Pastor Oglephant's Sabbatical
(The Spirit of Preeminence)
I wrote to the church but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them,
receives us not – III John 9
The king spoke, and said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of my kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, “O king Nebuchadnezzer, to you it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from you.” - Daniel 4:30, 3
The Reverend Luther Oglephant stood upon the roof of his church looking out beyond the turrets, surveying all that he had built during his reign. Acres of parking surrounded the enormous building that housed thousands every Sunday. He looked at the buildings clustered on the hillside that contained the schools, the television studio and the radio station. A huge signal tower in the shape of praying hands sent his broadcasts to every corner of the country. He felt his heart swell with pride.
“Isn’t it a grand thing that I have built?” he thought with a smile. “There is not a soul in this country that has not benefited from the glory of my wisdom.”
Then almost at the very instant the words left his mouth, he heard a voice from heaven declare, “From this moment on your kingdom has been taken from you until you are deemed worthy to be restored.”
He thought he heard something like cherubim giggling in the distance – and then he began to shrink.
Reverend Oglephant’s secretary, Myda, was in her office organizing the information that was to go into Sunday’s bulletin, when she heard the sound of a child screaming. It was coming from the roof. Children were not allowed on the roof, and she had no idea there were any children in the building. The cries were so intense she had to follow the sound.
On her way to the staircase she poked her head into Reverend Oglephant’s office. He wasn’t there. Then she quickly climbed the staircase that led to the roof. The door was open and she stepped out into the sunlight.
The screams were coming from a pile of clothes that were heaped near the rail of the balcony. Something was trying to free itself from the folds.
The secretary cautiously moved toward the pile, just as a child’s head emerged from the suit’s jacket.
“My goodness!” Myda exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
She quickly rushed forward and stood above the child, a little boy of almost two, with dark brown curly hair and a small red face that was crumpled with rage.
To Myda’s amazement she realized that it was Reverend Oglephant’s clothing that was wrapped around the child. His burgundy red tie with the green zig zags was now tangled around the baby’s neck.
“Pastor Oglephant!” the woman shrieked. “Where are you?!”
The baby wailed.
Then Myda noticed the tell tale birthmark on the side of the little boy’s cheek and the secretary’s hands flew up to her face in astonished disbelief.
“Oh, no! It can’t be! What happened? Pastor Oglephant, this can’t be you!”
“Is anybody here?” a voice called up from below. It was Henrietta, the pastor’s aged mother.
The child, who had never stopped wailing, increased his volume by several decibels.
In a moment, Reverend Oglephant’s mother was standing next to his secretary.
“Myda!” she cried and clasped her hand to her chest. “Myda, it’s my Luther! I’d know him anywhere. His screams were forever embedded into my memory! What’s going on here? My baby!”
She quickly wrestled the naked child from his prison of formal clothing.
“He needs diapers!” she hollered, and then she whisked him off to the restroom.
Myda was in shock. “Our pastor’s been turned into a baby?” she stammered. “How can this be?”
She looked heavenward, and was overcome with fearful reverence knowing that with God all things were possible.
When Myda finally regained some composure,
she quickly snapped into action. The first thing she did when she returned to her office was call the assistant pastor. She didn’t really give a lot of thought as to how she was going to explain it. She just blurted into the telephone, “Kevin, something has happened to Luther. I’m at the church. You’ve got to come immediately!”
Kevin got out of his car and hurried across the parking lot toward the church. Myda hadn’t given him any details. Was it a heart attack? Nervous breakdown? He couldn’t imagine – Oglephant was as solid as a rock. He’d never been sick a day in his life. Then a hopeful thought began to glimmer in the back of his mind. If Luther wasn’t feeling well, then just maybe the assistant pastor would get a shot at preaching a coveted Sunday morning service.
Kevin stepped into the massive entry foyer and then bounded down the hall that led to the offices, all the while thinking that this could be it, the elusive dream could become a reality.
Luther never missed a service His pulpit was his domain. Sunday morning was a prime time spot that only the star was allowed to fill. How many mornings had Kevin remained sitting in the wings wondering when he would be counted worthy enough to share the spotlight. He had so much to offer, yet, he’d never been allowed to do more than recite the announcements. Although he’d always tried to accomplish the task with humor and flare, he knew he had more to contribute than reciting a list, even though he did it creatively.
He burst into Myda’s office just as an irate, naked little boy came barreling toward him,
screaming at the top of his lungs. Reverend Oglephant’s mother was racing after him with a wild gleam in her eyes.
“This is just the way it used to be!” she cried with joy as she relived her nostalgia.
The child’s chubby little legs propelled him into Oglephant’s office and he was headed for the desk when his mother finally caught up with him and hauled him into the air. “Luther, calm down. Kevin is here. We have to have a meeting.”
Kevin had followed her and was standing in the doorway. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Where’s Luther? What happened?”
Myda was suddenly at his side watching Henrietta trying to manage the squirming child.
“Henrietta, I just thought of something,” Myda said. “We’ve got to call Lydia. I don’t know what
to tell her.”
“I’ll tell her,” Henrietta replied. She knew she would find just the right words to explain to Luther’s wife that her husband was going to double as a son. Somehow Henrietta sensed that it wasn’t going to be that great of a shock. Lydia was a strong woman, well adapted to Luther’s swiftly changing moods. She could adapt to more changes if she had to.
Kevin stared at the wailing child. “Where’s Luther?” he asked. “Whose little boy is that?”
Then Myda said the words that he had been yearning to hear for so long.
“Kevin, you must start working on a sermon for Sunday morning. Luther won’t be preaching this week.”
The baby shrieked.
He that is first will be last and the last first…Luke 13:30
Lydia took the news about her husband’s sudden conversion into childhood quite well, as Henrietta had predicted. Even though baby Luther was incredibly cranky, he was a cute little thing and Lydia had always loved taking care of children no matter who they were.
The child’s sudden appearance in the Oglephant household was explained quite easily. He was the son of a relative that Lydia would be foster parenting for awhile. That was the truth. He was the son of her mother-in law.
They told everyone else that Reverand Olglephant was on a much needed sabbatical, which in a way was the truth. Since nobody knew exactly how long baby Luther was going to remain a baby, the sabbatical could be a rather lengthy one if need be. Only Kevin, a few members of the board, Oglephant’s wife, mother and secretary knew what had actually happened to their pastor.
The first Sunday morning service without their celebrity pastor was quite an event. They had quickly put together some special music which was allowed to go overtime, extending the worship which was a first. Pastor Oglephant has always made sure the worship time never infringed on his allotted segment.
Kevin was a lot more flexible and felt worshipping God was what they were there for
anyway and he let it continue.
Kevin’s first sermon was dynamic and extremely well received. Lydia tried to keep Luther quiet during the service, but it was impossible and he had to be taken out as soon as Kevin approached the pulpit as the child’s screams were deafening.
Those who knew about their pastor's sudden conversion into childhood, understood that Luther was having a difficult time adjusting and his tantrums were treated with a great deal of sympathy. It had been determined to love him as he was, but after awhile he was beginning to stretch everyone’s patience.
The breaking point came one Sunday morning. He had managed to escape from the nursery again. Kevin had finished a sweet time of ministry with the children. He had just dismissed them for children’s church and he was standing on the first step beneath the pulpit, when baby Luther came out of nowhere it seemed and bolted for the podium. Kevin was in his way and the child slammed into him hitting his legs in just the right spot like a bowling ball.
Kevin crumpled to the floor and the microphone fell from his hands. In an instant, Luther had it and was not about to relinquish it to anyone. He was babbling into it, trying to form words he was too young to master as he sprinted for his spot behind the pulpit.
Of course, no one could see him behind the enormous wooden ark-like structure that he had custom made in the Holy Land.
The congregation naturally began laughing hysterically, something that rarely happened in Oglephant’s church. The laughter continued to build in momentum as the deacons scrambled to corral what appeared to be a rather rambunctious little boy. It took a while before they were able to pry the microphone from his cubby fingers. “MINE!” The child screeched one of the few words he could articulate perfectly and another wave of laughter rocked the sanctuary.
“Isn’t he cute, he wants to be the pastor,” someone chortled as the screaming child was carried off into the depths of the church.
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up – James 4:10
That evening Luther was pouting in his oversized leather chair, staring at the fireplace in his living room. His mother and his wife were watching him intently.
Then Henrietta said, “I’ve had enough of him. And you know what, Lydia, I know I’m his mother, but I have to say that I believe God is just as fed up with him as we are.”
She stood to face him and stared at his little red puffy face.
“Luther, look at me!” she demanded in her firmest motherly manner.
It was a command he had been trained to obey.
He was sulking now. This time she wasn’t feeling sorry for him.
“Luther, God does not do anything by accident, you know that. This has happened to you for a reason. You have been behaving very badly and it’s got to stop. You are not learning anything from this experience, Luther, and I fear that as long as you continue fighting what God wants to do here, you will never change. You will probably experience a long, painful childhood trying to regain a pulpit that you are no longer qualified to be in.”
His face began to contort again, the prelude to another cascade of tears.
His mother bent down and peered into the eyes of her son, looking into the mirror of the child-man’s soul.
“Luther, listen to me. God is telling you that He wants you to change. You cannot be the one who is in control. It’s God’s church, not yours. You are His servant. You will never be restored unless you humble yourself and repent. You have been behaving like an arrogant little brat and this morning was the last straw." She paused, raised herself to her full height, placed her hands on her hips and stared at him firmly as she spoke, aiming her words at him with terrifying precision.
“Luther, do you remember Mr. Paddlehead?”
Baby Luther’s eyes widened in stark terror as he remembered the flat little board with the beady eyes that his mother had hand painted just for him. The memory of his childhood disciplines had never left him. Sometimes that’s what it takes.
From that point on, Luther began to change for the better.
It took several more months, and then one day Lydia awoke to the sound of her husband’s deep male voice calling for help. He was stuck in the crib that used to be his bed. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Everybody welcomed the pastor's return, even though he was quite reluctant to talk about his sabbatical other than make a few sheepish comments about how glad he was to resume his normal routine.
Now he could sit in the front row and watch with a smile, willing to share his pulpit with his gifted assistant pastor and many other guest speakers from time to time. His own sermons were softer, gentler and filled with more of Christ’s words and less of his own.
He had learned something during the throes of childhood. God is the Ultimate Parent, He has a sense of humor and He always loves us too much to leave us where we want to be.
Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king who will no more be admonished. – Ecclesiastes 4:13
copyright 2007 by H.D. Shively