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Portrait of the Artist as a Lone Tree

Simplicity - a message for the church

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Part IV.

I cannot say how long I knelt;
but finally the door closed loud.
The church must shut at end of day,
in case there comes some hungry crowd.
I turned, and there with folded hands,
in dark and sombre cloth was clothed
with stiffened collar round his neck,
the minister whose church I loathed.

“Your pardon,” I apologised.
“No, not at all. It’s good to see
devoted prayer to God above,
delivered here on bended knee.”
A rattling, jingling sound was made –
the offering plate was nestling low.
It’s possible to make demands
without the sound of saying so.

“Not now,” I rasped. “The church is lost;
it won’t be saved by pious scams.
Today I need some hope that God
might come again to save his lambs.”
“But how,” he asked, “shall God be known,
unless our giving meets the needs
his buildings have imposed on us?
Without them, what’s the use of creeds?”

Now I am not an angry man,
but then I thought of those outside,
the beggar and the fatherless,
the ones for whom sweet Jesus died -
left waiting for the help they need.
My money ne’er again would flow
to bricks and mortar languishing
where only soulless donors go.

“What will you give the world?” I asked,
“when walls have risen far and wide,
if by their upkeep you’d ignore
the very ones for whom he died,
whose name this place was builded in?
And when he comes with whip and scourge
to overturn the tables, well,
will you rejoice, or sing a dirge?

For who will bear the blame the most
when God returns and finds his folk
are kept outside, yet here within
are those who yet refuse his yoke?
What if the walls should tumble? Yes,
whose mourning shall be heard indeed,
for walls once raised in sacrifice,
yet now become a trough of greed?

For look! ‘Twas hundreds made this place,
and yet each Sunday, you’ll concede,
just twenty come. So fill the seats,
and then you’ll find the funds you need!”
He stared, but now I didn’t care
what he would think of me; and yet
his answer caused me great surprise.
He said his piece, with great regret;

“These things are true; and once I tried
to tell the church its fate was sealed
unless it changed its ways, but then,
as now, its folk would not be healed.
A minister is there to serve
the folk who form his faithful flock;
they pay his wage, supply his home,
and then they ask him not to mock.

In time, I found no way remained
to bring about what must be done;
and finally, my hopes all died,
for none were saved; no hearts were won.
So then I settled down to play
the role my congregation drew -
but every year they dwindled, till
my prophecies had all come true.”

At last I saw the tragedy
this man had lived out many years,
and pitied him. Unwillingly
he’d worked to bring about his fears.
The church was lost, and none remained
inside its walls to bring those in
that Christ had died to liberate
in triumph over death and sin.

“Money!” I gasped. “Your God! For faith
does not allow we serve it too.
If you had asked the Lord for all
your needs, could that be worse for you?”
“Ah, no,” he sighed. “Alas, too late;
my faith lies lost among the dust.
But if you ask that I should try,
will you accept the risks of trust?”

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