Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Doug Bailey
Memphis, Tennessee
June 6, 1999
Second Sunday after Pentecost

This Bus Stops For You!!
The Rev. Douglass M. Bailey

Gospel: Matthew 9: 9-13

Lord God, be known to us; be known to us.
Open our eyes that we will see you here this morning.
Open our ears that we will hear your voice.
Open our hearts that we will be changed and transformed by your love.

One of the great storytellers in America is Garrison Keillor. Most all of his stories are placed in that mythical village of Lake Wobegone, Minnesota. One of my favorite Garrison Keillor stories is about his fifth grade classmate, Donnie Hart. I can't explain exactly what this story does to me, but it moves me deeply. Maybe you will catch something of the mystery of stories which speak of things that are deeper in truth than the words themselves. And so, for the next few moments, I will do my version of Garrison Keillor's story of Donnie Hart.

I first met Donnie Hart in the fifth grade. Donnie was a wonderful guy. He was older than I was because he repeated the fifth grade several times. As one would say in Lake Wobegone, Donnie was slow. Donnie had a shock of black hair. He was a bit overweight but he had a sweet, sweet smile. People would make fun of Donnie at times because he was such an easy target. He would believe anything. If we got tired of playing with Donnie, we would simply say, "Donnie, your mother is calling." And every time Donnie would go home. If boys are taking to poking people, they would poke at Donnie. But Donnie would not fight back. Donnie did not have any sense of competition about him at all. He must have thought it was their way of wanting to be friends with him.

Well, Donnie went through the fifth grade with me. I suppose it was because my parents said to be nice to Donnie because he was slow that I was nice to Donnie. But, you know, the strangest thing happened. I learned I really liked his company. He was such a sweet guy. He and I did a lot of things together. Then the end of the fifth grade came and the Hart family moved away from Lake Wobegone and I never saw Donnie again. Well, almost. You see, the story goes on, because some twenty or thirty years later, I think it was closer to thirty years, I was in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, where I now live. My car had broken down, so I was using the city bus line. I was waiting for the bus on a cold, rainy day in Minnesota, and I saw a group of adults coming toward me. I could tell even from the distance that they were a group of retarded adults. I could tell from the way they unselfconsciously poked at one another, or one of the men would pull a woman's pigtails, and she would swat him one.

I have to tell you that the closer they got to the bus stop the more uncomfortable I became. I could see that they were coming to "my" bus stop to catch a bus, maybe to their residential house. I am uncomfortable being with retarded people, I guess, because they seem so different from "normal" people. So, when they came up to the bus stop, I moved out of the way. From a distance, I observed them. They were having so much fun with each other, but they acted like children.

Then it came time for the bus to arrive and they did the most unusual thing. They all lined up, one after another, to get on the bus. That is when I saw him. It was Donnie Hart. He was one of them. He was an adult, and he was retarded, but when I was a boy in the fifth grade I didn't know he was retarded. I just thought he was, as they say, slow. I watched all of them get on the bus. I wanted to stop Donnie and say, "Donnie Hart, it is Garrison." Well, I did, but he didn't recognize me. I could tell he just didn't know who I was. So we chatted for a few minutes and finally we all were on the bus.

The bus was crowded. It was filled with all sorts and conditions of people. It was a cold day and the bus was warm. All of us who got on the bus together moved to the back of the bus. We took hold of the bar as the bus rumbled through the city of St. Paul. That is when it happened for me. I can't say exactly what happened. I can't describe to you what it was, but something unforgettable happened. Maybe it was because I had just had a reunion with a guy that I had known way back in the fifth grade. Maybe it was because of the smell of rain on wet garments like when we were back in the cloakroom in grade school together. I don't know what it was but all of a sudden, in that moment, I saw everyone on that bus as being one. All of us were together. We were one. It wasn't me and them. It wasn't normal or retarded person. It wasn't ethnic race this and ethnic race that. It wasn't white or black. In that bus, we were all together. I felt like the bus was taking us - how can I say this - I felt like the bus was taking us to another kingdom where there are no distinctions, where everybody is just one people, together.

I have this vision that this bus is still rumbling around St. Paul somewhere. I have this feeling that maybe it is rumbling around in your city of Springfield, Missouri, or this city of Memphis, or maybe it is rumbling around the whole world. It stops at each of the bus stops. There is a Voice on that bus which invites people on and says, "Come into this kingdom where everyone is together. Where we are all one. Where there are no distinctions. There is no me and you - it is only us. So, come on, please get on this Kingdom bus."

Then Garrison Keillor says, "I don't know how this story ends except that maybe you have had moments like that too - when something happens and you see things in a new way, and you experience and hear things with a new and different heart. But ever so surely, you are ushered into another kingdom. And you are never the same again."

That is the sort of thing that must have happened to the man in the Gospel story today (Matthew 9:9-13). His name is Matthew. One day he is there at his tax booth and a metaphorical bus comes along and stops at his very booth. There is an invitation from the bus. "Come, climb on the bus. Follow me." And, Matthew did just that. It took Matthew in a whole new direction in his life. You see, his life was headed down a particular path. He was making money. He was a Jew who had gone to work as a tax collector for the Romans and he was doing well. He was hated by his fellow Jews and he was an outcast. But, there did not seem to be a way out. Then, along comes Jesus and says, "Come into another kingdom. Get on my bus. Come and follow me, Matthew." And Matthew climbed on that bus, and lo and behold, it was such a life-changing experience that some years later he wrote a magnificent story about it. It is called the Gospel according to Matthew.

Now, I don't know quite how to say this to you. But there are some people out here in this congregation today who need to hear this very story. This invitation. If you are one of those who needs to hear it, I hope you will listen up and pay attention to what I am about to say. There is an invisible but very real bus that is always coming to stop at the edge of your life. Jesus, the Christ is persistently, gracefully, lovingly inviting your life "into his Kingdom." If you have just had a glimmer of the truth of it, if you have just had a whisper of what might be the words of it, then for God's sake, get on the bus today. More importantly, for your sake and for mine, lets each of us get on the bus together. It will lead us to a new kingdom. It will carry us to a new life and this I promise, we will never be the same again. We will never recover from this decision.

A bus is stopping for you. From that bus you will experience a true and timeless invitation: "Come, follow me. Get on my bus. It will be the ride of your life."


Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: Matthew 9: 9-13
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners." (NRSV)

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