My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant… since you have come to your servant.” Genesis 18:3,5
I picked up Sarge just outside of Oneonta, and told him I was only going as far as Cooperstown, but he was welcome to the ride. He was familiar to me, a fixture of the Otsego County landscape, but we’d never spoken before. Sarge was maybe 75, a thin man with leathery skin and squinty eyes. He always wore a garrison cap and an olive-green army uniform, with a few medals sprinkled across the chest. No one was quite sure if he had actually earned them or if they were just window dressing. But in patriotic upstate New York, Sarge could hitch his way from one end of the county to another by just putting on a good show.
He began talking the moment he sat down and kept it up for a solid half hour, a rambling discourse mostly about old cars, and the evils of politicians. Looking over after about twenty minutes, he noticed I was a clergyman and launched into a discussion of true Christians and hypocrites. Sarge had been to most of the churches in these parts, he assured me, and he could certainly tell the difference between them. Catholics wouldn’t give a man like him the time of day, and would you believe that they once ran him out of a Pentecostal church because he stood up to speak his mind during the service. But Methodists—they laid on the best spread for coffee hours, and sometimes the fellas would even slip him a few cigarettes.
It did cross my mind as he opened the door to go his way that Sarge could well have been a kind of messenger. I was a little relieved that he didn’t seem to know anything about Episcopalians, so he hadn’t turned up in my congregation and discovered that we came up short. Wouldn’t it be just like God to separate the true believers from the false ones by the way they responded to a mysterious stranger?