Promise of God




Reverend Willie Cook was a robust man with black shiny skin, a white crop of wiry hair that stood straight out like a conductor of sorts emitting the electricity he generated in the room as he preached, and gigantic round eyes that peered deep into the soul of every sinner in the room with a piercing scrutiny. As his voice resonated soft then loud and louder off the walls of the tiny Baptist Church, beads of sweat popped out on the furrowed skin of Reverend Willie’s brow during the heat of God’s Word. When he spoke, his large nostrils flared like, what Sister Ruby Smith described as those of the stallions of Armageddon, especially when he became passionate about what he had to say, which was when he got into the full gallop of his message. Today, Reverend Willie was speaking on miracles, and he paced back and forth in front of the pulpit during the last refrains of When the Roll is Called up Yonder and shuffled his feet nervously like a horse at the starting gate in anticipation of what he had to say. After Brother Diggs, who was the official song leader this particular Sunday morning, told the congregation they could resume their sitting positions on the hard oak pews, Reverend Willie took hold of the sides of the podium and, panning the room left to right, looked deep and hard into the eyes of his congregation, then flashing a grin, with the toss of his head, he cleared his throat and began speaking God’s word:

“Folks. Has you ever been walking down the street and look on the ground and see a bright shiny copper penny looking back at you, and surprised, you pick it up and put it in your pocket. Well, that’s exactly what miracles is like; bright shiny copper pennies. I tell you, you ungrateful complaining bunch of sinners, the Good Lord has miracles all around yo feet. Some folks believe they don’t happen no more, especially them non believers out there livin’ in the world, so to speak. But I’m here to tell you, right now, in front of God, yo’ chillen, yo mamas and daddies, and yo sisters, brothers, cousins and aunties that they does still take place.”

With that, several
“Amens” were heard in the room as several congregation members clapped their hands in agreement.

Reverend Willie went on,
“Miracles from Heaven just coming down right, left and sideways, and all we be doing is whining to de Lawd about all the stuff we be needing instead of telling him in our prayer time how grateful we is for what he done give us. The word says that all we need to do is have the faith of a little mustard seed and powerful things can happen. Take Brother Jesse sittin over der by his misses, Sister Effie. He’s a miracle right here in dis room…a hundred shiny pennies type a miracle…what I calls a silver dollar miracle. Out chasin’ women, drinking in bars, and playing the devil’s cards wif the food money for his chillin, but Sister Effie believed, she had faith that her man would turn from his wicked ways, and here he be right beside her.” Reverend Willie’s nostrils began to flare as he said the words, “Brother Jesse, stand up before God and you Sisters and Brothers here as a testimony to a mighty miracle.”

As Jessie stood up the congregation began to clap their hands and, intermittent,
“Amens” could be heard from a chorus of voices. His face darkened in color a bit as he gave a proud grin and wiped a tear from his left eye with the long slender fingers of his redeemed card dealing hand, then sat back down. As he did, Sister Effie put a hand on her husband’s strong shoulder and said, “Thank you Jesus. Amen to dat.”

Stepping in front of the pulpit, Brother Willie continued;
“Now, Congregation! I’s going to challenge you today to open you eyes right now, and in a spirit of boldness to raise yo hand and speak da miracles you see in dis room beside you. Don’t hold back. God’s been good to each one of us and we need to lift each other up by sharin’ what he’s been doin’ in our lives.

Ah hah! As da good book says, ‘a child shall lead da way’.
Isaiah Renfro here done put up his hand to speak "What you got to declare Child?” Reverend Willie boomed. “Stand up and be heard!”

Yes Sir," Isaiah began. “Dis mornin’ we was getting ready to come to Sunday School and my mama says, “Iffin that ol car of ours starts, it’ll be a miracle, and it did. So, we done thanked the Lawd and all of us is here. Den when we got here, my mama told Serena’s daddy and mama the car been actin’ bad and her daddy say he gonna fix it for free dis afternoon cause it needs da carbuator re did, plus Serena’s mama is fixin’ all of us Sunday supper while he be makin’ da car run good again.”

With that the congregation applauded and the Amen’s floated among the sea of faces that turned, smiling, in the direction of Serena and her parents, sitting toward the back of the large room.

Reverend Willie smiled, and said,
“Yes’em Isaiah. Dats a mighty miracle fo sure. Dat’s a whole jar full of shiny pennies on da ground type of miracle. Da last mechanic dat I paid God’s money t’ fix my car had him a set of horns like the devil dat no one could see, and when he was done, took my money and da car still didn’t run right. I say, dat is a powerful miracle. Brother Terry, I’d likes to speak to you about my old Buick after services, if you got a moment,” Reverend Willie stated, lowering his voice and glancing toward Serena’s father, then winked and grinned a big grin.

The congregation laughed, as Reverend Willie cleared his throat.

Next to stand was Doc Reeves. Lookin’ toward Sister Grace and her husband Charles, he stated,
“I sees me five miracles sittin’ in that pew. I told Sister Grace after she got a dread case of the mumps when she was fifteen years old and dey went down to her ovaries dat she’d probably never bear children and she done made a liar outa me and has five of them, thanks to God’s hand o’ protection, and dats a miracle and den some.”

“Sister Grace, you and yo chillen stand up please,” commanded Reverend Willie. Again the Amens were heard and the clappin’ of hands resonated off the walls. “Praise God!” shouted Reverend Willie. “Ain’t God good?” he implored. Again, the applause and Amens filled the room. As they did, Sister’s grace youngest miracle began to cry in her arms, awakened from a peaceful slumber.

“No sleepin’ during Reverend Willie’s sermons Child,” Reverend Willie grinned, radiating a loving glance toward Sister Grace.

Again, the congregation burst into laughter.

Reverend Willie walked back in front of his pulpit, grabbing the corners of it once more, and leaning forward, shouted,
“I sees many hands up. We have lots to be thankful for. We has lots to hope for. There is many dreams just waiting to be born, and many flowers in yo hearts that went and withered up just waitin’ to bloom again and have dat sweet fragrance of hope come floating to your nostrils, but you gotta believe. You gotta have dat mustard seed penny on the ground type of faith. You gotta expect! And folks, you ain’t going to get nothin’ if you just gives up and keeps yo eyes closed. So I wants you to promise me…yes promise me…dat you is going to expect a miracle, and get one….Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” the congregation shouted. “We hears you Pasta.”

“I’s askin’ you one more time….Folks! Is you going to find a miracle dis day. Is you going to find it in you own back yard? Is you going to see it wit yo eyes so dat you know others is on dere way?”

“Yes,” the congregation shouted. “We is Pasta! We going to find it.”

“Well, den with dat, now dat I got yo’ word, I’s going to close dis message with good faith, and know dat you going to spread da word dat miracles is out der. Remember! The Lawd is being about his busy work, and, just like anyone else, he appreciates it when someone notices what he be busy about doing, so maintain yo’ respect, and give yo’ praises to Him when He got em comin’ and even when yo’ think he don’t, cause da Lawd do things in strange ways, like da Good Book say, and He may be cookin’ up a whopper of a miracle just fer you and you to dumb to know it.”

With that, “Reverend Willie stepped out from the podium that served as his pulpit, lifted up his hands toward heaven and said,
“Give yo’ neighbor a hug and let’s depart from dis place blessed and smiling after Brother Diggs lead us in one stanza o’ The Old Rugged Cross.”

Outside the doors of the tiny clapboard church in the hills of Tennessee, Sister Beatrice gave her preschool Bible Class a basket of shiny copper pennies and one silver dollar to drop here and there on the lawn. Encouraging the children, she said,
“Let’s see how many Reverend Willie finds. Won’t he be surprised!”

Little feet ran here and there, dropping their symbols of miracles on the grass, the delight of placing an unexpected surprise in the path of the congregation made them giggle with a sense of gladness. “Somehow,” Sister Beatrice supposed to herself, “da good Lawd knew the feeling they was havin’ going about their work as he went about His…yes He did!” And pondering that, she smiled to herself, and lookin’ up into the blue of a heavenly Sunday morning sky, whispered, “Amen,” as the rustic doors of the white clapboard church opened, and God’s people stepped into the warm sunshine of Tennessee.

© Jennifer Grant

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