Lauren's sermon this morning was on the story of the vineyard owner who hired workers in the morning, agreed on a fair wage for a day's work, and then continued to bring more workers into the vineyard until 5:00 in the afternoon - an hour before the day's work was over. At the end of the work day, the vineyard owner paid each of the workers, regardless of when they began their work, the same wage. The gist of the sermon was that God's mercy is for everyone in the same measure - no matter if you're the most pious monk in the monastery or if you're just a regular, flawed, average Joe or Jill.*
Then, at Sunday School, Vince told us about a young teen aged girl of his acquaintance who is suffering from some mental illness issues and is currently in a residential program. We spoke to the class about what they might say to this girl to give her some hope and encouragement, and then everyone wrote a note to her. One of the girls in our group wrote about how one must sometimes take baby steps to make things better.
Later in the afternoon, as I was getting the church ready for the 5:30 service, I saw a young man come into the church and sit in the last pew. I could tell he was crying. I went back to put on my robe, and when I came out, the young man was on his knees in the aisle in the front of the church. He heard me and stood up and apologized. I said that there was no need to apologize - that that was what this building was here for.
He told me a little bit of his story. He had gone to Oglethorpe University, which is right down the road from our church, and he lived in the apartments that are directly next to the church. He had responded to an altar call when he was 11 years old in Kentucky, and had dedicated himself to Christ, in the way that an 11-year-old boy can. Now, as a young adult, he was looking at things differently but he seemed to know something was missing. He had made some bad choices. He had just gotten off of the phone with his mom, and he felt sad and guilty. He started walking when he was on the phone, and ended up at St. Martins, and something called him in.
I told him that while I didn't know what Fr. Graham would say in his sermon, I knew the Gospel reading was the story of the vineyard owner and I gave him the one-minute version of the story. "The important message," I said, "is that God's mercy is for everyone, no matter the bad decisions." I invited him to stay and worship with us, and he asked me about the Episcopal church - a very different tradition than the one he came from, I'd expect. I told him that all were welcome, that the church encouraged questions and thoughtful discussion. He told me he needed to go back to his apartment, but that he'd be back. He told me his name was William.
William wasn't there when the service began, and I said a prayer for him, hoping that he'd find what he needed. When I stood up to read the Prayers of the People, there he was in the back pew. He had gone home to change out of his jeans and t-shirt, and he must have come in during the sermon. When I got to the part where we name the people who have been put on the prayer list, I said his name, and looked straight at him and smiled.
After the service was over, I went and spoke to him. He wanted to know if we had any bible studies and I told him about the men's bible study on Thursday mornings, and showed him the listing of Sunday School classes as well. I said "I have no idea what you're struggling with right now. But whether your problems are smaller or huge, all you can do is take baby steps and know that God is taking them with you. Ask for His help. And if you're worried about bad choices, every now and then stop and ask yourself if what you're doing is what God would want you to do." William stopped me and made some notes and said he wanted to remember what I had said. I told him that he is strong. And that he is loved. And that he is welcome at St. Martin's. And then I gave him a hug and told him I hoped I'd see him again.
So I probably helped William, at least I hope I did. But really, he was an angel sent to me. I spend so much time at church - but to be honest, I frequently get so busy that I don't focus on the message. If you read my very first post to this blog you'll know that I called it "Life in the Balcony" because when the kids were small, we sat in the balcony at church. There were always distractions up there - my kids, other kids - and you had to listen really hard to absorb the message. And my life is pretty constantly "in the balcony". Fortunately, today, I was listening.
God put me there with this dear young man as a reminder that He is in control, and that He has work for me to do. God gave me Lauren's sermon because there would be someone who needed to know that God's mercy is for all of us, not just those who are perfect. God put me in Sunday School so that a smart teenager could give me more words that would need to be heard. And then He wove them all together and put me in the moment and turned me loose, and I'm so grateful.
If you're a praying sort, please say a prayer for William. I think he could use them.
*This is a terrible paraphrasing of a really good sermon. Forgive me Lauren, your words touched me today and in the interest of fewer words I did not do them justice!