"I am essential!"
The preacher roars in his hundred dollar suit.
His hundreds strong holy huddle of pew warmers burst into an applause of rapture as they prepare for the second offering.
The TV channel switches to pre-recorded "Tele-Evangelist mode".
The cheers echoe through the giant money making machine.
Like an idol his image flashes across giant screens in the auditorium.
As he speaks he suddenly remembers his brother across town.
In an old tin tabernacle the gentle shepherd speaks to his flock.
"I am not essential... Except the Lord builds the house the builders build in vain."
He says this while ministering in a soup kitchen as he serves the needy.
Later that day he plans to do food drops and work in a care home.
At evening prayers his prayer would be as he helped refugees at the docks and prisoners in the cells.
Then at night he would minister on the streets as a practical pastor to the needy and outcast. Each moment of his daily life he shares in word and deed the good news of Jesus.
As the popular preacher thinks about his friend he pauses and bows his head muttering quietly:
"I am essential, right?"
He looks at his text for today and trembles a little:
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
(Is 58:6 - 9a)
In a strange moment of epiphany he realises he has done none of these things. He has not chosen the correct fast. The giant of a man shaking falls on his knees. With uncomfortable tears an unsettling silence falls over his audience. The show is over. He doesn't hide behind the smoke machine, move the spot light, call the band on stage or even ask an elder to take over. The TV channel switches quickly to pre-recorded adverts asking for money to build a bigger auditorium and offers proverbial indulgences. Meanwhile he simply falls still. A long strange silence.
Some time passes and he gently arises as if from the dead.
"Today we must become His hands and feet in this world. Today we must become essential."
From that moment on he follows the passage he had read to the letter. He gives the poor shepherd his suit, helps repair his brothers tin roof, and joins in the works of mercy he had so neglected. Some of his audience have merely been that and abandon him, while others join the essential work of seeing God's kingdom come both in word and deed.
When he asks his new lead Pastor at the tin tabernacle, who he fondly calls Shep now (short for shepherd) for advice the response is "Humbly take up the cross, put your hand to the plough, don't look back, become what you use to call essential. Preach, use words when you have to. Be His hands and feet in this world, a hearer, teacher and doer of the word - now that is essentially what is essential."
And that is essentially what he does. By God's grace alone he has faith alone in Christ alone for God's glory alone and becomes a doer of the word, a bearer of fruit. After all surely these are the essentials just as God is essential.
He is essential.