If I could tell when the end times were on their way by the number of wars, famines, earthquakes and plagues that are afflicting our world, I’d say, “Wow! Here they come!” The Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America—you name it, atrocities are taking place. Even in the United States of America, the home of the free, the hope of the huddled masses, the place where no one really has to go hungry, human-caused disaster is everywhere.
I knew the tale of Zacchaeus as we’ve all heard it—a short bad man climbs a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus—until I heard Charlie Cook preach on it one Sunday in the mid-’70s. Charlie was a short good man, and one of the most extraordinary pastors I have ever known.
The first time I heard the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was as a small child attending vacation Bible school at Pond Fork Baptist Church. I remember the end of the little curtained balcony where our class was held, sunlight coming into our room rejoicing through a dusty window, the buzzing of insects in the July fields outside, a flannel board with figures stuck on it, and best of all, the anticipation of a story, followed by Kool-Aid and cookies.
There are moments when you just know what’s coming next. No one has to confirm it for you; the feeling in your gut is confirmation enough. After I lay on the ultrasound table for two minutes, the technician left me alone while she went to find the radiologist. I knew I was in trouble. No one had biopsied anything. No one had uttered the word “cancer,” much less “lobular invasive carcinoma,” but I knew.
While wrestling with me and my hesitations, down along the riverbank, God whispered in my ear, “Barb: If you are going to tell a story, tell my story.” Ever since that day, honoring that stipulation has been part of the privilege and part of the burden in this vocation called ministry.