“Jesus loves me this I know…” Most of us have been familiar with the words of this children’s hymn all of our lives. Even as adults we find comfort in hearing them and singing them, being reminded of a time when faith seemed simpler to express, less complicated. As adults we like to remember our childhood as a time of innocence — sadly, an innocence that seems somehow to have given way to cynicism and/or disillusionment.
Growing up in Pt. Pleasant, W.Va., I would often attend revivals with my friends. Although I was an Episcopalian, a Christian denomination who seemed to refrain from enthusiasm, I wouldn’t miss an opportunity for the excitement to listen to visiting evangelists. I especially liked the Summer “Tent Revivals” because picnics were involved, and sometimes these events would go on into the night.
The evangelists would be yelling and screaming, beating on the pulpit. A choir made up of local folks would be singing - best show in town (I mean that with the deepest respect). We didn’t have cable TV, or computers and the like, so this was “big time.” As the preaching got to a crescendo, and the devil was about to snatch us up, an “invitation” would be offered to come up and be saved. My friends and I would be so scared of the fires of hell lapping at our feet throughout eternity that we would run forward for salvation. I cannot tell you how many times I was saved, but every time seemed like a close call as I went running to the “altar” with what I am sure were a slew of demons following.
One of the men in town who always attended these revivals was “Boyd.” Now Boyd had suffered “brain damage” as an infant, I was told. Everyone loved him. He always smiled, and was always happy to see people. Boyd loved Jesus with all his heart, no doubt about it. Boyd sat in the front row of every revival.
On one occasion, a visiting evangelist yelled out “Who wants to go to heaven!” Everyone shouted “I do.” Again, “Who wants to go to heaven!” And again the crowd yelled out, “I Do!” The evangelist shouted, “Who all wants to go to heaven raise your hand!” And everyone lifted their hands and shouted “I do,” except for Boyd. He was smiling, obviously enjoying the sermon, and in a happy state of mind, he just didn’t raise his hand. The evangelist asked him, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?” Boyd, looked around to see who the evangelist was talking to, and when he looked back at the evangelist he pointed to himself. The evangelist said, “Yes, you. Don’t you want to go to heaven?” Boyd looked at him and said, “Why no Sir, thank you, but I like things just fine here in Pt. Pleasant.”
Boyd’s faith may have been simple, but he understood enough to know that Jesus was not a distant person that he read about, or heard others talk about… He knew Jesus, personally. He was satisfied, joyful in fact, to live his life where he was, knowing Jesus was with him, as much as if he was somewhere else, or in heaven itself. I have no doubt Boyd is in heaven with Jesus right now. I pray that I may have the simple, yet deep, faith that Boyd expressed: To know that to be with Jesus in this world or the next is a wonderful reward, already available to us. With 15 words, he spoke the sermon that topped the sermon — and truly led a little boy to Jesus.
The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.
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