My friend is going to jail.
He’s lost his wife, his house, his job, and even his dog.
My friend has lost everything, in fact, and now he is going to jail.
But yet, my friends, I believe that I am living in the middle of a miracle. And by Grace alone, I think — that so — is he.
Let me tell you what’s going on:
A week ago, around midnight, I was sitting on my couch, watching the golf channel, and feeling, all of a sudden, like I could be doing something better with my time.
I wasn’t tired, so I went downstairs to do some writing. But being easily distracted, I got on America Online instead, and decided to look up an old friend, whose name had occurred to me the day before.
I typed his full name into the Google.com search engine, and, instantly, I got a bunch of hits.
The very first one, at the top of the screen, was like a bullet to my heart.
For the first page to come up as a “perfect match” to my search request was a press release — from the United States Department of Justice.
It was about a young man with the same name and age as my friend who had pleaded guilty to a rather serious crime.
My heart stopped. I knew it was him.
And as if this was not amazing enough, I noticed that the court date for his sentencing was to be the next morning – in nine hours.
So there I was, in the dining room, glass of water, pajamas, old laptop, America Online, casually searching for a long lost friend, and I happened to find him, around midnight – a few hours before he is to be sentenced to prison.
I drank my water.
And I freaked out.
And I prayed … really, really hard.
I clicked another hit, and found his personal webpage.
It was only a year old. Talked of his wife, his job, his education, had a wedding picture — even had a picture of his dog. And he was happy, he was handsome, he was good at what he was doing, and people loved him.
In one window I saw everything he once had; and in the other, the reason why he had lost it all.
I hadn’t seen this man since we were 14.
And I wept.
And I knew right then, that God was talking to me, loud and clear, and the message was instant, and it said, “You are his friend. You will go to him. You will be there for him, no matter what you find.”
And you know, all of a sudden, I was very ready for bed.
And I prayed until I fell asleep – a minute later.
The next morning, I got up early, and I went back online.
I found his father’s office phone number, and I called it.
They said he was in a clinic in the Mid-West.
I called the clinic, and they gave me his hotel.
I called his hotel, and they gave me his room.
I called his room, and he picked up the phone.
He thought I was his son.
I told him who I was, and he barely understood what I was saying.
I repeated my name, and he remembered.
I said I knew about his son. And he said, “I thought you’d be him.”
He was getting treated for cancer. His wife was at a funeral for a friend. His son was in court.
I left my numbers, and he gave me his son’s. I called him, and left him a message.
Two days later my friend called me back.
Within seconds we were laughing. It was just too hard to take it any other way.
We hadn’t spoken in eighteen years. So we talked for a long time.
I told him I was a priest and he couldn’t believe it. He told me what he had done, and I couldn’t believe it.
Then he said he wasn’t so sure he believed in God. And I said, “Well, buddy, that is something you may wish to rethink.”
I drove home to Washington the next day to see him. And we hung out for four hours.
He said, “You know we’ve had our twenty-year break. Now we must keep in touch for the rest of our lives.”
I pledged to visit him in prison every month. And we made plans to begin an amazing new chapter as friends.
And you know what? This is what our religion is all about.
Now I’m not sure how amazing this story seems to you – but it has blown me away. And the hair is standing up on the back of my neck.
But this is the way God works: sudden, out of nowhere, like a wall of water or a crashing lightning bolt – the God of Abram and Sarah will come, and ask us to do something, and promise to be with us forever.
It is this sort of thing that Jesus is talking about today in the Gospel of Luke.
Think about it:
One night I switch from one addiction to the next, from television to computer. And despite my most banal intentions, God comes right through the screen in front of my eyes, and He sets me on fire.
He commanded my heart to reach out to a friend, a person, a human-being who was lost and lonely – who was getting ripped apart by his failures – and by life in a world which sometimes hits people too hard when they make mistakes.
And I tell you what, I’m rejoicing … I’m singing … not for the utter sorrow of my friend’s losses and his yet unfinished struggle … but because I have found my friend again. I have been reconnected to a person who I had forgotten how much I loved. I have been shown that no matter what we may do wrong, no matter how far we’ve been cast into darkness, God will send us the Light of the World, so that we may be found.
So let me tell you: When it seems like all the people in your life have turned you out, and they have left you alone – Jesus will be there.
He will be the last man standing in that empty room where all your friends and followers used to be – and he’ll be there with his arms widespread – and He will say to you, “Do not be afraid, for your Father wishes to give you the Kingdom.”
And if this happens to you, and if you’re like me, you will fall on your face and cry, because you were never quite sure if the Good News really was that Good.
And then you’ll know that you’re living in the middle of miracle.
Now Jesus asks us to be ready for His coming at any time. But he’s not just warning us to mind our P’s and Q’s until he comes back in power and great glory to bust up the place at the End of Days.
You see Jesus needs us to be ready, because he’s coming back today.
And he’s calling us up – on the phone, or in our heart, or even on America Online – and he’s saying, “You Are Needed. You’re Services Are Required to Show My Face to Someone Who Is In Pain. Go And Make Me Real For Them.”