Are you a pastor?
I had been on the road for nearly ten hours. It was getting late. I was in rural Kentucky, far away from my church in Iowa. Traffic in the Queen City had been brutal. How in the heck could she know that I was?
“Yes ma’am. But how did you know?” I asked.
Your big cross hanging there. What do you think about this?
“Oh. About what?”
What he’s sayin’?
“I was not listening, so I don’t have anything to think about it?”
The man turned around, offered his hand in introduction, and told me he’d figured it out. “The world is going to end this October. I figured out the date and time.”
He did share the date and time. By the time I returned to the car, I could not even remember it to tell my wife or the girls. But I tried valiantly to beg off from the conversation. I was tired. I had a couple more hours of driving ahead of me. And they were not going to like my answer. “You know what. I really don’t want to have this conversation. My wife and I have been driving here since Iowa. Traffic has been bad. I’m taking one daughter to college and another to interview for college. I’m not in my best ‘pastoral’ shape right now.”
The cashier was having none of it, however. That’s ok, pastor. You are in Kentucky now. We value plain speaking in these parts. You can tell us what you think. If it sounds strange to our ears, we will remember you said you were tired.
He echoed with “Absolutely. We know pastors get tired every now and again. Sometimes, though, blunt is good. It helps drive out confusion.”
So I answered, looking at both of them in the eye and the lady behind me until she nodded, “I warned you.” Looking back at the truck driver, I asked, “So, you figured out the date of Jesus’ return?”
“Yeah, I did.” And he proceeded to explain how one verse pointed him to another verse and another. He’d figured out the signs and numbers of days from the signs from his detective work. The math all added up. We have less than two months, pastor. What have you to say to that?”
“Not much good, I’m afraid.”
“And why not?” he asked crossing his arms.
Yeah, why not? asked the lady behind the counter.
“Because the date is not in there.”
“Pastor, the Good Book contains everything in there. If we need to know it, He (pointing upwards) made sure it was in there for us to read. The most important thing in there is Judgment Day.” He argued.
“No, it’s not.” I replied.
“What could be more important than Judgment Day? That’s when our Lord is coming back to destroy the idolators, the perverse, those who mocked His people, everybody who is not His disciple.” He was quite excited about the prospect.
“Strange. I thought the most important thing in the Good Book, as you called it a second ago, was the Good News, that Jesus loved us, came down from heaven, died for our sins, and was raised from the dead that all who believe in Him might have eternal life. You know, John 3:16.”
Continuing the argument, he continued, “Well, yeah, that’s real important, but His return and judgment are more important to us now, those of us who believe.”
“Really? I thought one of His last commands before He ascended was for us to go into the world and make disciples. He told us to be ready and stay alert for His return, but nowhere do I recall Him ever saying we should look for a secret code that give the date of His return. In fact, when He talks about His return, He says only the Father knows the day. Jesus Himself did not know the day.”
Rallying, he answered, “How can that be. Jesus is God. If God knows, Jesus knows. He has to because He is God.”
“Do you believe in the Trinity?”
All three nodded.
“What do we say about the Trinity?” I asked.
We use it in baptisms.
“I did not mean how it is used. I meant ‘How do we describe the relationship we call the Trinity?”
“Not following you, pastor.” He replied as the ladies agreed.
“If I said ‘Three Persons in One Unity,’ would that sound familiar to you?”
“Oh, sure. There’s the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But they are all God. That’s why you’re wrong that Jesus doesn’t know the date of His return. He’s God, so He has to know.”
“But what about the three persons, part? Aren’t they in some mysterious way, separate?” I asked.
“Well, I guess, but they are also the same.” he offered.
“Yes, one Unity. But what about that three persons part? How do we understand that?” I pressed.
Isn’t that the difference which caused Jesus to pray to His Father. I mean, I don’t know how to explain it, but Jesus prayed to the Father a lot. If He was the Father, to Whom was He praying? Himself?
“Exactly.” I answered. “Now we call this a holy mystery in the Church. Somehow, we know that they are distinct persons but they share being God. But if we try and rationalize it, we are going to fail. It is a mystery we accept as part of His revelation that we will not fully understand until we pass through those pearly gates. That make sense?”
I got nods for the most part, but there were, rightfully, lots of questions.
“Now, back to your claim about figuring out the date,” I said addressing the trucker, “What does Jesus say about that date in, let’s say, Mark 13?”
“Come on. You claimed to have figured out a date. What does Jesus say about your date in Mark 13, as one example?”
“I, uh, I don’t know the Book well enough to have it all committed to memory.”
“You can figure out a code, but you can’t remember what was said about the subject of your code?” I pressed. “How about this ‘But about that day no one knows, not the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father.’” Worried I had misquoted a word or two and knowing that would be important to my audience. “Does that sound familiar?”
“Are you sure that is in the Bible?” he asked.
“Absolutely. In your Bible it will even be in red letters, right below the discussion about charlatans and false prophets who will claim special knowledge about His return. Now, was Jesus telling the truth when He said He did not know the hour?” I asked.
Whoa! If you are right, then Jesus did not know. But how can that be because He is God?
“That mystery thing?” said the woman’s voice behind me.
I nodded. “Somehow, someway, the knowledge of His return is known only by the Father. Either that or Jesus was a liar. Since He was raised from the dead, I am betting He told the truth.”
The ladies agreed, but unlearning came hard.
“Are you sure that’s in the King James Bible and not some other translation?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” I answered, “the words are even in red.”
“I’m going to check and see if you are right.” he announced.
“Please do,” I said, “and do me one more favor, if I am right.”
“What’s that?” he asked dubiously.
“If I remembered the verses right, and you see them with your eyes, ask yourself where your efforts fall in that chapter. What would Jesus think about your efforts to figure out stuff He does not know and then share it with the people you meet? And, if you do that, if you honestly do that, reread the Gospel again, asking God to tell you what you should be doing, instead. Fair enough?”
“I’m betting you read a wrong Bible and got confused,” he replied.
“I know. But if I am right, if those words are right and if they are in red, will you do that? Will you reread that Gospel, asking God to show or tell you what you should be doing with your life instead of trying to guess at a day? Will you do that?”
“I guess. But I think I’m going to be right back in here showing you what the Good Book really says.”
“Fair enough. I still have to pay, so hurry along.”
He headed out the door to his truck.
Well, I don’t know how you could do any better, Pastor, when you aren’t tired and frustrated. If that wasn’t you at your best, I kinda wish I lived near you to see you more.
You said you were tired and worn out from your trip. I’d kinda like to hear you preach all rested and rarin’ to go. That man is in here damn near every day, pestering me and everyone else who’s in here if I am and they are ready to meet Jesus in October. I’ve reminded him about that guy in Florida and that guy in Oklahoma that picked dates, but he never listens to me.
“Yeah,” said the lady behind me, “he is just wound up on that date. It’s kinda scary, if you ask me.”
“I am sorry that you two have had to listen to it. It drives me nuts.”
“How many strangers have heard that from him?”
I wouldn’t know how many to guess. He’s been at it for five or six months maybe, every day.
“How many of those did not know God?” I asked.
Well, all of us locals just argue a bit and then tune him out. If you keep arguing, he starts trying to save you.
“I hear you. But what about those who aren’t saved? If this guy is spouting a date and it ends up being wrong, what will they think about God and the Bible?”
“Well, they’ll think the Bible is wrong about the date, that’s fer sure,” offered the lady behind me.
“And if it’s wrong about one thing, what else can it be wrong about?” I asked.
Well, I don’t know how she felt about waiting that long to check out, but I am really glad I asked if you were a pastor. Now I know how to handle guys like him.
“At first, I have to admit, I was pissed. . . err, sorry, Pastor. But now I’m kinda happy about it. It always rubbed me a bit wrong, to tell the truth. Now, I guess, I know why. Heck, I want to hear what he says after reading it. You sounded pretty sure it’s in there. I want to know how he’s gonna respond. And I really hope you are right. He really highlights those red words when he talks at you.”
“Well, ladies, you are going to have to continue this discussion with him without me. I hoped I have helped you a bit.” I answered.
Whaddaya mean? You’re not givin’ up now, are ya?
I laughed. “No. I’m betting that’s his truck pulling out. Am I right?”
Laughter all around.
“Do me a favor, please, ladies?” I asked as she rang me up.
“You name it, pastor.”
Whatever you want, pastor.
“Next time he comes in, don’t tease him. Ask him if he kept his promise to re-read the Gospel. If he says he didn’t or did not need to, remind him that he promised a pastor to re-read it, if the pastor was right. Will you do that?”
They agreed, a bit disappointed that I asked them not to tease him.
He’s so . . . I dunno, hard headed. It would be so much fun to rub his nose in it a bit.
“Yeah, I gathered that. But you know, there was this stubborn man named Paul. When the scales fell away from his eyes, he did some amazing work for God. Maybe you two have heard of him?
Fair enough. I get you. I don’t like it, but I get you.
“Well, ladies, we all have our crosses to bear, “ I winked as she gave me my change.
I left to a bit of laughter and thanks.