Sunday night at church, Mark Matlock preached about love. Not a terribly unusual topic for a sermon, right? Mark normally works with teens, which is perfect for his high-energy style. He started talking about loving one’s enemies, a concept so radical that we generally haven’t embraced it even after 2000 years. Then I heard some commotion from the front row.
It was Truman. About 20 years old, Truman suffered a severe brain injury a few years back when he was hit by a car while skateboarding. Most of his right side is paralyzed, requiring him to use a wheelchair and to need a constant caretaker. He can speak a little and has some use of his left arm.
And boy, does he love Jesus. In our fairly calm Bible church, he’s often the only one to speak up to affirm the preacher. It’s often difficult to know what he’s saying, but usually his excitement shines through in his voice. He also loves to raise his left hand to give the “I love you” gesture, presumably for Jesus. In practice, it looks a bit like the rock and roll hand sign you would see at a Metallica concert. I both loved his enthusiasm and got irritated by the interruptions. (Yes, I realize I’m a jerk for being irritated by someone with special needs)
Sunday night during the sermon, Truman was getting agitated and talking loudly in words I couldn’t understand, his voice seemingly tinged with anger rather than joy. Something was wrong. Mark Matlock continued talking about loving one’s enemies. My attention jumped between the competing voices until I finally gave up. Tension gripped the room. Now what? Would Truman’s mother wheel him out? Would he calm down? Would Mark keep talking through the interruption or wait for Truman to stop?
Finally Mark stopped talking and looked over at Truman. Rather than ask for him to be taken away or for his mother to calm him down, he spoke directly to him. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but the words weren’t important. His tone was the key – gentle, patient, loving, like an old friend who has walked beside him on a long journey. Truman kept talking frantically and squirming.
Mark said something like, “Not everyone has been very loving to you, have they, Truman?”
It took some time to make out Truman’s repeated response: “You have no idea, you have no idea, you have no idea.”
Mark stepped off the stage and walked over. “Can I pray for you, Truman?”
He took Truman’s head in his hands and prayed aloud, leading the whole congregation. Truman’s body relaxed. His frantic words stopped. Once Mark finished praying, Truman was calm. Mark hugged him, went back onstage, and resumed his sermon on love. A few worshippers began to wipe away tears.
It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen, and it was the best sermon on love that Mark could have preached.
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