Years ago something happened that angered me. I’m really not easily angered though my story will make it seem so. This petty offense just touched a very sensitive nerve. The offense was repeated four or five times. It was during a time when I was already enduring more than my fair share of criticism. I will never forget it because it happened on four or five consecutive weeks at precisely twelve noon on Sunday.
Of course, I’m a pastor and if you ever lose track of me show up at church between eleven and twelve on Sunday morning and you will find me. Half-past eleven I will take the pulpit and it will be a very rare Sunday that I am not still laboring at my trade at least a few minutes into the early afternoon. I’ve done this consistently for thirty years. People actually pay me to do it, though, oddly, sometimes I get second-hand reports of complaints that I am long-winded. (I consider these murmuring saints not especially enlightened because it’s desert that I am serving at the end of the weekly feast that I prepare for my flock. No right-thinking person complains about dessert).
At noon on those Sundays, precisely noon, someone’s annoying watch alarm began to beep. Whoever was wearing it made no attempt to turn it off. I beeped incessantly for the rest of the service until finally the sound of it was drowned out by the organ music at the end of the service signaling the release of the inmates…I mean the dismissal of the parishioners.
After a week or two this became an animated discussion around the dinner table and in our weekly pastoral staff meetings. An alert went out among the families of the pastoral staff to be on the look-out for the person who was setting their watch for noon and deliberately interrupting the most important part of the service every week. I began having devotions in the imprecatory Psalms. I deliberately planned to preach past noon just to find the perpetrator and bring him to justice.
It was I who discovered the culprit. On about the forth week I stepped down into the aisle at about noon to deliver my final few remarks when I heard the beeping. It was coming from the arm of a gentleman in the second row. He was a long-time member. He was one of our deacons. He was a professional man. He was respected in the community.
There he sat feigning attention, his arm resting on the back of his pew. There was no question about it. His alarm was sounding and he sat there. He made no movement to shut it off. It might as well have been a fire alarm it was so distracting. I looked directly at him. I had threatened privately that if I found who was doing that I would rebuke them publically, but in the moment I thought better of it.
I would entreat him privately. He was an older man and I learned the hard way in my youth the biblical wisdom that you do not rebuke an elder but entreat him as a father.
The service ended, the man got away. I did not talk to him. The beeping stopped, but my bitterness and anger and irritation about it went on for years. Every few months I would rehearse it. Sometimes I would tell the story to others, each time convincing myself even more of his unconcern for souls and his callous disrespect for his pastor.
A few years later I heard of his death. I have to tell you it was the incident with the watch that came to me when I thought of what it would be like to eulogize the man. I knew people would say nice things about him, but had been no encouragement to me the years that I was his pastor.
I have a watch with an alarm. I horse-traded with Chuk for it. It’s a nice watch with a lot of features. It goes off at six-thirty in the evening. It’s complex to set it so I just turn it off when I hear it.
Lately Lois has been complaining that I can’t hear her well. It goes like this. She mumbles something from the other room.
I say, “What?”
She says, “You need to get your ears checked.”
I say, “Huh?”
She’s says I’m not funny.
I think I’m fine. I lost my dress watch so I’ve been wearing the one with the alarm a lot. In the evening I have noticed that the kids will tell me the watch is beeping before I realize it. There ears are young. They can hear anything. I fumble to turn off the alarm and thank them.
I was wearing it in church the other night and getting ready to preach. Lois nudged me with her elbow and told me my watch was beeping. Suddenly it hit me like a hammer blow to the chest. The man was elderly. He wasn’t deliberately interrupting the service. His alarm was going off and he just couldn’t hear it.
Old people were once young, but young people have not yet been old. For that reason younger people should make an effort to understand what it’s like to be older. I’m getting older every day and I and growing in my sympathy for things I didn’t understand when I was young.
September 13, 2010