Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Jesus’ Steps

Reverend Henry Maxwell sat perplexed at his desk one Friday evening. He had not yet finished his sermon and had had many interuptions that day.
“Mary,” he called to his wife. “I would appreciate it if anyone else comes that you would say I am extremely busy and not to be disturbed except for emergencies.”
“Yes, dear,” she replied. “But you know, I am leaving to help with the children in a little while, so you will have the house to yourself.”
He worked on through the afternoon, hearing her leave at 3 PM. About two hours later, he heard a slight knock at the door. He ignored it, agitated at the interuption. But soon another, harder knock came and he felt obliged to open the door. He peered down through the window and saw a man standing there, his hat in his hands.
“He looks like a tramp,” he muttered. “I suppose I will have to go down there and—” he never finished his sentence. Stepping towards the door he creaked it open, pasting on a fake smile.
“Hello,” said the man, with his dirty, smudged face. He wrenched his wretched faded hat in his grimy hands. “I’m out of a job, sir, and thought you maybe might put me in the way of getting something.”
“I don’t know of anything. Jobs are scarce—" replied the minister, beginning to shut the door discretely.
'”I—I didn’t know but you might perhaps be able to write a little note or somethin’ to the city railway or superintendent of the shops, or something,” continued the young man, anxiously looking at Rev. Maxwell.
“It would be of no use. Now, you will have to excuse me, I have some work to do. I hope you find something. I’m sorry I can’t give you something to do here. But all I have is a horse and a cow and I take myself. Good day.”
He shut the door, and with one last glance out the window watched the dirty man wander out the gate and stroll aimlessly down the sidewalk, hat still in hand, with a strange look of dejection and yet a glimmer of hope.
He worked on and by the time his wife came home, he felt confident in his message.
“Did you finish, dear?”
“Yes, after a slight interuption.”
“Ah, that’s good. You know? The strangest thing happened at the Kindergarten today. A man walked in and watched us for a while.”
“Really? What kind of man?”
“Well, Mrs. Brown called him a tramp. He was real dirty and his clothes were scraggly. He held a wretched little faded hat in his hand the whole time. He came in and Miss Kyle were a little frightened. But he said nothing and only watched the children a few minutes then left again.”
“The same man called here this after noon, I think.”
“Oh? Very dusty, shabby and generally shabby tramp-like. No more than thirty or thirty-three years old?”
“The same man.”
“Well, what are you preaching on Sunday?” she asked after a slight pause.
“Following in Jesus’ steps.”
Sunday came and it was a beautiful morning. Maxwell felt he always did better in front of a large crowd with a wonderful morning such as this.
After the choir, consisting of only the best singers in Raymond, sang the worship set, he strode up to the pulpit. No one would ever say he was a dull preacher. But his marvelous sermon was not what the parish people remembered that day.
As Rev. Maxwell closed his Bible and gathered his notes, a startling interuption happened. A sentence was shouted from under the balcony. No one quite caught the words. A man walked down the isle on a quick sauntering pace.
Before the perlexed comgregation fairly realized what was going on, the man stood in front of them peering out at them, twisting his hat back and forth.
“I’ve been wondering ever since I came in here”—those were the words he used under the balcony, the people now realized—“if I should say a word at the end of the service. I’m not drunk and I’m not crazy, and I am perfectly harmless. But if I die, as there a is high likelihood in the next few days, I want the satisfaction of saying my piece before a good crowd such as this.” He paused, glanced up at Rev. Maxwell were he stood, still leaning against the pulpit. The startled reverend made no attempt to stop him, but blankly noticed him as the same man that had visited him the Friday before.
“I’m not an ordinary tramp, though I don’t' know any teaching of Jesus that discriminates one type of tramp from another, do you?” He posed his question as though he were talking to a casual Sunday School class. “I lost my job ten months ago. I was a printer, by trade. But the machines… well, I’m not blaming them, am I? Meanwhile, what can a man do? I’ve been tramping all over the country, trying to pick something up. I stopped in here this morning, because your pastor here was the only one in this city that had some sympathy for me. He said he was sorry for me and wished I might find something.” Here he paused and let out a rattling cough. Dr. West nearly jumped out of his seat with an alarmed face at the terrible body-racking noise.
Rev. Maxwell glanced from the man out to to Edward Norman, editor of the Raymond DAILY NEWS. Then he saw Alexander Powers, superintendent of the great railroad shops in Raymond, and then Milton Wright, a great merchant with over 100 employees. In his shame Maxwell realized those were the men the letter this “tramp,” as he had called him, wanted to go to.
After recovering, the strange man went on. “I heard you singing,
         Jesus, my cross I have taken,                                                                 
All to leave an follow thee.
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.
“And I just wondered what you Christians meant by following Jesus. If by doing what He did is what you mean, well, I just hear those words and wonder sometimes, that’s all. I think of my wife—she died four months ago—and I’m glad she’s troubled no more. And I wonder, if Jesus would have helped her. I—“
And with this, the man suddenly gave a queer lurch toward the communion table and laid one grimy hand on it. His dirty face contworted, and his wreched faded hat fell on the carpet beside his feet. He passed his hand before his eyes, then fell heavily upon his face, straight down the aisle.
Henry Maxwell jumped from the pulpit and spoke, “We will now consider this service closed.” And he was the first to sit at the side of the prostrate figure. Dr. West declared him, “alive,” but also muttered about heart trouble. As the pews emptied, the doctor, the reverend and a few other concerned men helped carry him to the office.
The following Sunday, Rev. Maxwell sat by the side of the dieing man in the parsonage’s guest room. He had hardly left the man’s side all week. Now, as the man’s condition lightened a bit, a smile formed across the man’s now cleansed face. His hat, still faded but no longer wretched, lay on his breast. Rev. Maxwell eagerly leaned forward to say:
“Your daughter’s on her way. She’ll be here.”
“I—I won’t see… see her in this life. Thank you for taking care of… taking care of me. I think—I think it’s what Jesus would have done.” The man sputtered, then rested his eyes. He turned his head slightly, and the hat that was in his clean, white hand fell. Before Maxwell knew what he had just witnessed, Dr. West said quietly, “He’s gone.”
That morning, Henry Maxwell gave his sermon with much less vigour than usual. His heart was no longer in the message. It was as though something in his thought was struggling with his words to come out. Finally, he just closed his Bible, stacked his notes, and walked down off the stage to the ground floor.
“Our brother,” he said, his voice cracking, “passed on this morning.” He stopped, caught his breath and went on. “But what he said last week, I think we shall not forget. Throughout this week, I have wondered, ‘What did Jesus really mean by “Follow me”?’ and today I want to pose a challenge. Any and all who are willing to volunteer themselves for a whole year can take me up on this and work with me. For a whole year, I will do nothing without first stopping and asking, 'What would Jesus do?’ That will be our motto.” He broke up again. Then hastily, he added, “Any who are willing can come and talk to me after the service.”
That year, the whole city of Raymond changed. The Christians of First Church of Raymond all tried their hardest to follow their pledge to God. This is the start of that pat Christian phrase, “What would Jesus do?” We we wear it on our wrists, our necks, our ankles. But do we ever really stop and think it? Even as we sing, do we ever really strive to follow Jesus?
Do we follow in Jesus’ steps?

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