When the preacher William Willimon was ten he faithfully attended church membership class each Thursday. On Palm Sunday the bulletin would feature a photo of the class lined up on the church steps. On picture day, William was greeted by a stern teacher: “Where’s your tie?” she said. He froze. “You were told to wear a tie. There’s a photographer. The preacher is to have his picture taken with the class. “Every boy has a tie. Even Stanley Starnes. See? You were told.”
Words failed him, so he spun ‘round and fled to the parking lot where Dr. Herbert, the pastor, had just arrived in his Plymouth. William would confess his sin, bow out of the picture, and leave the church.
“Dr. Herbert,” blurted the boy, “I didn’t hear that we were supposed to have a tie, or I forgot, or maybe my mother didn’t tell me, and I don’t want to be in the picture anyway and…”
Dr. Herbert interrupted, “Tie? Why on earth would you be wearing a tie? I am wearing a tie because I’m a pastor and I am forced to wear a tie. I’m unaware that you have had theological training….I’m certain that there are no requirements in Methodism for ties to be worn in order to join the church. No record of our Lord ever having worn a tie, and I know Scripture. Come along. The whole point of these ceremonies is to put you in the picture.”
Dr. Herbert led the startled boy back into the church where the other children were detained.
“What a beautiful group!” said Dr. Herbert. “I have one request before we go out and [take the picture]. Boys, please, no ties on a Thursday. Only I can wear a tie in church on a weekday….You may wear them if you must on Sunday. Please remove your ties. Let’s take that picture.”
Willimon later wrote, “God is like Dr. Herbert, without the Plymouth.”
You know, a Thursday class wasn’t required for me to confirm that I was a sinner. My mom gave me money once to buy eggs and I got distracted at the candy section, as surely as Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden. And when mom caught me, she asked questions God asked in the garden: “Where are you, Philip? What have you done?” I told the truth. And was forgiven.
God’s grace is what drew me to Jesus. It is by grace we have been saved through faith. Not works. Grace is God’s favor bestowed on the undeserving, like me. It’s amazing. It’s free. Let’s pass it on today.
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