Favored Ones

            Jameson’s car shuddered under his grip. “Oh man!” he groaned. “What now?” He pulled to the curb, shut the engine down, and stepped out to inspect the damage. “Lord, I don’t need this right now. I’m supposed to meet Alfonso at church.” He popped the trunk and dug out the spare tire, keeping it free from his khaki Dockers. The last thing he needed was to show up at church decorated with tire smudge. He unfolded the tarp he kept in the trunk and set to work on the tire.

            He thought of Alfonso. They met at the rescue mission during the Thursday morning Bible study that Jameson led. Alfonso always came in late, filled his Styrofoam cup with coffee and sat at the back table feigning disinterest. Jameson meant to talk to him, but he seemed to disappear before the end of the closing prayer. It was just a few weeks ago that Jameson finally got the chance to introduce himself. The director told him he had a phone call. Normally he wouldn’t take a call in the middle of the weekly study, but this one involved a job placement for one of the shelter’s residents. He gave the guys a question to talk about and excused himself for a moment. When he returned, Alfonso was planted at the back table, sipping his usual cup of coffee from the dingy Styrofoam cup.

            “Hi, I’m Jameson,” he said holding out his hand.

             Alfonso looked at him. “Alllfotho,” he slurred, ignoring the offered handshake.

            Jameson patted him on the back, “Welcome Alfonso.”

            The next week Alfonso staggered into the room, filled his Styrofoam cup, and shuffled to the front table, yet remaining outside the circle of men at the study. Jameson respected Alfonso’s distance. He knew from experience that pushing too hard too fast might drive him away. Finally, one day Alfonso stayed through the closing prayer and was still sitting there after the others had left. Jameson visited with him. After a few weeks a tenuous friendship developed and Thursday Jameson invited him to Sunday services at church. They had a special speaker coming and a BBQ planned for after the service. Alfonso agreed to come, but wouldn’t allow Jameson to pick him up. He said he would take the bus. Now here was Jameson, looking at the underside of his car wondering if he’d make it in time to meet Alfonso when he arrived.

            Meanwhile things were bustling at the church. The parking lot was quickly filling up when one of the deacons saw a flashy BMW pull into a visitor’s space. He watched from a distance, curiosity getting the best of him. His eyebrows raised as Walter Connick stepped out from behind the wheel, dressed in a swarthy Armani suit. He walked around and opened the door for his wife. She emerged sporting a slinky black dress complete with a large diamond pennant and matching tennis bracelet. He rushed into the foyer to find the pastor. The church was struggling to get the needed financing for a new sanctuary. Surely the pastor would want to know that the Walter Connick was here.

            A few ladies were peering out the foyer window. “Is that a Gucci bag she’s carrying?”

            “Oh my!” replied one. “What I wouldn’t give for a pair of Prada shoes like those. There’s some serious money coming out of that car.”

            “Of course there is girls,” said Mrs. Simmons. “Don’t you know who that is? That’s Walter Connick, of Connick Savings and Loan.”

            “Are you serious?”

            “Very. And quick Amy dear, fix that slip. It’s peeking from your hem line.”

            A red-faced Amy quickly tugged on her skirt, making sure the offending slip was fully covered. “Put on your best smiles ladies.”

            Mrs. Simmons approached the visitors, “Welcome, welcome Mr. Connick. We’re so glad to have you.” She wrapped both hands around his and gave them a polite shake. “And Mrs. Connick, you look so lovely dear. It’s such a pleasure to meet you.” She grabbed Mrs. Connick by the shoulders and did a quick cheek-to-cheek kiss, lips not quite touching the picture perfect makeup. “I’m Mable Simmons. This is Amy Johnson and Ellen Whitestone.” Amy did a quick check of her hemline before reaching out to shake the Connick’s hands.

            “Oh and here comes our pastor now.” Mrs. Simmons waved to Pastor Richards.

            The pastor approached. “Welcome,” he said, firmly shaking Mr. Connick’s hand. “I’m Pastor Richards. We’re so glad to have you today. Can I help you find a seat?” he asked.

            “Certainly Pastor. I’m Walter Connick and this is my wife Darla.” He placed one hand on his wife’s back. “After you Pastor.”

            Pastor Richards led the Connicks to the front row. “We’re awfully full today. Our guest speaker seems to be drawing quite a crowd. I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”

            “Thank you Pastor. These seats will be just fine,” said Mr. Connick.

            “The best in the house,” said Pastor Richards. “If you’ll excuse me, it’s almost time for service to start.”

            “Certainly.”

            Mrs. Simmons appeared. “I brought you a couple of bulletins,” she said. “I always sit here in the second row. Let me know if you need anything.”

            “Thank you Mrs. Simmons. I appreciate your kindness,” said Mr. Connick.

            “It’s my pleasure.” She smiled and sat down behind the Connicks.

            The worship band took the stage just as Mr. Simmons joined his wife. “Busy morning today dear?” she whispered.

            He nodded. “Important dignitaries,” he said nodding toward the Connicks.

            “Yes, I know,” she whispered back. “Isn’t it something? Imagine, Walter Connick, here!”

            “Welcome church,” the worship leader’s voice rang out. “Isn’t it great to be in the house of the Lord this morning?” Several amens echoed throughout the sanctuary. “Please stand with me as we start off our worship today with that glorious hymn of God’s grace to us, Blessed Be the Name.”

            The church rose and began singing. They were halfway through the second verse when Mr. Simmons felt a tap on his shoulder. It was the head usher. “Come on,” he whispered. “We have a situation.” He pointed to the back of the church. Mr. and Mrs. Simmons both turned to look. Mrs. Simmons took in the sight and shuddered.

            “Good Lord!” she whispered. “George, you’ve got to do something. We can’t have that, that, that thing in here. The Connicks are here for goodness sake! What will they think?”

            “Don’t worry dear. We’re on it.”

            George quietly slipped out of his seat and followed the usher down the aisle, careful to not attract undue attention. The last thing they needed was a crowd of eyes on them. He kept his eyes trained on the man staggering toward the seats. He was hunched over and swaggered back and forth his shabby jeans sagging at the waist. As George neared the man who was obviously inebriated, he shuddered. Drool was oozing out of the side of his mouth. His clothes were tattered and dirty. “This guy is three sheets to the wind,” whispered George. “We’ve got to get him out of here.”

            “Follow my lead,” said the usher. “Sir,” he whispered. “You need to come with us.”

            “I, I, I—- loooooooshing f,f,f,foooor, Jaaaamshun,” he slurred.

            “Sir, you can’t come in here,” said George. “You’ve got to come with us.” He reached out to grab the man’s arm.

            “Nooo,” he slurred. “I neesh Jaaaamshshun.” George quickly scanned the congregation. Thankfully no one was watching so he quickly turned his attention to the homeless drunk before him as the congregation sang.

            “He breaks the power of canceled sin, Blessed be the name of the Lord! His blood can make the foulest clean. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

            George paid no attention to the hymn behind him. He grabbed one arm and the usher grabbed the other. They drug the man out the sanctuary doors, through the foyer, and out the front door of the church. They sat him on a bench. The man was clearly irritated and tried to get up, “Sir, you need to stay here,” said the usher. George flipped open his phone. “This is George Simmons from Cornerstone Church. We have an inebriated man here, obviously a street person. We need some assistance.”

            The man struggled to get up, but the usher held firm. “How soon can an officer be here? Please no lights or sirens. We don’t want to draw any undue attention.”

            Several minutes passed and the man finally settled down, refusing to speak to anyone. Drool continued to slip past his chin. A police officer arrived and was cuffing the man just as Jameson pulled into the lot.

            He saw Alfonso in handcuffs. “Oh no! Lord Jesus, help us! I should have been here.”

He approached the gentlemen. “What seems to be the problem?” he asked.

            “We’re just taking care of a little situation here,” answered the officer. “If you’ll go on inside, we’ll wrap things up.”

            “But I know this man. I invited him to church today,” explained Jameson. “Alfonso, what happened?”

            “I, I, I, dinnnn dooo anyshshing,” slurred Alfonso.

            “Sir, this man is obviously intoxicated. We need to take him in to detox. Please step aside,” said the officer.

            “Officer, Cunningham is it? This man is not intoxicated. He’s a stroke victim.” Jameson pointed at the officer, straining to control his anger.  “For your information he used to work at Costco shelving products and helping customers with their purchases. Unfortunately 8 months ago he had a stroke. He has no family and is now homeless. I work with Alfonso at the rescue mission and I invited him here this morning. Now if you will kindly remove those cuffs, Alfonso and I will be on our way.”

            “Can he produce some proof of these claims,” asked Officer Cunningham.

            “Where’s your paperwork Alfonso?” asked Jameson.

            “Innnn my pppoooock ck et,” said Alfonso.

            Jameson reached in and pulled out a tattered, coffee stained envelope. The officer could see Sanford Memorial Hospital printed in the corner. Jameson removed the document and handed it to the officer. After a brief moment, he handed it back to him. “I’m sorry for the error sir,” he said to Alfonso unlocking the cuffs. “You’re free to go.”

            Jameson looked at Mr. Simmons and the usher saying nothing. “Come on Alfonso,” he said. “Let’s go to church.” He grabbed Alfonso’s hand and led him to his car. “I know a place where all God’s sheep are welcome.”

James 2:1-6  My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

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