“I know exactly what you are thinking. You have that strong feeling that the Lord wants you to give. Without consideration, without thought, without even the need to pray, he requires your contribution to this congregation not simply from the heart but from the pocket book! If you don’t give, you will thwart the plans of the Almighty God! This power is within your grasp. It is your calling. Your duty. Your obligation. If you do not give, you will not get. You want to get, don’t you? You deserve to get.”
The suits were pressed. The plates were passed. The music flowed, and the fluorescents were in full force. His following arrived on time and faithfully. They signed up for each and every event and all of the classes regardless of the price tag. They got babysitters and loans and rides to church. They pinched pennies and made time. They gave and they gave and they gave. They trusted him. Their hopes were as lottery tickets, surprisingly costly.
As the flock persevered and perspired, Pastor Gimme gained more. His suits went up in price and style. His smile grew brighter and bigger. He traveled from beamer to helicopter pad to the right of the steeple on the rooftop of his workplace. His staff grew immensely, and he had nothing to do. No worries, only bank accounts to shepherd. Life was good for Pastor Gimme.
One day, a plain man showed up at church. He sat in the second row. He did not jump when the jumping happened. He observed. He waited. No one noticed the man in the second row. They only saw the spectacle.
At the end of the service, while the laying on of hands was going on, the plain man walked up to the altar. Pastor Gimme was distributing the Holy Ghost by flattening his guests onto the Berber carpet. Task completed, Gimme gave his closing remarks and approached the exit in the back corner of the sanctuary.
The quiet man followed the pastor to the door. Laying his hand on Gimme’s shoulder, he whispered an inaudible phrase. Gimme turned. He paused, but decided to stretch out his arm as well. Planting his palm on the stranger’s forehead, he distributed one last blessing, “Be empowered! Thank you for coming. Make sure to fill out a visitor’s card.”
Pastor Gimme went home. His wife watched her tv, and he watched his. Their kids had their stories, and they all went to bed. That night the preacher had a dream.
The next morning when he woke up, he rolled over toward his wife. He saw a small freckle on her cheek that he hadn’t noticed before. She started going on about breakfast as usual.
“What do you think? French toast or pancakes? Maybe eggs Florentine? Tea and coffee?”
“I’m sorry. Yes, please. Thank you.” he stammered, still staring at the freckle.
She jumped out of bed, enthused about his decision. After delivering the order to the cook, she came back and snuggled up to him.
“You seem happy today!"
“I do feel strange. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Well, because of the way you’re looking at me.”
“Oh, that’s good. I had the weirdest dream. I was a baby in a high chair being fed. I looked down, and there were other babies on the floor. They were crying and fighting for the food that I was throwing down. I felt so sick and full. Man, dreams are so crazy. I don’t think I can sleep. Maybe we should get up.”
“That sounds great! I’m so glad you’re feeling well.”
They had their day. They had their week. Then Sunday arrived.
The church was up and running, glistening and perfect as usual. The congregation flowed in- a parade of smiles and compliments.
Pastor Gimme shook all the hands, but this time he felt the grip.
“Oh Pastor Gimme, I bought your new book in the gift shop. I can’t believe how much God wants to give to me!”
“Thank you for all that you do!”
“I haven’t missed a service in 15 years.”
His shoulders grew heavy, and his brow grew thick. He stepped up to the podium. When he saw all of the eyes looking up to him, his stomach felt full and sick.
“I am a fraud. A charlatan. A fool.” The microphone carried his confession.
“I will no longer be the pastor of this congregation. There is a man better suited for the job.” He scanned the audience- starting at the second row. There was no solace there, but he sensed the sorrow and confusion on their faces and tried to explain.
“How do I tell you this? There was a stranger here last week. He stopped me at the door. It’s crazy. He touched my shoulder. This sounds so made up, but it’s true. Last night I had a dream or maybe a nightmare. It feels like now. It feels like here.”
He leaned down on his folded arms. He could not get the image of himself laying his hand on the stranger’s forehead out of his mind. He began to weep. Through cloudy tears he spoke, “His eyes weren’t cruel. They passed through me like air. I had never seen him before, but he could see me. I knew. I knew right then, and I saw. I’m so sorry for what I’ve done to you. For all I’ve taken. I promise I will give as much as I was given in that moment, and I will take as little as I can. Can you forgive me?”
When he lifted his head to face the congregation, he was met with the same expression as that of the stranger. A few were walking up the stairs to the stage to comfort him. The rest stood and clapped their hands.
He was a stone that had come to life. “The rocks will cry out” popped into his mind. His thoughts pleasantly drifted off to his wife and kids, and he laughed through his tears.