family members who were crying during the prayer. When I said “Amen” I opened my eyes and shared my condolences and goodbyes. I noticed the collective countenance of their faces had brightened. I was pleased that my prayer had ministered to them in their grief. I told my secretary that I would talk to her later in the day and said goodbye. Later that day, she came by the church office to pick up some things and she thanked me for coming to the hospital. But as she turned to leave the office, she said, “Just one thing, my brother’s name was Carl, not Clyde,” she smiled and left me in my office convulsing in humiliation.

I’ve reflected on that story every Ash Wednesday since then. I guess it’s God’s way of keeping me humble. And isn’t that the whole reason for Ash Wednesday? We are but dust and ash. We are totally dependent on God. Yet we do our best to keep an image of being independent, self-made adults who have our lives together. But in reality we’re all just butting our heads with God and we have nasty-looking bruises on our foreheads to prove it.

Some Christians Drive Me Bananas

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach for the first time at my church.  I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, but excited as well. Needless to say, most of my energy last week went into sermon prep. Therefore, my blog writing has gotten a tad behind. (Okay, I just realized I am writing with a British accent, as I have just watched three back-to-back episodes of “Downton Abbey” on Netflix. I beg your pardon ever-so-much. Crud! Did it again!)

Anyway, back to my sermon. I preached on Ephesians 4:1-16, “How Can You Promote Unity in the Church?” I opened my sermon with a story about two young cohorts in crime hiding rotting bananas in my office. These bananas went unnoticed by me for several weeks, and consequently forgotten by said cohorts, until one day when one of them noticed me swatting fruit flies in my office. We all had a good chuckle about the rotting fruit and resulting fruit fly infestation. Yes, good times.

It may have been a stretch, but I was able to tie that story into my sermon topic on unity. People were impressed and lives were changed for eternity…all because of some rotten bananas. That’s right, God can even use rotten bananas for his glory. No one likes rotten bananas. One can only make so much banana bread. But no one likes green bananas either. It’s only when a banana has had time to mature and ripen, can they be useful to nourish others. In the meantime it’s important that they stay connected with a bunch of other bananas so they can mature to perfection.

Christians are like bananas. Apart from the bunch too soon, they’re still green. Stay apart for too long, they rot and only attract flies. But Christians that stay connected long enough to mature will be nourishment to those who come in contact with them.

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.     John 17:23