Bubba was one of those guys it was really hard to like, and not like. He was constantly making you laugh hysterically or cry from frustration or fume with fury. He was a regular at the mission church I served as pastor, having spent many years on and off the streets and almost always close by the mission, in ways both good and bad. I had a really hard time trying to figure him out, discern how to help, and especially love him during his bad times.
It was during one of these bad times that we had an encounter with the Spirit of Life that I will never forget. Bubba had been causing some problems around the mission and community, yet he continued to show up for Bible study and worship. This situation made it really hard for me to be forgiving, compassionate, and welcoming to this one, while at the same time a faithful shepherd of the flock, protecting from a sometimes wolf in sheep’s clothing. Which one was he? Today, this moment, was he the Bubba we all loved and cared for, or the one we feared and sometimes despised?
He showed up for worship one Sunday morning with that mischievous look in his eyes, as well as the joyous smile and boisterous spirit that often lifted us all out of the muck and mire. So I entered our time of worship quite apprehensively. Worship was always an adventure at the mission — dogs might run through the aisles, people may bang on the doors during the sermon, and you just never knew what some of the folks would come up with during our praise time. Today, the sermon was from the lectionary text of John 8: 1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. You know, the “those without sin cast the first stone… go and sin no more” story. I was ready to preach that there is no condemnation in the love of Jesus, yet in my heart I was throwing stones at Bubba.
And then he stood up during praise time. Oh Lord. What was about to go down? How could I prevent Bubba from derailing the Spirit of worship and leading us all astray?
Then Bubba started to sing. It was a song I had never heard before. It was one of the most beautiful songs I will ever hear. He sang about the woman caught in adultery and God’s unconditional love. I could not believe it. Bubba had no idea what the scripture passage was for the day. I had not read it or begun the sermon. No one but me knew. Oh, and the Holy Spirit. As his words rang through the small room filled with the forgotten and despised and sinful ones, we experienced worship in spirit and in truth that I could never lead us into. I needed to get out of the way. My stones were the hindrance, not Bubba.
You see, Bubba made me realize that every single one of us, no matter how wrapped up in ourselves, how broken, how despised or forgotten we may be, every single beautiful, beloved child of God has a song to sing. A song the Spirit of Life puts down deep in our soul that can never be destroyed. A song that breathes life and light into some of the darkest places of our existence. A song that we would all be better off listening to than the merciless songs of condemnation from those of us who think we have it all figured out.
May we listen to Bubba’s song, to the song of the poor and oppressed, the hymns of the condemned and despised, and may we all put down our stones, and go and sin no more.