a mob surrounding a flame they're coming for you

They’re Coming For You – A Novelette (Part 3)

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Not long after I spoke with Sam, I prepared a sermon at my church office. Originally, I scheduled the sermon to be on Luke 7:6-8, about the Roman centurion and the great authority he saw in Jesus. I decided to change it last minute and write it a new sermon free-hand. Writing by hand felt like a labor of love, a furious journey of my thoughts from mind to paper. When I wrote on my typewriter, it came out clumsy and slow but when I wielded the pen, the passion, the heart, the fullness of mind and soul splashed with a zealous new life. When I finished, my wrist and hand cramped and ached. I let it rest, but after looking at the clock and seeing I only had ten minutes until the service, I furiously edited it, feeling foolish and brazen in my language.

Standing in the pulpit, I looked out at a congregation full in body and spirit. No seat went empty. In fact, some men and women stood in the back. One woman cradled her infant, rocking her back and forth while she looked at me, eager to hear what I had to say. What did I have to say? What good will my words do in the face of the fires?

As a general rule, I stayed away from looking at the faces of my parishioners. For a long time, I had dreadful stage fright and it took an equally long time in seminary to overcome it. That day, however, I broke my rule and my legs almost turned to jelly. The sullen, woebegone look on their faces almost broke me. I imagine it must have been similar when Moses looked upon the face of God. I knew what was on all their minds and the joy they once had in years passed was now gone. Only Tom. Only the fire.

“Today’s passage comes from John 8:1-11…” I began.

I won’t bore you with the full transcript of the sermon. I spoke of hypocrisy and sin and righteousness and adultery and, ultimately, forgiveness and love. All the repeated ingredients baked right into the gospels. At the end, I stopped myself, however, and went off script. A big lump formed in my throat and I paused, looked at my parishioners, and sighed.

“I suppose by now you’ve all heard about Tom,” I started. It didn’t take long for everyone to nervously shuffle in their seats. “Tom was a member of this church, a member of our family, and as such I think it best to say a few words. Tom Houtkooper was a family man, a good man, and a good friend. He worked as a salesman, selling those Chevy’s like he practically invented them himself. On his days off, he and his family served the community and spread the gospel wherever they could. I remember one time they saw a drifter on the side of the road, picked him up, and took him to their house for dinner. They even let him stay the night. That was the kind of person Tom was, full of kindness and…”

I stopped at the sight of a dark, cloaked figure standing at the back of sanctuary. The dark robe heavily contrasted with the white doors behind it. I couldn’t see the face beneath the shroud but I did see a slight strand of blonde hair curled out and draped on the chest. My skin became ravaged by gooseflesh and a tinge of fear paralyzed my ability to think, to speak, to do much of anything but stare. Were they watching me? Did I say something wrong? Did I make a mistake speaking out about Tom? I wondered for a moment if I’d regret it, but I knew I needed to finish. I almost lifted my hand to point at the figure, to call them out, but before I could say anything, it opened the door with a white hand and slipped through undetected. I cleared my throat and looked back down at my notes only to realize I was speaking from the heart. My mind too awash with fear and concern for my wife, my family, that I didn’t know what else to say.  

“Tom was a good man,” I said finally. “May the God of peace bless you all.” I shut my Bible and walked away from the podium.

End of Part 3