this story is posted in dedication to Len Hjalmarson, now pastoring in Ontario, who - 20 years ago - said he liked the story because it was about grace - may the God of all grace be with you in this newest part of your journey
Once upon a time there were two men who went to seminary together.
One of them won high praise from his professors and peers. He was a straight A student. He had his theology down pat. His oratorical powers were smooth and flawless. His skills in administration were unequaled when he was sent out on pastoral field work. All agreed he would become a model minister. And indeed, any church he pastored grew by leaps and bounds. There was no subject he could not preach on masterfully, there was no question he did not have all the answers for. People flocked to hear his powerful preaching, to experience his energetic and charismatic leadership. Soon he became so popular he was constantly away from his own church, preaching and teaching throughout the country. The people were sorry to have him away so much, but they shrugged their shoulders and accepted that he was God’s man for the hour.
The only thing they regretted was they could never get close to him. He was too busy and his flawlessness made him too impersonal. if you did manage to arrange for a counseling session with him, he could scarcely empathize with you in your personal struggle or sorrow because everything was perfect in his mind and in his life. The cool way in which he counseled you, giving solution after solution to every problem, reminded some of a well-functioning machine. But, his people reasoned, he was a great man, and that was part of being a great man. So they swallowed their hurts and basked in his oratorical power, his theological acumen, his dynamic leadership, and his widespread reputation as a man of God’s Word. In church, under the spell of his voice, all became well inside anyway. It was only at home, away from his voice, that the hurts smarted again.
The other of the two men also went to seminary the same time as the first man did. But they had little in common. This other man was not a straight A student. He fidgeted too much when he was speaking in public and sometimes stuttered. He had a hard time organizing things. He often left questions unanswered on theological examinations, claiming he could discover no one solution to the dilemma of trying to discern what God thought about things God had never spoken about. The seminary did not think he would do well in the ministry and shunted him off to a small pastorate in the backwoods. The congregation did not grow in size. His preaching was quiet and he did not have a lot of solid theological answers when it came to group Bible studies. People complained they had to go home and think about what the answers might be. The man was not charismatic, did not attract a lot of attention at church socials or inter-church events or denominational conventions.
But his people shrugged and smiled. Their pastor was not perfect, but they loved him because he loved them. No matter who came to him, or when, he had time for them, and a listening ear for them, and empathy for them. He did not have a lot of answers for those who came to him in pain and dismay, but he had faith and compassion and he gave them hope. They all reflected on how little they thought of him during the week, or after a counseling session, but rather how much they thought of God. It was as if God leaked out of all the seams in their minister’s professional ability and theological erudition. How easy it was to get close to him, yet close to God at the same time.
During the course of the two men’s lives, the two men did not see much of each other. The first man had no time for the disorganized, inefficient, stuttering little pastor the second man became. He ridiculed him before others and often considered that the man was not a strong Christian because his theology was so unstructured. He could not understand why his congregation did not send him packing. As the first man became more and more famous, the stuttering pastor became less and less of an entity to him, except that the first man often caricatured the second man’s personality in his sermons, to illustrate the type of godless and unscriptural minister the age had produced, to the Church’s shame.
Finally, the two ministers died and came into the presence of God. The first man was smiling and confident and stood without fear before his Maker. The second man was quiet and sober and knelt with his head down before his God. But when God turned to the first man, God’s voice and words shattered the man’s flawless composure and drove the smile from his face.
God said to him, “Get out of my sight. All your precise theology and precise prayers have made a horrible racket before me. Not a bit of it was done with love or compassion. Your whole life was a blasphemy. Leave my presence at once.”
The first man collapsed in fear at these words and lay weeping. God turned to the second man. “But I say to you, well done. Stay with me. Your love for God and people has been my joy and crown.”
But the second man looked up at God and said, “I cannot stay and remain with you unless I bring this hurting brother with me.”
God replied, “If you shall accept him, I also will accept him.”
The second man turned and looked at the first man and said in a strong voice: “I do accept him.” And God looked at the first man and smiled, saying, “Join us and remain in the love and presence of your God.”
The first man stared up at the second man in both thankfulness and shame. To his surprise, the man seemed to change before his eyes. In that moment, he saw that the second man was the Christ.