I’d like to tell you a bit about “Old Charlie”. (That’s what everybody called him… Old Charlie.)
If, on your way through town, you met him wandering down the street you might have thought, “Curmudgeon.” Because, outwardly at least, he was one who looked the part. Old, scraggly beard… rough hands… frown lines… slight stoop in his back. He was a bachelor without any living family. He looked “friendless”. He looked like the local grump. (That’s grump… not gramp.) He looked like… well… a curmudgeon.
If you had met Old Charlie, you would (probably) have been as surprised as the new minister in town was with what happened when Old Charlie died.
The church was packed.
Not just the sanctuary, but the basement, too.
Not just the basement, but the front and back steps of the building.
People were crowded in and around the church to, “give Old Charlie a good send off”.
The minister wondered what it was about Old Charlie that had connected with so many people. During the celebration of Old Charlie’s life the community began to tell him.
There was a story about Old Charlie being asked to bake a few loaves of bread for a community dinner. When he heard that Mrs. Smith (who made the best dinner rolls in the county) was having problems with her arthritis and wouldn’t be able to bake, he dropped a few dozen rolls to her house saying, “They aren’t quite as good as yours, of course… but why don’t you send them over to the church?”
Then there was the time Old Charlie came across a group of young people working to get a piano into a second floor apartment. He set his bags of groceries on the sidewalk, and added his strong back to the pushing and pulling and moving around. (The young people were new to town. Old Charlie didn’t know them… and they didn’t know him.)
Old Charlie had an apple tree. Two generations of children could tell the story of how they were allowed to climb the tree to get a couple of apples – but only “up to the red line”. Old Charlie had painted a red line around the trunk to let the children know how high they could safely climb. Old Charlie always told the kids that, “he wanted to make sure the birds and squirrles got some of God’s gifts”… but they also knew that Old Charlie really cared about them, too.
One person summed Old Charlie up by saying, “He always went one step further than anyone could ever expect.”
One step further.
There was one thing that puzzed the entire town, though. Old Charlie had a disconcerting habit that no one could quite understand. After he had finished his cup of coffee with you, or pushed your piano up the stairs, or carried that extra bag of groceries that you had no idea how you were going to get to the car, or dropped off a pie “just because”… he would offer his hand, gently shake yours, look you directly in the eye and say with a great deal of sincerity, “Goodbye.”
Everyone knew that there was something more going on than they could understand… but no one knew quite what it was.
Slowly a young woman stood up. She was well know for being one of the quietest (and shyest) of people that walked God’s earth. People listened closely when she began to speak.
“A few months ago, I had been trying to figure out a difficult problem. Old Charlie must have realized something was going on, because he sat down beside me and invited me to share some of his popcorn. I began to tell him what was on my mind… and by the time I was done, without him having said a word, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. When he went to be on his way and offered his hand, I said, ‘Charlie… you’re about to say Goodbye, aren’t you?’ When he nodded, I said, ‘It has a special meaning for you, doesn’t it?’ When he nodded, I asked, ‘Will you tell me?’
He nodded again, and shared with me that his Grandmother had taught him that the word “Goodbye” came from an earlier expression in English… “God be with you.”
He didn’t want to be obvious, but every time he said, “Goodbye”… he was praying for us.
Goodbye, Old Charlie… Goodbye… and thank you!”
This was the meditation/sermon this morning… connected with Luke 17.11-18.
Blessed Thanksgiving, all!