Playing Out the Parable

by Arthur W. Anderson

Arthur Anderson

Oh, what disillusionment befalls us when we think we know all about what is expected of us! For example, as a minister, I would assume that if I was asked to fulfill my calling on any given Sunday, I would preach and do such other things a normal service requires. (I’m not alluding to the conflict between traditional and contemporary which seems to hassle us currently.) But what would you think about the powers that be asking me to come dressed as an unwelcome bum? Yes, a derelict off the streets. (How fitting, a friend said.) Not only that, but I will not be allowed to enter the church until the service is half over. Forget the meaty sermon I had prepared! Yes, the coming Sunday, that’s me, trench coat, slouched hat, scuffed shoes and all. And walking like an old boxcar Willie, shuffling his feet. (I am perfect for that part.)

Well, when this was broached to me after the service the Sunday before last, my up-beat post-sermon attitude was somewhat deflated. The young lady with the degree in dramatics assured me that all would be well. In a weak moment I said I thought I could. Subsequent reflections kept me hoping the idea would be scratched. But no such escape. The cause behind it was one I could enthusiastically espouse: a service in tune with Love, Incorporated, a national organization helping the church to aid the helpless, the needy, the troubled, and the abused. When I heard my young friends say that Christians are not only to share their faith verbally but must do so in action which really helps the disenfranchised in the city, I was hooked. It seems to me that churches easily become self-absorbed, committed to self-serving causes, and forget the people around them, especially the hurting folks. We find some high-level logic to justify why we cannot respond to a cry for help, material or otherwise. We find air-tight reasons for why we need to spend more time and money on ourselves. So, to hear young Christians get passionate about that, I’ll bum it any day! And when I realized that the best sermon I could preach would be to be a hobo who came down the aisle only to discover it was just the preacher, I took to the role.

When I realized that Jeremiah acted out parables, one by purchasing a new loin cloth and burying it by a river and another by smashing a clay pot, I couldn’t be in better company. Most of us are more convinced by what we see than by what we hear. Sören Kierkegaard believed that without risk there is no faith. What better risk is there than playing the fool, for which I have a natural competence! I may blow the cover and be prematurely discovered. Some smart cookie in the congregation may divine what it is all about and whisper it so as to be overheard. But so what, it is still a parable. Many there are who think they know what a parable told is all about. And even a fool can smile!

I take worship seriously. It is awful. It is glorious. God is a majestic, mighty God, and we worship him in "spirit and in truth." And we have to keep our greasy paws off the holy altar. But worship is also holy play which cheers the heart of Him who often wonders if we really care!