Gone to the Dogs
I was waxing eloquent in my Pastoral Prayer – so eloquent, in fact, that I’m certain my face was glowing as Moses’ face had in the presence of God. The congregation was, of course, standing in silent awe… Or were they?
It started as a small, muted and muffled shuffling from the back of the auditorium. It sounded like whispers – during MY pastoral prayer! How rude!
Then the whispers began to spread from the back toward the front. The whispers were now mixed with gasps and other guttural noises.
God was obviously as offended as I was by this inappropriate behavior, so I ended my prayer before its intended majestic conclusion. I opened my eyes and with a bit of a scowl on my face looked down upon the congregation as though they held the golden calf itself. “Sit down,” I said gruffly. But do you think they could even do that respectfully?
Three rows from the front sat a women dressed in her Sunday finest. And in a room full of farmers, her finest really stood out. Her behavior was always prim and proper. She even spoke with a bit of an Eastern accent. She was a Southern Belle meets a New England aristocrat. Her movements were always planned and graceful. Always… except for this one moment.
She went to sit down and was already passed the point of no return. But before her gracefulness could meet the cold hardness of the unpadded wooden pew, her body exploded upward as though someone had set off a small explosive in a location that a prim and proper person never mentions publicly. Her sudden upward movement was accompanied by an equally un-ladylike wheeze.
Just then the usher in the back stepped forward and made an announcement: “Nobody panic. We have an unwanted visitor that we need to get rid of.” As the words were rolling off his tongue I glanced in horror at the husband and wife who had chosen that particular moment to enter our church auditorium as out-of-town visitors. Their faces were flushed with embarrassment.
But before I could do anything about that, two ushers converged at the front of the auditorium. Trapped between them was a growling, snarling black and white dog. One usher tried the compassionate approach and reached out his hand to comfort the dog. The dog, however, mistook the “m” for an “n” and thought this hand was trying to confront. At that moment I quickly turned to the passage where Jesus re-attached the soldier’s ear thinking that I might need the ability to reattach a severed finger. But as the dog was trying to make his point the other usher, a man used to handling obstinate pigs, grabbed the dog by the collar from behind and lifted the helpless animal into the air.
The room was in utter chaos. Children were laughing. The visiting couple was making mental notes to never return here again. The prim and proper woman in the front was trying to recover her dignity. Ushers were checking all the doors and having a laugh of their own in the back. An elderly man was searching for his nitro pills as his wife fanned him with a bulletin. Some people on the far side of the auditorium were wondering aloud whether or not the skit was over.
In the middle of it all… or more precisely, in front of it all, I stood in completely stunned silence. I was 22 years old and not accustomed to quite this much disorderliness in a church service. And now, I was supposed to preach. I desperately wanted to pronounce the benediction and go home. But I was concerned that my paycheck might be proportionately cut short. So I determined to preach. Ok, now all I have to do is say something… say anything! But all I could think of was, “Nothing I can say will bring their attention back. What can I say that will bring order to this chaos?”