Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Rocky Soul of Harnett County

The Senior Pastor at my church is retiring this month. On Friday night they had a shag dancing and a dessert buffet for him – since those are two of his favorite things. I had every intention of being there – and sharing this in the roast, but … work. *sigh* Yep – at the office until 10:00 pm on a Friday night. Because, you know – the world ALWAYS has to go haywire about 3 pm on a Friday afternoon when I’m due to be out of the office for the following week. Anyway – this isn’t about me, or the annoyance that is work. It is about him and it is about me and the state of grace.

The Harnett County boy (as he likes to call himself) came to HUMC about 3 months before I did – and for me, he made it seem like “coming home”. In the beginning I had to listen closely – to make sure I was understanding what this Duke graduate was telling me. Without fail, I’ve always taken away SOMETHING from his sermons.

Here are the 2 most memorable:

One Sunday the scripture and sermon came from the parable about the farmer who is sowing his crop. (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:4-18 – take your pick)

This has always been one of my most favorite bible stories. Right up there with the pruning of the grape vines. It appeals to the agriculturalist in me. As soon as I realized what the sermon was about I settled in for the familiar story.

Only I couldn’t get comfortable. You see, it was the language thing cropping up – which totally forced me to listen CLOSELY to what he was saying. Normally, you can kind of zone out. Yeah, yah – the farmer goes to sow the seed, and some falls on the path, some falls among thorns, some on rocky soul and some fell on good soul. That was when everything came to a screeching halt for me.

“Did he just say ‘Rocky Soul’?” I asked myself. “How interesting to think of one’s soul as “rocky” and unable to hear the word. I mean – it’s REALLY what the parable is about … but the allegory is about SOIL …” And then it dawned on me. He wasn’t saying ‘SOUL’, he was, in his very best Harnett County diction saying “Ssss-‘ol”. And you know – this parable talks a lot about the Ssss’ol. The rocky Ssss’ol and the good Ssss’ol. Each and every time he mentioned the word, I got a slight giggle.

When the service was over, I shook his hand on my way out of church – and related my audio experience. Without breaking stride he looked at me and said, “Darlin’ if I had to say “soy-el” every time in that sermon, we’d never get out of church. Do you know how long it would take me to pronounce it that way?” I think that’s when my crush first started.

Then about a year ago, the lectionary came from John 2:1-11. This is the story about Jesus performing his first public miracle – and turning water into wine. This too has always been a favorite of mine. Not because it dealt with wine, but because of the vessels that held the wine (story for another day). Anytime this story is discussed, I’m always interested to see if anyone else will have the same viewpoint about the parable as the one that made such an impression on this 6th grader.

Well, the Harnett County Boy never mentioned the earthenware containers once. Instead, he was focusing on the social implications of running out of wine at a big social event. He went on at length – talking about how it was the custom to serve the best wine at the beginning – then switch to swill after people became less discerning about what they were drinking. Fearing that his Bible Belt congregation wouldn’t grasp the absolute HORROR of running out of wine at a social function, he went on to compare it to … not having enough pig and a pig-pickin’. Or running out of pea-can (yes, yes, they don’t say THAT word correctly either) pie for dessert.

With each further illustration, my warped mind was overcome with giddiness and shock. Unable to keep my thoughts to myself any longer, I leaned over and whispered to my pew mate, “Man – the minute he said, ‘ran out of wine while entertaining’, I was convinced it was a bad deal. The only worse social faux pas I can think of when hosting a dinner party is running out of wine and SCOTCH in the same night!”

Which of course caused the whole pew to chuckle (as even my whispering voice is too loud to be discreet) in the middle of the sermon.

Leaving the service, I again found myself face to face with the Harnett County Boy. “And what pray-tell was so amusing about Jesus obeying his Momma and turning water into wine, young lady?” he asked me with mock sternness.

“Well, you just kept going on and on about the social implications of running out of wine, Jim. Quite frankly – after the second time you mentioned it, I began to think of things WORSE than running out of wine. I finally decided the worst would be to run out of wine AND SCOTCH at the same time!!”

He just shook his head, “It’s clear you weren’t brought up in the tea totaling south my dear . Because few people understand the implications of running out of alcohol, and they’d be horrified to think of serving BOTH at the same meal. BY THE WAY, when’s the next dinner party?” he asked with a big smile.

And that is why l love this Harnett County preacher so much. He has the grace to tease me – yet love me – one of his sheep that doesn’t always keep to the prescribed path - who finds herself with a rocky soul – that will someday be transformed into good soul – by his thoughtful and thought-provoking semons.

I hope your move to quieter pastures – restores your soil, brother Jim. Thank you for being such an inspirational Sheppard.


mamie said...

How beautiful! He was lucky to have you among his parishioners. I've heard him a few times at my old church when he filled him. He's a prize.

Anonymous said...

Great story ! And humorous pastor ! Lucky you that he shared your analogies !!!!! Sorry to hear that he's leaving. tp