Imagine. It is Sunday morning, just before you begin the service. You sit in the padded arm chair behind the pulpit, looking out at the faithful in the hard pews. The pianist plays “Come As You Are,” and you close your eyes for a moment to pray once more for God to give you the words your flock needs to hear.
As the music comes to a close, you open your eyes and rise from your seat. You step confidently to the pulpit, filled with the knowledge that you have been called by God to this moment in time. Just as you open your mouth to welcome both sinners and saints, the doors at the back of the sanctuary open. You struggle to hide your annoyance at the latecomer until you see the grin on the face at the door.
He is the most affluent man in town, and at least half your congregants owe their livelihoods to him. You have invited this man to church at every opportunity. Now here he is, dressed in a suit that would cost you a month’s salary, his third wife on his arm, clad in an elegant black dress and heels that are more appropriate for a cocktail party than church. The man carries a shiny, zippered Bible that looks as if it’s never been opened.
Well now, God, you think, just look at that. You grin back as he slides noisily into the last pew. Some turn to look at the latecomer, but most resist the curiosity and focus their eyes on you. Certain that you are up to the challenge that God has presented you, you do what you do every Sunday—pray with piety, preach with fervor, and plead with the sinners to heed the altar call at the end of the sermon. The pianist begins to play “Amazing Grace” as you invite sinners to repent.
A teenager, who everyone knows is abused by her father, shuffles to the altar, sobbing, and you nod to the youth leader, who prays quietly with the girl and wipes her tears away. You note that your wealthy visitor is unmoved and maybe even a little amused at the scene playing out at the front of the church. You wonder for the first time why he is here, no longer thinking that your invitations may have moved his hard heart.
Anxious now, you pray the offertory prayer, and the ushers pass the wicker basket. You note that everyone puts something into the plate, but given the sagging local economy, few are putting in the tithes they once did. When the offering basket reaches the back pew, your visitor stops the orderly flow from hand to hand. He accepts the basket from the usher and stands, pulling a check from his pocket and holding it above the basket.
“Preacher,” he says, “Christianity is under attack all over this country. But I can make this church great again. In fact, I can make it the greatest church in the country. I’m going to be running for the United States Congress, and when reporters ask me about my religion, I’m going to tell them about this church. Now my opponent is a liberal who thinks we all ought to say, ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ Now before I drop this money into the offering plate, are you with me or not?”
The church is as silent as a snow-covered field on a wintry morning before anyone ventures outside. Every eye turns to you.
This man shows no desire for repentance, but he could hold the key to the financial future of your church. You struggle mightily against the inner voice that tells you this man has not humbled himself at the altar before God.
Will you tell him that salvation is not for sale? Or will you forge a bargain with the devil?
Let those who have ears to hear listen to this parable for our time.