With Both Hands He Carried A Cardboard Box

For six years I was pastor of Third Baptist church of Owensboro, Kentucky. My Pastor’s Class met in the sanctuary. The following episode happened in that setting to two of my best friends.

With both hands he carried a cardboard box. In the box, in haphazard style, he stored all his worldly possessions. He took a seat on the pew four rows from the front and carefully set the box on the floor.

 

In some ways he was out of place. An ornate pipe organ straight ahead, maroon cushions and carpeting in every direction, and all around him a crowd of sane, successful, and well-scrubbed people. Most carried a Bible, brought an offering, and called everyone by name.

 

He, on the other hand, had no name, not one that anyone knew or used. He had only a box, an oversized gray coat, and an odor uncommon in such sacred space. He had come off the street, through the front door, and into the sanctuary with a surprising element of self-assurance, as if he knew exactly where he was and what to do. He sat down in front of Lindy and John, and there begins the story.

 

It is the story of “two men who went up to pray,” if I might use the familiar words of a parable of Jesus (the publican and the sinner). They came, like any two people in the House of God, with different minds and different motives.

 

This difference could not be seen, however, as they sat side by side on pew number six, which put them, of course, within sight and smell of the nameless man with the cardboard box. As it turns out, this proximity to something new eventually revealed something old about the two men who came to pray.

 

A glimpse and a whiff unleashed a surge of indignation in John’s soul. What is this sort of man doing in our sanctuary? He thought. Doesn’t he know to clean up?

 

As John carried on this conversation with himself, his knuckled fists clinched the pew and his leathered heels dug into the floor, pushing him as far as possible from the intruder who had dared to invade his personal space. To say the least, John was completely distracted.

 

Not so with Lindy.

 

Lindy leaned toward the man, touched him gently on the shoulder, and shared his wide smile and a warm hello. He offered a Bible open to the text of the morning. It was taken as if it were a cup of cold water.

 

From my vantage point at the front of the class, I watched this remarkable parable come to life. What I did not see and did not learn until much later is how it played out that evening.

 

John went to his home a troubled man. For the first time, he was facing the radical selfishness that had shaped his life for a quarter century. In a strange reversal of roles, it was he who became, late that night, the beggar on bended knee, saying to a God whom he had also held at arm’s length (if I might again use the words from the parable of Jesus), “Lord, I am a sinful man, who is not worthy to be called your child. If, however, you can use me in any way, I commit my life to you.”

 

I must confess that the man with the cardboard box left the church of his own accord and on his own schedule. I never knew his name, never shook his hand, never saw him again. However, given what occurred, I would not be surprised if he had returned to a celestial address.

 

His brief and wordless encounter with two members of a congregation gathered for worship provoked a spiritual transformation in one man, a man who departed his home on Sunday both proud and prosperous but returned humbled and holy, having gotten right with God, himself, and the world.

 

In a short time it was apparent to all that something of significance had happened to John. It was a long time before John was willing to witness to the event that changed his life.

 

I tell it here for you, a true, story, as a witness to the spiritual struggle of John and Lindy, two ordinary Christians.