by J. Ellsworth Kalas
We anticipate that in heaven we’ll learn about miracles we experienced that we didn’t know about when they were happening. But sometimes we’re blessed with a foretaste of this experience while we’re still on this earth.
I had such an experience a few weeks ago. It came in a letter from one of the most admirable Christians I know. He’s the kind of person you hope doubters or critics will meet, so they can see what a more-finished-product looks like. I had been his pastor through the early years of his Christian experience. What I didn’t know about, strangely enough, is the first time he came to our church. It was, he said, “a significant moment of grace” for him.
His wife was a life long Methodist, and he had been raised in Christian Science. He agreed that they should have a church together and that they would visit a United Methodist church so that he could give it a hearing. There was a bad start: the building turned him off — “too ornate,” he thought.
Somewhere in the sermon I made a reference to Christian Science; I have no idea why, because I don’t know what I preached in that sermon over thirty years ago. This man was accustomed to hear his childhood faith referred to as a cult. However, he heard me say (as reported in this recent letter) that while I did not agree with the theology of Christian Science, I admired their dedication to prayer and their strong belief in the healing power of Christ and prayer. That day that church became his spiritual home and he began the journey with our Lord which he now pursues so well so many years later.
How did I happen that Sunday to make a kindly reference to Christian Science? How is it that it happened on a Sunday when a man was making a trial visit that he calculated might be his only one? How is it that just the right word came at just the right hour to just the right life?
I claim no special wisdom for what happened. I repent, rather, at those times in my life when I’ve chosen to say something clever or laughter-evoking that could have hurt somebody. The speaker’s ego and the intoxication of approving laughter are special hazards to us preachers and teachers. Someday I may get a disapproving report in heaven about such instances. I pray not, but knowing myself as I do I fear the odds are against me.
But then there are the miracles: two or three sentences on a unique Sunday, with the exquisite timing of quarterback to wide receiver in a pass that wins the game. And I didn’t even practice it! — unless, perhaps, that’s what, all unknowingly, I was practicing in my communing with God the previous week.
I’m grateful beyond measure that I could learn about this particular miracle on this side of the fabled Jordan River. Some would call the original event a remarkable coincidence. I choose rather the conviction of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple: “When I pray, coincidences happen. When I don’t pray, they don’t happen.”