I had poured my heart out every Sunday morning for six years.
I had tried to tell them how much God loves them. I had preached about the blessings and the challenges that come with following Jesus. I had tried to help them see just how amazing it is that Almighty God gives any thought to us at all, much less that God loves us so much that Jesus died for us. I had told them over and over again that we have an amazing opportunity to be crucified with Christ, to be raised with him, and to walk in newness of life.
Now it was my last Sunday as their pastor. I had just finished trying one more time to use the best words I could muster to communicate the love and grace of God to them. I stood at the door, speaking with the departing worshippers.
A lady shook my hand and said, “You know, there’s one thing you said that I’ll always remember.” My ears and spirit perked right up. “What’s that?” I asked. “It was in a children’s sermon.” That deflated me a bit, although I once had a sixty-year old man tell me that he got more out of my children’s sermons than my “grown-up” ones. Still, I did try to share Christ even in my children’s messages, so I was not without hope. I listened expectantly, waiting to hear what she had heard from me about worshipping God, following Jesus, and serving humanity that had changed her life so much that she’d never forget it.
“You said that half a dryer sheet works just as well as a whole one.”
And she smiled and walked back out into the big, bad world, armed with that helpful bit of spiritual laundry advice.
I smiled as she walked away. But my mental response was not, I fear, particularly gracious.
Six years of talking about Jesus, and she remembered a throwaway line about doing laundry.
A few years later, as part of my pastoral work at my next church, I was visiting a church member in a hospital in Columbus. After the visit, I had lunch with my friend Jimmy, who is a pastor in that city. My church member’s daughter’s family attended his church, so he told me he thought he’d visit them that afternoon.
While I was driving home, my phone rang. It was Jimmy. I said, “Hey. Miss me already?”
And he said, “Why didn’t you tell me about the squirrel?”
The lady from my church had told him about a squirrel that had visited our Sunday morning service a few weeks before. It was like that Ray Stevens song, only Sister Bertha Better-Than-You didn’t start talking about her love life and naming names, unfortunately. The little fellow did cause quite a ruckus before he found his way out the front door.
“I’ll tell you why I didn’t tell you about it,” I said. “I’m sick and tired of hearing about that stupid squirrel.” Jimmy was laughing.
“I mean,” I continued, “Jesus shows up every week, and nobody thinks anything of it, much less says anything about it. But let a squirrel show up one time, and it’s all anybody wants to talk about.”
I understand that a money-saving laundry tip is helpful.
But Jesus is helpful, too.
I understand that a runaway squirrel causes havoc.
But Jesus shakes things up, too.
Maybe we’ve just gotten too accustomed to him.
Maybe we’d be wise to pay more attention …