On most Sundays, I publish a short Sunday Lesson. It’s an observation, or an idea, or an application from something I’m studying. I feel blessed and deeply responsible for writing this. The lesson posts at 1:35 – after you’re home from church – but you can find them any time after that. I’m game for any comments and try to respond to them all. Be forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re all growing into. So, if I don’t respond, then I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.
A caveat: this is not a teaching or an observation about what Jesus it purported to have said. There are no Greek tenses to parse. It’s a question that I don’t know the answer to, and I’m glad for you to tell me what you think…
We spent last weekend in Charleston for a swim meet. I can never figure it out, but we have to be at the pool at 6:30 in the morning, and we stay until 8:30 or 9:00 at night. There’s plenty of free time between morning and night, but after three days, the time weighs heavy.
We got back to our motel room at 9:00 at night on Saturday, and the girls decided that the greatest thing in the world is for Dad to dash off to Waffle House for dinner. I grab my wallet and leave while they snuggle in and flip the channel. Waffle House is only doing takeout, but there are lots of folks just hanging around inside. ‘Take out only,’ I learned, is code for ‘you can’t sit in a booth.’ I line up behind this youngish, shortish guy who’s holding a list of about fourteen dinners, and he has to order each one and pay for it individually. I’m positive his friends sent him alone because they know there’s no way he can pull this stunt without getting beat up.
I wait in line and keep moving my wrist band from one hand to the other to remind myself of grace and mercy, and some guy trips in with a cigarette dangling from his lips. He falls straight into me – I’m pretty sure he’s downed at least a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry – and thene steps in front of the line. C’mon. It’s Saturday night at the Waffle House, and the place erupts.
“Hey, man,” he says, his arms raised like guns are pulled. “I just need a light for my smoke!” As if choreographed for a Van Halen video, the cashier and two cooks reach into their aprons and pull out lighters. The guy leans his cigarette into a flame and sucks a deep drag before going to sit in a booth. I’m confused.
After about the third drag, a cook yells, “Dude? What’re ya doin’? You can’t sit, and ya CAN’T SMOKE THAT DAMNED THING IN HERE.”
The smoker jumps up. “Sorry man. I forgot it’s take out only.”
“Crap with that,” the cook says. “You can’t smoke inside! You gotta go outside!” He looked at everyone else, shaking his head. The smoker nodded and thanked everyone for a light, and then left, stumbling like he did when he came in.
I order dinner and then sit at the bar, waiting for my bags. The place is a comedy club, and everyone is having fun. Between ladling scoops of pancake batter, the cook comes over to me at the bar. “Dude”, he says, resting on his elbows and barely whisering. “You got any Jack or anything like that in your car? I could use a drink, man.”
I laughed, not sure he’s serious. “Man, I got nothin’.”
“Bummer,” he said, grabbing his spatula.
In a few minutes, another cook brings me my bag, and I get up to leave. This was the most fun I’ve had all weekend, and maybe it was a little dramatic, but I set my bag on a stool and raised a hand toward the cooks.
“Guys,” I said. “G bless every one of you. You guys are crazy, and you’re the last ones working in town tonight. Thanks for the meal, and who knows, I might be back.” They all laughed and, weirdly, they all blessed me back, and no one pulled a gun. I grabbed my bag and left, pushing on the glass door to go to my car, hoping no one mugged me.
I sit in my car for a minute, wondering What Would Jesus Do? I know what He wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t pull a tract out of his toga of the four spiritual laws: that would be like flipping off a light switch off. One thing I know, though, is that when Jesus showed up, leaders gnashed their teeth. I know, too, that everyone else – the workers, the cashier, the cooks, that portly kid ordering a hundred meals – I know their hearts would burn in Jesus’ presence, wanting to be right with G and with Jesus. Jesus didn’t always verbally offer wholeness and health and belonging, but those things followed Him and poured out of Him wherever He went. This is the life on earth, even as it is in heaven.
I really don’t know what I would have done to bring any of this to the Waffle House. I don’t know what I would have done differently or would have said or even what it would look like for Jesus to go to the Waffle House that night. Would it have been different if He was in front of me ordering dinners? What if He was the cashier? What would he have said to the cook who was looking for a drink?
What does it mean for Jesus to bring wholeness and belonging to people? These were all good guys and gals. They could probably use a higher wage and better health insurance and probably whine about their hours. But what would it mean for Jesus to come in and change their lives? Is this what Temple leaders wondered about? Give the workers an extra fish, and they’ll shut up? But here comes Jesus, and He gives them such a new life that they change the world?
I don’t know.
By way of a not very satisfying explanation, I co-attend a Southern Baptist church and my local rock and roll multi-site church. I’m comfortable with Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and all kinds of Protestant thought. For Bibles, I use the Jerusalem Bible, the English Standard Version, and the Amplified Bible. My newest favorite is The Message. Get yourself a copy if you can. If you need one, send me an email. A favorite verse is Micah 6:8 where the prophet says:
G has already told you what is right and what to do: do what is right, love loyalty, and walk humbly with G.