‘Like a Mighty Army’
EACH issue of The Christian Century has a humorous letter from “Simeon Stylites”, frequently showing considerable insight. In the February 6 issue he recounted meeting the pastor of “St. John’s-by-the-Gas-Station”, who was all lit up over his “guest artist” on Layman’s Sunday—a day which usually “brings joy like a visit to the dentist”. But this time the guest was “Jimmy Mitchell, just back from two years in the army in Korea”. Jimmy insisted that the service start with “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, then waded right in with, “You have been singing ‘Like a mighty army moves the church of God’. That might have been all right once,” but the army, he said, “doesn’t move the way a lot of you folks at St. John’s do—or do not. Suppose the army accepted the lame excuses that many of you people think are good enough to serve as an alibi for not attending Church Parade.
“Imagine this, if you can. Reveille seven a.m. Squads on the parade ground. The sergeant barks out, ‘Count fours.’ One! Two! Three! Number Four missing. Where’s Private Smith? ‘Oh,’ pipes up a chap by the vacant place, ‘Mr. Smith was too sleepy to get up this morning. He was out late last night and needed the sleep. He said to tell you that he would be with you in spirit.’
“‘That’s fine,’ says the sergeant. ‘Remember me to him.’
“‘Where’s Brown?’ asks the sergeant. ‘Oh,’ puts in another chap, ‘he’s out playing golf. He gets only one day a week for recreation, and you know how important that is.’
“‘Sure, sure,’ is the sergeant’s cheerful answer. ‘Hope he has a good game. Where’s Robinson?’ ‘Robinson,’ explains a buddy, ‘is sorry not to greet you in person, but he is entertaining guests today and of course couldn’t come. Besides, he was at drill last week.’ ‘Thank you,’ says the sergeant, smiling. ‘Tell him he is welcome any time he is able to drop in.’”
Jimmy commented, “If any G. I. tried to pull that stuff he would get 20 days in the brig. Yet you hear stuff like that every week in church, and said with a straight face, too. Like a mighty army! Why, if St. John’s really moved like a mighty army, a lot of you folks would be court-martialed!” “Too bad,” Stylites told the parson, “the stay-aways didn’t hear it.” The response: “Don’t worry. I have it on a tape recorder, and I am going to spring it on them next Easter, instead of the Second Lesson.”
Like a mighty army, yes—like the one that lost!