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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Right Place

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Sociology professor and author Tony Campolo once attended the wrong funeral.

His mother had called him and said, “Mrs. Kirkpatrick died. You need to pay your respects.” As Tony puts it, “My mother, like all Italians, was big on funerals.” So he hurried to the mortuary, where the service would begin at 2:00 pm.

He walked past the somber-faced man at the door and slipped into a seat near the casket. That’s when he noticed something important. The man lying in the casket was definitely not Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Her funeral was evidently happening on the other side of the mortuary.

Campolo also noticed that he was one of only two people in the room. The other was an elderly woman sitting just a few seats away. She “reached over and grabbed me by the arm, and with desperation in her voice said, “You were his friend – weren’t you?’”

Tony didn’t know how to respond. He remembered that the German theologian and WW2 martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer had once said: “There comes a time in every man’s life when he must lie with imagination, with vigor, and with enthusiasm!”

So Tony lied. He told the woman that he knew her husband, and that he had always been kind to him.

What else could he do? He couldn’t imagine saying, “I’m sorry, I walked into the wrong funeral. Your husband obviously had no friends.”

He sat next to the widow throughout the service. “I wasn’t about this leave this poor old lady alone in her hour of deep sadness.” Then he accompanied her to the only car that would follow the hearse to the cemetery.

It was a long drive. They stood together at the gravesite. They said some prayers. Then each of them threw a flower onto the casket as it was lowered into the ground.

Afterwards they drove back to the mortuary.

“As we arrived there I took this elderly woman’s hand and said to her, ‘Mrs. King, I have to tell you something. I really did not know your husband. I want to be your friend, and I can’t be your friend after today unless I tell you the truth. I did not know your husband. I came to the funeral by mistake.’” Campolo waited a long while, wondering how she would respond.

“She took my hand and held it for what seemed an interminable moment, then answered, ‘You’ll never ever, ever know how much your being with me meant to me today.’”

Tony Campolo went to the wrong funeral. The Holy Spirit, however, made sure he arrived at the right place.

During the course of this day, you may end up in what feels like the worst meeting, the least helpful conversation, or the most frustrating circumstances imaginable.

Trust the Spirit. 

You go nowhere by accident.


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