by David Sisler

Occasionally someone reading these weekly musings and ramblings lose all touch with reality and telephone yours truly, challenging your humble scribe to meet face-to-face with those whom he torments via the newspaper. Believing that the same ninny who writes this stuff is also a competent public speaker, this traveling word processor (sorry, Paul Harvey) is invited to entertain, inform and inspire their civic group, garden club, Sunday school class, retirement society, or (horrors) their Sunday morning church service.

My visit on one such outing produced a troubling comment. The folks were most kind, and at the conclusion of the gathering, spoke well of my speaking. One lady brought me up short, however, when she remarked, without evident anger, but with a profound sense of sadness, "Thank you for what you said today. It has been a long time since Jesus was in our Sunday school class."

That thought has been running around in my mind since then, and I waited over a year before writing about it. The only way you will know where the remark was made is if the woman tells you herself, and I recommend that she does not. No good would come from that revelation.

I did not answer her then. I do not know if I can explain it now. But the statement is so startling that it deserves an attempt. What happens in our gatherings that may make Jesus absent himself?

Now, if you believe that God is omnipresent, and that when Jesus ascended back into heaven, he returned to the glory he once had with the Father, then, obviously, Jesus was present in that class room. But sometimes we misplace Jesus.

We are too busy for spiritual matters. Prayer, Bible study, church attendance can all be pushed aside, replaced instead by casual conversation with friends or family, watching a favorite television program or movie, or shopping at the mall or catching a ball game.

Even in church -- and I think this was the message of my listener's comment -- other things take the place of holy things. Christian response to social issues is vital. Christian input in elections is good common sense. Christian celebrations with friends builds a good community. But when those things replace the worship of God and the sense of His Son's presence, then the uniqueness of Church has been replaced by the ordinariness of the World. And both become poorer for the exchange.

The idea that the Lord God Almighty and his only-begotten Son would even want to meet with us, let alone be concerned when the fellowship between us is broken, is hard to believe. Like a fairy tale.

Once upon a time a child named Lucy was playing hide-and-seek with some other children and when she heard the sounds of the others searching for her, stepped into a large old-fashioned wardrobe to hide and found herself outside at night with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.

Once upon a time Uncle Henry and Aunt Em ran to safety, but before Dorothy could reach the storm cellar she and her house were picked up, spun around two or three times, and eventually set down very gently -- for a cyclone, at least -- in the land of the Munchkins, and right on top of the Wicked Witch of the East.

Once upon a time, and long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young moisture farmer on the planet Tatooine, dreamed of joining the Imperial Academy and becoming a space pilot. He ended up leading the Rebel Alliance in the defeat of the evil Emperor and Darth Vader.

A fairy tale demands that you give up certain beliefs, including the belief that such people or places do not exist. A fairy tale demands that you must be willing to enter them like a child because a child believes in such possibilities. And that brings us to a fairy tale called the Gospel and a possible answer to a woman's troubling statement.

Frederick Buechner says, "The one crucial difference from [the Gospel] and all other fairy tales, is the claim that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still."

Once upon a time a child was born at night, had his first meal in the dark at his mother's breast, in the darkness three decades later was offered a final drink, and in the darkness he died to bring all of us into eternal light.

What do you do when Jesus is absent? Look for him. He has been there all the time. Believe it!


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 8/3/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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