The Paper Pulpit
Joe Webster was one of the finest and most unusual men I ever knew. He was the church custodian for the Sanford First Baptist Church when I became the pastor in 1981. Joe lived in a small room in the church just off the hallway immediately behind the sanctuary. He was totally dedicated to Jesus Christ, to First Baptist Church, to his brother and family who lived in Sanford, and to his many friends.
One night just after midnight Joe heard someone walking in the hallway outside his room. He realized that it had to be a burglar, for the church was dark and the outside doors were locked. From inside his dark room Joe shouted, “Who is out there?” Not knowing someone lived in the church, the burglar may have thought the church was haunted. He ran quickly and took a swan dive through the window he had jimmied in order to gain entrance into the church.
As Paul Harvey used to say: “And now the rest of the story.” The girl Joe loved and left behind when he was drafted into the Army during World War II was not waiting for him when the war was over. She had said she would wait for Joe, but while he was serving our country she married someone else. Most men who are rejected by the girl they love, with the passage of time, would meet and fall in love with someone else. Joe never married, for the only girl he would ever love got married to another man. She definitely lost a jewel when she didn’t keep her promise to wait for Joe.
Rejection is never easy to take, is it? So what did Joe do? He accepted the job as custodian of the Sanford First Baptist Church. He also became a member. Since he lived alone, he didn’t need an entire house. The church made a small room available in the church, and this is where he lived until he was old enough to retire. Though he had been rejected by the only girl he would ever love, he didn’t waste his time wallowing in misery saying, “Woe is Joe!” Instead, he spent his life serving the Lord and the people of our church. I’ve known many people through the years who were movers and shakers in the cities where I have lived — in business, industry, education, politics, etc. But none of them rank any higher in my eyes than Joe Webster. He overcame rejection by serving others. That takes a lot of strength.
Rejection in one form or another is an almost universal experience. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, came as a missionary from England to the young Georgia colony in America in 1736. At age 33 he fell in love with eighteen-year-old Sophy Hopkey. Even though Wesley was very devoted to his work for the Lord, he was somewhat bashful and shy in romance. He took Sophy for a boat ride intending to propose to her, but a storm arose, drenching them both, and discouraging his intentions to pop the big question. Because Wesley dallied, Sophy married another man. When Wesley heard about it, he was outraged. He accused the former sweetheart of backsliding, and refused her participation in the Lord’s Supper. He overcame his disappointment, of course, and literally revolutionized the spiritual landscape in our country. If a spiritual giant like Wesley could be hurt that badly by being rejected, any human can.
Some of the unhappiest people in the world are those who, for one reason or another, have experienced rejection — by their parents when they were children, by someone they hoped to marry, or by close personal friends. Eartha Kitt, the well-known singer and entertainer, tells in her autobiography, Thursday’s Child, that she felt rejected by her own father. She was also deserted by her mother. Charles Shultz, the founder of the Peanuts comic strip, carried the memory that the yearbook staff at his high school rejected his every cartoon. For twenty years Robert Frost, month after month, received only rejection slips for his writing. Even Jesus Christ was rejected by His own people, and was crucified.
A popular song a few years ago said, “If tears were pennies; and heartaches were gold, I’d have all the money my pockets would hold.” We have all been there in one way or another, but there is another song in many Christian hymnals with a different message. The third verse says: “Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter, Feelings lie buried that grace can restore: Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness, Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.”
If you have someone who loves you, sing the Doxology every day. Know this also: “Though you may be rejected by the whole world, God loves you. Jesus died for you. If you will accept His love, you will never know rejection.”
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.