Pulpit and Pew (installment 30)

Twice in the last couple of weeks I was in Starbucks, the modern-day coffee shop that some people call my office away from the office, only to discover characters from the ancient biblical texts. I’m not referring to someone daring to dress up like Simon Peter or Mary the mother of Jesus for Halloween (although I did think someone should have dressed up like Martin Luther on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation).

No, on two separate occasions I sipped my hot tea while seated next to persons who reminded me of incidents in the pages of the New Testament. The first such encounter was with the rich ruler in the 18th chapter of Luke’s Gospel. (He’s usually referred to as the “rich, young ruler” but that’s combining the various accounts in the first three Gospels).

This fellow was having lunch with someone who apparently was a mentor of sorts, someone who had followed his career for many years. And nearly every sentence out of this young man’s life was about him, his career, the night class he’s taking toward his MBA, his gifts with certain software at work that no one else has a clue about, etc. I kept wishing I had a recording of it, to let him play it back, see if he caught the way his life is wrapped up in himself and his work. I could also hear the pleading in his mentor’s voice to find some kind of balance. In the Gospels, Jesus tells the man to sell everything and follow him. That story ends with the guy walking away. Sounds familiar.

The second occasion was an encounter with a demon-possessed man. To be clear, demon possession in the New Testament is nothing like that featured in the movie The Exorcist, head spinning, vomiting blood, and so forth. As Fred Craddock used to say, in the New Testament demon possession is never about morals, but always about illness. The ancients believed that illness, mental or otherwise, was caused by demons.

This gentleman in Starbucks was in his early 60s, I would guess, sipping on his coffee, and talking non-stop into one of those earpiece phones about a whole host of topics: the London financial index, trades that needed to be considered, upcoming meetings, politics, you name it. It was annoying, and I was about to move to another area until I discovered he had no such earpiece and was talking aloud to no one. A few other folks noticed it, and it’s hard to describe how sad it was. Eventually he was back in the Reagan era, talking politics in the 80s. For more than an hour, he would pause while “listening,” then reply with his own observations.

I once preached a sermon called “Reading the Bible in Starbucks,” which apparently is a pretty good idea. Give it a try and see what happens. This much I know, Jesus will be there too.

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