The congregation listened in awe as the preacher delivered his sermon. It was like this most Sundays, the preacher standing behind the rostrum, Bible open in front of him and mouthing carefully crafted words with just the right intonation — pitching his voice with perfect cadence and timbre to inspire and captivate his audience. Occasionally a tear would roll down his cheek, which gave authenticity to his words and caused a quiet hush to ripple through the chapel. People believed in him as much as they believed in God.
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men …”
Elders thumbed through their Bibles, bright eyes glowing with morality as they followed the words of Ezequiel. Filled with self-righteousness, brother Meacher opened his Bible then sneakily glanced around him, hoping that other members could see how virtuous he was. Irritated by her two restless children, Sister Corrigan quietly told them to behave.
“Blessed is he who in the name of charity and goodwill shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness …”
Indeed the preacher could do no wrong. Quoting the passage from memory, he laid it out clear as a bell.
“For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children …”
Each member hung on his every breath, believing with all their hearts that he had been inspired to deliver this exact passage — these particular words at this particular time and in this particular place. Some bowed their heads in reverence, others in humility. A small number reflected on their wrongdoings.
“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger all those who seek to poison and destroy my brothers …”
Filled with remorse for his wrongdoings, brother James shuddered as he imagined God’s fury directed at him. In that moment he vowed never to transgress again.
“And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you …”
The preacher closed his Bible and looked up, quietly scanning the faces of the congregation — seeing some with their heads down, others averting their eyes and one or two with pious pride etched on their faces — and knowing in his heart and his mind that his work had just begun.
“But through the sacrifice of Christ we are able to be born again,” he said offering hope to the wretches who squirmed uneasily in their seats. Sister Brady could not forgive herself for the wrong she had done. Feeling remorseful, she wondered if it would help to discuss her wrongdoings with the preacher.
“And so I say to you, my brothers and sisters, that God loves you all …” Opening his Bible to Luke 5:32, “Our Lord Jesus Christ said,” he intoned, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”’
Sister Brady’s heart swelled. Brother James heard a still small voice whisper ‘everything will be okay’. Sister Corrigan’s children no longer seemed such an irritant — she sat one of them on her lap and drew the other to her side, cradling them both in her arms. Brother Meacher basked in the joy of his own grandeur. Chin-up and feigning a saintly smile, he glowed with his own self-importance. For him the gates of hell loomed wide.