It started out as a normal Sunday. “Started out” I said, though it didn’t finish that way.
Pastor Longwind (his great-grandfather was a Wootohoochie Indian) was still droning on after one hour and five minutes, finally arriving at point 27 of a 37 point sermon. That was okay, though, because the last ten points were all called “in conclusion” or some variation on that idea.
The visitors were thrilled when he said, “In conclusion.” The regulars knew not to get your blood pressure up until about the eighth conclusion, when there might actually be hope.
Brother Restlow was breathing regularly in the corner, eyes closed in contemplation. Each time he started to snore, his wife elbowed him. Everyone behind them enjoyed watching him sleep disturbed by occasional punches. It was the most interesting thing going on.
Two teens on different sides of the church swapped text messages, while other members made mental grocery lists in their head or dreamed of the touchdowns and field goals that would soon highlight their Sunday afternoon.
Only Tommy Jones saw him enter.
Sis Hyper had to leave early (she couldn’t take it anymore) and as she opened the door to leave, the bug hopped in. Tommy happened to look up from his SMS and there he was, hopping down the aisle with a big grin on his face. “Wow, that’s a big cricket!” thought Tommy, as he scooted to the end of the bench to see where he went.
The little creature turned left at the sleeper’s pew and hopped all the way to Bro Restlow, where he proceeded to open wide his mouth and deliver a deep bite to the resting figure’s ankle.
Strangely enough, instead of screaming in pain Fred Restlow began to smile, then laugh, then smile again. His eyes popped open and he cried out, “Praise the Lord! I’ve never had a dream like that. Jesus is soooooo good!”
His wife started to elbow him awake when she realized that he was awake. The pastor stumbled over his fifth conclusion, wondering what the ruckus was about. He’d preached through worse than that though, so he bravely continued, “And now, in conclusion …”
The bug started hopping around the room, looking for something. He seemed to make up his mind and hopped up to sister Deprimo, quietly lost in contemplation of something infinitely sad and heavy. This time the bug opened extra wide and clamped down extra hard on her ankle.
“Wow!” She jumped up as a flush of joy swept her whole being. “What’s that feeling? Oh, God is so good. I … I … feel like dancing!” Brother Restlow had quit sleeping and was praising the Lord in his corner, Sis Deprimo raised her hands in praise. The congregation looked on wide-eyed.
And Pastor Longwind soldiered on. “Now as I continue to conclude ...”
The spirit of joy in the Lord seemed to spread to the whole congregation. The teenagers were amazed to see their parents and grandparents worshipping the Lord. They thought of going to church as a punishment and couldn’t understand why their sour elders were suddenly … suddenly … well, they almost seemed like they were happy to be there.
All around the room people began to worship and praise the Lord Jesus. Even the youngsters joined in. Finally, Pastor Longwind stopped and looked around. “Ahem!” he cleared his throat. “Am I interrupting something?”
He happened to look down just at the second some strange insect opened extra, extra wide his mouth and chowed down on his ankle. “Ahhh, non! Ahhh ...”
Suddenly a wave ran through him he hadn’t sensed in a longtime. “Oh, Jesus forgave my sins. He saved me! He made me a part of His Father’s family!” The pastor began to weep great tears of joy.
All the congregation was rejoicing. There, in front of the platform, the little joybug blinked at them with his infectious grin. Everyone grinned back—except Deacon Grimface.
This old fellow cried out, “So you’re the cause of this outrage!” and before anyone could move the angry man had dashed to the front and stomped the joybug with his size 13 shoes. Everyone gasped as they saw the little black pile, squashed in front of them. Joy evaporated from the air.
Then they heard it …
A sound like beautiful flute music rose from the body. Words–musical words–took wing and began to slowly circle the assembly. “The joy of the Lord is your strength … My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” The sound echoed off the back wall and rebounded back with, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy …”
Just when it seemed the sound would die, another rose in crescendo, “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” Deacon Grimface covered his ears and ran from the meeting place. Just as the door slammed behind him a thunderclap shook the building, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
When things finally settled down, the happy congregation (pastor, too), looked to where the joybug’s body had been and saw nothing. But one last little song turned round the spot where he had been, “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Eyes slowly turned toward the pastor’s tear-streaked face. “My friends, that was really something. Now, in conclusion …” Smiles slowly began to droop.
“In conclusion … Jesus is Lord, and I’m so happy about it, you’re dismissed!”
“It is this ‘spilling out’ quality of Christ’s life that accounts for the happiness of Christians, for joy is life in excess, the overflow of what cannot be contained within any one person. (Eugene Peterson, Intro. To Philippians in the Message)