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A stiff wind off Lake Erie drives sleet in his eyes as he squares up the next shovelful of snow on the church sidewalk. Eleven inches of the heavy, wet stuff is nothing to write home about, for all the homes within a hundred miles are blanketed this morning.
He murmurs a prayer of gratitude that the aging oil furnace in the basement sprang to life when he eased the thermostat to 72 before he began to shovel. The contract for annual inspection and upkeep lapsed in July, and the church board voted to save the $748 for some unspecified reserve fund. Somehow, they told him glibly, he and the Lord would keep the furnace running one more winter.
Salt, he mutters as he scrapes the cracked cement with his shovel blade. I need the safety salt. Somewhere behind the glowing furnace a bag of safety salt he stowed there last November will keep the saints upright as they edge their way from the parking lot to the sanctuary door.
She has spent the week thinking of sackbuts, cornets and flutes. The three exuberant four-year olds who attend her weekly Sabbath School class will certainly want to reenact the Daniel 3 story of Meschach, Shadrach, and Abednego—and she must find an instrument for each.
Her grandmother’s old zither, layered in the dust of decades, will do for a stringed instrument. A trumpet kazoo from the Dollar Store will answer for a cornet. But the only thing that even seems like a flute is an ivory-colored recorder still hiding in a bedroom closet from when Stephen was in elementary school. Not perfect, but workable, she tells herself, imagining how Elena, Carl, and Ezra will stand so straight and tall in front of the pastor’s cardboard cutout of the image of Daniel 2. They will play in one beautiful cacophony the zither, the trumpet kazoo, and the recorder. And then they will stand—they will stand—unblinking and unbowed.
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He lingers for an extra sixty seconds in the shower, imagining that this is how the Holy Spirit will fall on him as he preaches the morning message. It will be grace, and nothing more, that gets him through this sermon. Two funerals and three hospital visits devoured all his time this week, and Fiona has been sleeping poorly in the seventh month of pregnancy.
This is not the life he dreamed of while in seminary—a world of big ideas and wise sermons; guests striding through the church’s front door; the baptistry filled once each month. Just now, all the baptism he craves is the warm oil of the Spirit, promised to believers under stress: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you will answer or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12, NRSV).
These are the heroes of my church—unsung, unlauded, rarely celebrated. I think of them when television lights obscure the hundreds in the audience, when crowds mill through exhibit halls, when stadiums swell with “We Have This Hope.”
The Lord who gave His rapt attention to one woman pouring out the fragrance of her heart cannot forget the thousands of deacons, teachers, and pastors who do His bidding in obscurity because they deeply love Him and His truth. When stadiums fall silent and the last bright light has winked off in the studio, the snow will still be shoveled; the children will still be taught; the sermons will still carry grace and power because the Spirit moves among us.
Seek out the heroes of your church. Give them your full attention and your love. Tell them what a gift they are to all of us who long for His appearing.