"Wake up, Larry. Time to rise and shine." Gradually his eyes began to open, and focus upon this person who was gently shaking him. "I'm awake, Mom," he said. "Good, because today is Sunday. We need to get to church a little early this morning. Daddy has a meeting. Now, I've laid some clothes out for you. You're big enough to take it from there." "OK, Mom," he replied.
* * * * *
As he got himself dressed, Larry wondered: "Why do we go to church? It would be nice to have two Saturdays in a row. I could get up and watch cartoons in my pajamas twice a week." When he was ready, Larry opened his door and walked down the hall toward the family room. On the way, he passed his parent's room. He heard them talking behind the closed door.
"Monica, I don't see why George had to call a committee meeting for this morning. It's enough getting everybody up and to worship Sunday as it is."
"Now, Fred, it isn't the first time you've met so early. It's never bothered you before."
"Yeah, well, lately I've had a hard time being around George, ever since he laid into me about not getting the furnace serviced last winter. You'd have thought that machine was a member of his family, how protective he is of it and the rest of the building."
"Isn't it a good thing that he takes such a personal responsibility for our church building, dear? Many people don't care enough to be bothered about it. If it hadn't been cleaned, Fred, that furnace might have blown up in the middle of one of Pastor Jim's sermons."
"In a way I wish it would have."
"Fred! You don't mean that."
"In a way, I do, yes. That furnace must be fifty years old. It should have been replaced a long time ago, but George just can't see it."
"It's not the furnace or the meeting this morning that's bothering you, is it, Fred?"
"No. I guess I'm just still smarting from what George said to me. He didn't have to be so defensive. It's like I was attacking him by forgetting to call the serviceman."
"He was raised in this church, Fred. He practically built the meetinghouse."
"I know. I'm glad he was, and is, so committed. But I care, also. Furthermore, I'm not irresponsible. I could understand if my boss said some of the things to me that George did. Isn't the church supposed to be different?"
"We're not perfect, dear. Just a bunch of sinners, who are becoming saints. You, George, even Pastor Jim."
"Your right, of course. You know, maybe a furnace explosion could have added something to Jim's preaching. His sermons could use a bit more fire."
"How would you know? You fall asleep the minute he clears his throat."
"I do not! ... I wait until he buries his head in his notes."
"Fred! Just for that my elbow will sink a little deeper at your first snore."
Larry moved on down the hall wondering why they were talking about a furnace when it was so hot outside.
* * * * *
After breakfast, everyone jumped in the car to get to church. Well, Myla, Larry's big sister, didn't exactly jump. "I just don't understand why we have to be at church so early."
"I told you, Myla, father has an early meeting."
"I agree," said Dad.
When they got to church, Grammaw was already there, sitting in her old car. Nobody ever got to church earlier than Grammaw. Larry ran over to her car. He loved the smell of it, and the seat bounced when he sat on it. He loved that car. He loved his grammaw.
"Larry," Grammaw said, after they'd been sitting there a while. "Did I ever show you how you can make a church with your hands?"
"No," he replied, although she had showed him many times before.
"Hold your hands together like you are praying, then link the smallest three fingers. 'This is the church, and this is the steeple, look inside and see all the people.'"
* * * * *
Larry sat with his parents for worship. He liked it when people other than the preacher got up and said things. This one man stood and asked people to pray for his wife the next few weeks. Everybody laughed. The man was in a 'play,' and would be away from home often the next few weeks. Larry wondered why he had to play away from home. Didn't he have a back yard?
Someone else shared about a friend needing prayer for something called cancer. Another person stood and thanked people for their prayers while he was in the hospital, and asked for more prayers as he struggled with his disease. Other people said things, too.
Then, after a while, the preacher prayed. It was an awful long prayer, and very quiet. Larry knew better than to ask his Mom right then for anything. All their heads were bowed. He bowed his, too, but his mind was on other stuff. Then the preacher said, "in Jesus' name we pray. Amen." It was over.
Later in the service, Larry was writing in his bulletin. He liked it when they left lots of white spaces to write in. His bulletin being nearly full of stick figures, and cars, and tanks, and ugly creatures, and anything else he could imagine, he put it down and started playing with his hands again - Grammaw's church.
At that moment the preacher spoke a little louder, and Larry heard him say: "The church is not this building, it's not this room, the church is people - you and me. This building is only just the place where we meet."
Larry looked at his hands. He opened them and thought, "This is the church." Then he closed his hands, thinking, "This is where we meet."
* * * * *
He liked Mrs. Cardinal, his Sunday School teacher. She usually told a story, and had some crafts for them to do. She was a pretty good story-teller, too. Today she was telling a story about Jesus and the disciples.
Once Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say I am?" The disciples began to tell him all the names they had head. Then Jesus looked them all in the eye and said, "OK, now - your turn. Who do you say I am?" Peter replied, "You're the Messiah, the Son of God."
Then Jesus turned to Peter. He had a little tear in his eye. Maybe it was a tear of happiness, or a tear of sadness. He said, "Peter, God has given you eyes to see what most people can't or won't see. Peter, you're as solid as a rock when you see with eyes of faith. On this rock I'm going to build my church, and nothing will be able to tear it down."
Larry looked down at his hands and made Grammaw's church, and as he was doing so he heard the teacher continue her story.
Then Jesus told his disciples how, in the days to come, he was going to be hurt, and even killed, and then rise after three days. Peter said to Jesus, "No, that can't happen. God must not allow his Messiah to be treated like that!"
Then Jesus turned to Peter. He again had a little tear in his eye. Maybe it was a tear of anger. He said to Peter, "Get behind me Satan! You're in my way, a stumbling block, for you are not on God's side, but on the side of men."
Larry wasn't sure he understood what all that meant. One moment, Peter was a rock, and the church was going to be built upon him. The next moment Peter was a stumbling block for Jesus. Why did Jesus call Peter "Satan?" ... "This is the church, this is the steeple, look inside and see all the people."... Built on a rock ... and a stumbling block?
After Sunday School they went out to eat. They had with them another family, some neighbors of theirs. Mom and Dad had invited them to come to church, and now they were taking them out to eat at a restaurant. "This place is OK," thought Larry, "But it's not McDonald's." They didn't have hamburgers and french fries, Larry's favorites.
Mom had said they wanted to go someplace nice for this other family, to help them feel special. Larry didn't think this place was all that special. He remembered how yesterday his family had been in another place. Only this time, they weren't eating. They were serving the food. It wasn't McDonalds either. There were a lot of scruffy-looking people in there. Some of them smelled bad. It was so hot, and yet many of the people were wearing lots of clothes. They drank lots of coffee, with lots of sugar in it.
"Mom, why are we here," Larry had asked.
"Well," she replied, "these people need our help. They don't have homes like we do. They live on the street. We try to help them by giving them a good meal. We're trying to do what Jesus would do."
As Larry was eating in that restaurant with those neighbors, to help them feel special, Larry thought about that soup kitchen yesterday. Many other people from the church were there, all serving the food. "This is the church, and this is the steeple, look inside and see all the people."
* * * * *
Sunday evening, they went over to Grammaw's home. He liked the smell and feel of Grammaw's house, just like her car. When it was dark, he and Grammaw went out onto the porch and sat on the swing. "Tell me about Grampaw," Larry asked, because he knew Grammaw liked talking about the man who died before he was born. He liked to listen to her talk about him.
"Oh, Larry, your Grampaw was a real saint of a man. But, mind you, he was far from perfect. He had his faults, plenty of them. He made his mistakes. We made our mistakes." Larry realized that Grammaw was not really talking to him, but that was OK.
"Did I ever tell you we had to get married? O, the restlessness of youth." Larry wasn't sure what it meant to "have to get married." Of course they "had" to get married. Otherwise Dad wouldn't have been born, or married Mom, or had Myla and him.
"We were young and in love," she went on. "And then everything seemed in danger of falling apart because of it. I'll never forget what Rev. Prigel said to Grampaw. 'Charlie,' he said, 'yes, you made a mistake. Don't make it a bigger mistake by not raising this child in a family filled with love. The best place to learn how to love, especially when the going gets rough, is in the church.'"
As Grammaw went on with her memories, Larry again looked at his hands. He opened up the church in his hand and looked at all the people and thought about them: his Grammaw and Grampaw; Mom, Dad, Sis; his Sunday School teacher; the people that shared; the people that served; the neighbors invited; the people at Dad's meeting; the preacher.
He thought about the disciple Peter, and how Peter was both a rock, and a stumbling block. And he thought about Jesus. In his hands were all these people. "The church is like God's hands," he thought. He smiled, and went back to listening to Grammaw talk about Grampaw.
* * * * *
Later, when he was ready for bed, his Dad came in and hugged him and sat with him as he said his prayers. Larry folded his hands, Grammaw's church hands, and prayed, "Thank you, God, for the church. Amen." Then he went to bed.
©1996Peter L. Haynes