606) Working, Eating, Helping

A Story by Rev. William Willimon; Methodist pastor, college chaplain, and bishop; from Pulpit Resource, February 1, 2009.


     Throughout my ministry, when the times were tough or I was in the doldrums, just at that point when I considered throwing in the towel and giving up on the church, the Holy Spirit has managed to show me something so self-evidently right, good, and true, so undeniably faithful, that I was enabled to grab a towel, wipe the sweat from my brow, and get back in the game.

     How well I recall that church where, having worked my hands to the bone, having invested an incredible amount of shoe leather while I beat the pavement looking for new members, I had about decided to give up.

     The straw that about broke the poor pastoral camel’s back was when, sitting in my office that Sunday morning, putting the finishing touches on my sermon on the Good Samaritan and the need to “Go and do likewise to those in need,” I overheard a group of men talking in the outer office.  They were discussing some legislative bill that was before Congress related to welfare reform.

     “I say, give them a job digging ditches or something like that and, if they don’t take it, let them starve,” said one.  I could hear agreement in the group.

     “We’ve been generous to them, now let them look after themselves,” said another.  Widespread agreement.

     I thought to myself, “Well, that does it.  Here I am getting ready to preach on Christian service and there they sit bashing the poor.”  I resolved not only to get up and tell them about it but also to put in for a transfer first thing next week.

     I got up from my desk but didn’t make it to the door because Harry– one of the most politically conservative members of my congregation– met the coming into my office.  “You still working on your sermon?” he asked with a smirk.  “Thought we gave you enough time during the week for that.”

     I was just about to light into him in rage when he cut me short and said, “Well look, here’s a check for five thousand dollars.  It’s the church’s to use to buy breeder pigs for people in Haiti.  I want to see if you can raise five thousand more by Easter.  Do you know what the swine flu has done to those poor people?  Without their pigs, they die.”

     I stood there rather stupefied, thinking about the incongruity of what I had just heard.  “How do you know so much about Haiti?” was all I could muster at the moment.

     “Me and Edna have gone down to Haiti most years when I get my two weeks vacation from the plant,” Harry responded.  “Great people down there, in great need.  I have helped them on a variety of projects.  I wish our church did more.  I promise you I’m going to do all I can.”

     I looked at the check.  I pondered the strangeness of the moment.  That moment was an incongruous, unexpected, maybe even undeserved gift.  I was astonished.

     I stayed at that church for three more years.


2 Thessalonians 3:7-13  —  You know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule:  “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.   Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.  And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

2 Corinthians 8:13-15  —  Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.  The goal is equality, as it is written:  “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”



O God, our Father, grant that nothing may stop us doing what we ought to do and being what we ought to be.
Grant that,
Laziness may not stop us doing the work we ought to do; Fear may not keep us from taking the stand we ought to take; Selfishness may not stop us giving the service we ought to give.
Grant that,
Ingratitude may not stop us being as grateful as we ought to be; Indifference may not stop us caring as we ought to care; Self-will may not stop us obeying you as we ought to obey.
Grant that,
Lack of perseverance may not stop us finishing the things we have begun; Lack of discipline may not make us take the easy way, Lack of foresight may not make us choose the things which bring nothing but regret.
Grant that,
Despair may not make us stop trying; Discouragement may not make us give up and give in; Pessimism may not take our hope away.
Grant us,
Such wisdom of mind;
Such strength of will;
Such devotion of heart,
that we may not even desire to do anything except the things that please you:  through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

–By William Barclay