by Pastor Glenn Kennedy, Audubon Park United Methodist Church
Pastor Geoff’s recent sermon on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) sparked a memory moment for me that I will pass along.
In the mid-1980s, our family was busy doing life. Carol had begun working on a teaching degree, our three kids were all in school, and I was pastoring two small churches and keeping my horse breeding project going. We lived in a little neighborhood of suburban “farmetts.”
Across the road from us was a family of five whose kids were around the ages of ours, and so there was some back and forth between us. Their oldest lad, Joey, was about fifteen when this story took place. Joey had the body of an adult. As a matter of fact, he was built kind of like those old Blacksmiths you see pictures of…but he had suffered some fairly serious brain damage at birth that left him more like a young child in many ways. We never knew when Joey might come over for a visit.
If we had a youth group function or a church picnic going on in our backyard, chances are pretty good Joey would make an appearance. Monday was my day off, and if Joey wasn’t in school, I could about count on a visit at some point.
On this particular Monday, I had the farrier come to trim the feet of a couple of colts. It was their first trim…that, in itself, is adventure enough. We had no sooner gotten started when Joey came running over, climbed up on the fence to watch, and to offer ‘helpful’ suggestions. Suddenly, the fence (which I had planned to work on later that day) gave way. Joey and various splintered boards hit the ground with a loud crash. The colt we were trimming did his best equine interpretation of the cow who jumped over the moon (the farrier and I playing the part of the moon!). Needless to say, I wasn’t real happy with Joey and managed to persuade him to go back to his place till we were done.
We finished our trimming – I went in for some lunch…then after lunch came back out to attend to the needed fence repairs. At the first sound of hammer on nails- here comes Joey happily waving his hammer in the air, insisting on helping. “Okay, Joey, we’ll give it a try…be careful not to bend the nails or split the ends of the boards…real slow and easy now…” Joey didn’t do “slow and easy.”
Bent nails and split board ends were adding up quickly. Finally, I called a halt to the exercise and tried to nicely hint that Joey’s time could be better used at his house. Joey did not do “hint’s” very well. Finally, I became downright stern… ”Joey, I want you to go on home…NOW!” Joey paused from the board he was working on…dropped his hammer, walked over to me…threw his big arms around me, and said, “oh Glenn, it’s all right, I can still help, what are neighbors for?!” With that, my heart melted; suddenly, the bent nails and split boards didn’t matter so much. I said, “grab your hammer and get back to work. We’ve got to get this finished before supper time, and next Monday, you can help me paint it!”
I reread Jesus’ list of Beatitudes three or four times in a couple of days after Pastor Geoff’s sermon. Each time, I stopped and took a minute to remember and give thanks for my friend and neighbor Joey when I came to the 6th Beatitude (Matthew 5:8)
“Blessed are those who have pure hearts because they will see God.”
Joey’s pure heart helped me to see God a little clearer, a little better, that day. He had such a “pure heart” that even a reprimand was heard as an invitation. No wonder Jesus seemed to love children so much.
A few years later, I was assigned to another parish halfway across the state. We were gone from the Spokane area for nine years. Shortly after returning, we were eating Sunday lunch at the old Grannies Buffet in north Spokane. I looked up from my lunch to see a big bull of a man hurrying toward me…he’d been bussing tables…It was Joey! He hugged me tight, asked about each of our kids by name, grinning ear to ear. Again, my heart was truly warmed. Again, I caught a fresh glimpse of God. Thank you Lord… thank you Joey, for being such a good neighbor!
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.” (and help others see God too!)