A good Sunday to you all.
Yes, it's Sunday.
Yes, as rare as I write and post them, today you're getting a sermon.
I was reading on Twitter a few minutes ago about a certain theologian who passed away recently, J.I. Packer. The discussion reminded me of my absolute favourite pastor (sorry about that, the rest of you...) Dr. Bruce Milne, who is a proud Scotsman, and after whom I named a character in one of my books.
He knew Packer and spoke of him often.
Get a coffee, and settle in while I back up just a bit...
Years ago, long before I married my tree nerd and moved across the country, I went to First Baptist Vancouver. It's a big, urban church, and has quite a history.
Dr. Milne was, and is, a highly respected theologian, and yet was, and is, as humble as they came. We all knew that he loved haggis, Robbie Burns, three inch thick theology books, and more than anything or anyone, he loved Valerie and their kids. Valerie was a true treasure, and is with Jesus now.
Many of the most indelible memories I have of attending that church involve the times when Dr. Milne let it rip in a sermon. His accent got thicker, his fervor flew, and the pulpit-pounding would commence.
(No, the pulpit is not in the photo, but the balcony is.)
One story he told was about getting bullied as a little boy at school, specifically about his government funded glasses. Sadly, the glasses weren't fashionable, and he quickly attained the nickname "Specky Milne." The congregation loved it. We also loved when he threw shade at the English. He was good at that.
His wit is legendary.
Yes, I did call him Specky a few times, yes, he laughed good and hard every time. Dear sir, when you unleash THAT from the pulpit, all us behaviour problems who sit in the balcony will save it to use later.
Ah, the behaviour problems in the balcony.
That leads me to the prostitute part of the story.
I don't remember when they started attending, but I do remember that they became a fixture of First Baptist. Just like hundreds of other people.
They'd arrive late, often wearing coats that covered their work clothes, wearing stage/street-corner make-up and four inch heels. They'd tip-toe up the stairs and all sit in a huddle in the balcony, clutching their purses and collars.
I started to observe them every week, because they possessed a level of doubt unlike few others that one could feel. Remember, those women earned money by selling their bodies. Do you think for one second that they felt like they belonged "in good company"?? Yet they were far braver than a whole lot of people, because every Sunday, they'd return. Sometimes four, sometimes six, sometimes two.
One stood out to me, she was there every Sunday. She had jet black hair and terribly haunted eyes. I could see that she was wound like a coil and in 100% defense mode at all times.
Over the months, I noticed that her make-up became more subdued, and the Goth black eyeliner eventually disappeared altogether. Her wardrobe calmed as well. But a battle raged within her, I could see it.
What was it about?
Believing that God loved her and that she was worthy of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
I have a vivid memory of her shaking her head, tears and make-up streaming down her red, mottled face, her hands clenched so hard they were trembling, and mouthing "No, I'm not!" while Dr. Milne pounded that pulpit, calling out to the congregation, that God loved everyone, no matter what.
Once more, she hissed out, "No I'm not!".
And then Dr. Milne shot a glance up her way, pounded that oak pulpit, and yelled out "No matter WHAT you've done, God loves you! No! Matter! What!"
And that, my friends, cracked the dam.
Rarely does a person get to see and feel the moment when the sweet truth hits a person and the hardness falls away. When darkness crumbles and the sun comes out.
When the bliss and blessing of belonging hits and the pain of being an outcast is burned away by finally believing that she was loved, and understanding that all along, no matter what, she was worth the sacrifice.
Few sermons "preached" more to me than those few moments of a good man publicly telling a prostitute that she was loved by God, and making sure, like no one else was in that cavernous room, that she believed it.