It seems there was this pastor in a rural community. Like many people in the community, he lived a few miles outside the town limits and kept a bit of a “hobby farm.” He was known to be a bit of a miser, so nobody was entirely certain if the dairy cow and the chickens were motivated by his love of frugality or by his love of fresh ingredients for his breakfast meals. The nine head of grass-fed beef cattle were clearly motivated by his love of the barbecue. The two horses were concessions to his daughters, and his wife helped work the oversize garden. Every fall, she did most of the work canning preserves and freezing vegetables for the winter. During those cold winter months, she enjoyed the quality of the produce, and he enjoyed the price.
So it went with with his approach to general upkeep and maintenance as well. In the church, he took it upon himself to attempt repair of the wooden chairs in the church basement several breakages past what most considered the end of their serviceable life. Most of the chairs on the platform at the front of the church were unused from Sunday to Sunday, and he was known to rotate them so that the ones that got used the most wouldn’t wear out too soon. If any of the deacons wanted to throw out a torn hymnal, it had to be done surreptitiously, else it would be subjected to a selection of repair tape that the pastor kept in his desk drawer. At home, it was the same — the roof on the garage could last another year or two, and the rip in the screen door could be repaired using the piece he had saved from the “discarded” window that finally had to be replaced four or five years ago. Out behind the garage there was a respectable selection of used building materials set aside for reuse, eventually. And by “respectable,” we refer to the amount amassed, not to the appearance of the pile which his wife insisted he move around behind the garage, out of sight.
For all this, he was a pious man, and rarely did much without prayer, and was known to talk to Jesus about carpentry as he repaired the chairs in the church basement. He seemed quite certain that if Jesus was a carpenter, it must have been furniture that he put his hands to, and it seemed reasonable to him that he would get the best advice on the matter through prayer. It was the same with the garage roof… he was certain it would last a couple more years, because he had prayed and inquired whether there were any major hail or windstorms scheduled for the coming summer. He reasoned that God had an opinion on even the smallest things in life, and conversations with the Almighty over what most people considered mundane were his normal mode. His flock loved him dearly, and appreciated the down-home kind of wisdom that he injected into his Sunday sermons. They did however like to poke fun, just a little, at some of his quirks, and there was often some good-natured ribbing going on.
One spring the pastor finally acknowledged that the barn needed repainting, enough of the old paint having finally peeled away. He got advice from a painter in the church as to how much paint he would need, and figured the amount carefully so as not to over-buy. After checking the hardware stores and watching for the best sale price for several weeks, he finally found some discounted paint that had been mixed to the wrong colour for another customer. Even so, the requisite number of gallons would cost more than he really wanted to pay (though he inevitably always paid more than he really wanted). As it turned out, the amount of paint available at the discounted price wasn’t quite enough to do the job, but he wasn’t prepared to pay full price for the extra quantity. He paid for his paint and took it home to work out how he should best tackle his paint shortage dilemma. As he opened the paint cans in his garage, he prayed and asked God what he should do. He didn’t really get a response, but over by the wall of the garage, he noticed a 5-gallon pail with some water in the bottom. He swished the water around and dumped it out along the flowerbed (no reason to waste the water), still thinking about the paint.
The solution came to him as he calculated the amount of the paint shortfall. By combining all the paint into larger containers and watering it down just a little, he would have enough to paint the whole barn… and at a substantial discount! The weather was good, and he worked hard all week painting the barn. He took some time out for sermon preparation of course, but he wanted to try and finish the job before the weekend. He thought about his sermon text — Matthew 18:21-35 — as he painted, considering it from various angles and refining his sermon in his mind while he worked. He kept a steady pace, while still exercising caution on his rickety ladder. He thought about the parable of the unmerciful servant and how the man was so concerned with money that he overlooked the forgiveness he had received and refused to extend the same to his brother… all over a small sum of money. He considered the outcome of the parable and took a small delight in the fact that the unmerciful servant received a punishment in the end, losing the forgiveness for which he had been so unthankful. He thought about poetic justice, and composed a great closing to his sermon as he worked. All in all, he felt better about this sermon than he did about most — he had taken more time for reflection over it than usual, and he felt it would show in the delivery.
He got the job of painting the barn finished at the end of the day on Friday, leaving himself a day to rest and put a few finishing touches on his sermon before Sunday. He had perfectly calculated the amount of paint he would need, and finished with perfect timing… not only because he had a day off before Sunday, but because it started to rain late on Saturday afternoon and didn’t let up until the wee hours of Sunday morning. As usual on Sundays, he woke early, showered and shaved, then headed straight into his study to spend time praying and doing a final review of his sermon. As he prayed, his confidence in his sermon wavered just slightly — although he had reflected on it all week, he now felt as though there was something in the parable that he was missing. Still, it was a good sermon and his flock would be able to take home some good applications about being merciful and being thankful.
As he poured himself a cup of coffee, he gazed out the kitchen window at the lush green grass, wet from the night’s rain. He looked out across the yard to survey his handiwork on the barn once more. To his great dismay, the rain had washed away most of the paint! How could this have happened, he asked himself. He asked God as well, but didn’t get a response. A whole week’s work, washed out in a single night. He shoved his frustration aside and tried to re-center himself on his sermon.
Although somewhat distracted with the matter of the barn, the sermon did go very well. As he stood by the door shaking hands as people made their way out to their cars, many people told him how much they had appreciated his message that morning. Finally, the crowd was thinning out and, and as he waited for the last few people to shake hands with, his mind drifted back to his barn. Not only had his week of work been for nothing, but his discount paint had been wasted. An elderly woman shuffled up to him as he was lost in thought wondering what he should do about it. She spoke to him to break him out of his contemplation. He looked at her, recognizing and calling her by name. She was one of those “prayer warriors” in the church, who spent hours upon hours talking to God. “Pastor,” she was saying, “I think I have a message for you. It came to me as I was praying very early this morning, just as the rain was stopping. I had the sense that you had a question, but the answer I felt that I was to give you just doesn’t make any sense at all, I’m afraid. I’m sorry.” She began turning to go, but he put his hand on her arm and urged her to share it, even if it seemed silly. There was, he told her, a matter about which he had a question just this morning.
“Well,” replied the elderly woman, “It’s just that it really does sound silly. I think God wants me to give you a message directly from him to you. But…” His eyes pleaded with her to continue. She cleared her throat, and delivered the message she didn’t understand: “Repaint, and thin no more.”