I know William Willimon as an outstanding preacher as well as a professor and chaplain at Duke University. In this vignette, he gives an account of two elderly women who made a wrong turn into a sketchy part of town and proceeded to invite a most unlikely guest to their suburban church service. Verleen lived with her children in the projects and had never been to a church in her life, but she accepted the invitation of the two women, Helen and Gladys.
The next Sunday, Helen and Gladys proudly presented Verleen at the eleven o’clock service, along with her two feral-looking children. Verleen liked the service so much she said that she wanted to attend the Women’s Thursday Morning Bible Study. Helen and Gladys said they would pick her up on Thursday.
On Thursday, Verleen appeared, proudly clutching her new Bible, a gift of Helen’s circle, the first Bible Verleen had ever seen, much less owned.
I was leading the study that morning, a study on the lection for the coming Sunday, Luke 4, the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. “Have any of you ever been faced with temptation and, with Jesus’ help, resisted?” I asked the group after presenting my material. “Have any of you refused some temptation because of your Christian commitment?”
One of the women told about how, just the week before, there was some confusion in the supermarket checkout line, and before she knew it, she was standing in the supermarket parking lot with a loaf of bread that she hadn’t paid for.
“At first I thought,” she confessed, “why should I pay for it? They have enough money here as it is. But then I thought, ‘No, you are a Christian.’ So I went back in the store and paid them for that loaf of bread.”
I made some approving comment.
It was then that Verleen spoke. “A couple of years ago, I was into cocaine really big. You know what that’s like! You know how that stuff makes you crazy. Well, anyway, my boyfriend, not the one I’ve got now, the one who was the daddy of my first child, that one, well, we knocked over a gas station one night—got two hundred dollars out of it. It was as simple as taking candy from a baby. Well, my boyfriend, he says to me, ‘Let’s knock off that Seven-eleven down on the corner.’ And something in me, it says, ‘No, I’ve held up that gas station with you, but I ain’t going to hold up no convenience store.’ He beat the hell out of me, but I still said No. It felt great to say No, ‘cause that’s the only time in my life I ever said No to anything. Made me feel like I was somebody.”
Through the stunned silence I managed to mutter, “Well, er, uh, that’s resisting temptation. That’s sort of what this text is about. And now it’s time for our closing prayer.”
After I stumbled out of the church parlor and was standing out in the parking lot, helping Helen into her Plymouth, she said to me, “You know, I can’t wait to get home and get on the phone and invite people to come next Thursday! Your Bible studies used to be dull. I think I can get a good crowd for this!”
(Adapted from William H. Willimon, The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1994)