Last week country and western artist George Jones died. He was a hard-living kind of a fellow, according to the reports, carousing so hard and heavy that he was often too sick or bleary-eyed to appear at his concerts. His habitual last-minute cancellations earned him the sobriquet “No-Show Jones.”
Every church has a sizeable group of Sunday no-shows who never get publicly prayed over. I’ve heard prayers over the years offered by Sunday school teachers, pastors, Bible study leaders and church lay leaders that include a heartfelt petition for members absent for legitimate reasons.
The prayers go something like this: “And, Lord, we’d ask you to be with those who could not be here today due to illness or trouble or sorrow, the homebound and those who are hospitalized or facing other circumstances beyond their control. Please bring them back to us real soon.” It is a sincere prayer, and I’m sure that those being remembered mystically feel better because it was offered.
But what about these malingerers who are absent on purpose, who skipped out on church, avoided their responsibilities at a missions meeting or shirked an important church responsibility because their favorite team was in a close contest on TV? They never get called out in prayer. Maybe they need to be named before God, too. Maybe they need naming even more than the legitimate absentees.
Such a prayer might be constructed like this: “And, Lord, we pray for you to smite that sizeable group of members who promised to serve and honor and follow you but are playing ecclesiastical hooky today. Some of them are still in bed under the covers. Turn their linens into sandpaper and cause their feet to burn and itch until they rush to church. Some are dissipated from too much partying the night before. Visit them with a pounding Hallelujah Chorus-sized headache and remind them of their first love. Others found their way to Sunday brunch instead of feeding on the bread of life; make their toast stale, their coffee cold and the flowers on their table wilt before their eyes.
“Some invited house guests for the weekend and shrugged their shoulders when their friends asked about church attendance. Shame them by sending their friends to church without them. Some claim to have no fresh shirt, no fashionable shoes and no sport coat or wrap. Visit their closets with moths and millers until they learn that a humbly dressed worshiper is more important than a properly attired absentee. Make the woods and sandtraps gobble up the golf balls of those on the links. Make every fish flee from the fishing boats and lines of the Sunday anglers. You know how to bring the no-shows back, Lord. Do it and do it quickly!”
I’m not guaranteeing that such a prayer would result in chairs in the aisle the following week, but it would certainly be more memorable than many of the meek prayers we offer. I’m also not promising that I’m going to pray this prayer. Maybe this column is my sneaky way of getting it said.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.