The Minstrel

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It was Sunday morning; time for Emmanuel Jackson the preacher to give the sermon to the lost. Time for the faithful to gather round the table of the Lord, at least for those who bothered to do so; Emmanuel was disgusted at what little priority God got nowadays. The older generations of the congregation lamented to him that since the sixties and free love, the churches had lost their groove with the younger folk. Such a shame, for the numbers in the congregations were dwindling fast, mostly from their contemporaries dying off, as the younger folk spent many a Sunday morning worshipping porcelain toilet bowls resulting from visiting the temple of Dionysus the night before. Emmanuel knew the excuses: the preachers were boring and out of touch; besides, who wanted to drag themselves out of bed on a Sunday morning when you could lie around watching Meet the Press and cartoons in the comfort of your own home? Such unfortunate souls, so oblivious they were to their own eternal doom, their snooze buttons buzzing away like drones of destruction.

But Emmanuel had some hope. There were some younger folk that were aware that these were dangerous times. That technology was sapping away the spirit in the form of mindless TV and Internet, that the worship of material things was so rampant that anything less than total devotion meant you were unambitious and lazy. This insidious thinking was enough to alarm these fortunate folks to turn to spirituality for answers, not the kind of spirituality that preached platitudes in ornate churches of marble and stained glass, but the kind of old religion that was willing to strike the soul in chastisement so it would wake up and smell the fire and brimstone.

Those getting out of their cars to go to service at the New Covenant Assembly of God in Riverdale, New York to hear the preaching of Emmanuel Jackson were some of those fortunate souls seeking a better way. The ten year old brick building shone like a new soul. There were blessings to be found by the revival inside. Truly, truly, they felt blessed indeed by the shepherd that led the flock. Young and hip, he spoke the truth with conviction, ready to lead the flock into a new relationship of power with the Holy Spirit. So blessed were they were, to have a leader such as he. As the band boomed its introductory songs, and Emmanuel prepared for his entrance, he saw the crowd that awaited his message, having waited all week since Wednesday to hear his voice. He entered the auditorium, and their eyes followed him as he made his way to the front of the church, gratified to see him once again. Seeing him was like eating at a good soul food restaurant, one of his congregates had told him. He hoped he was that, and more, for their souls’ sake.

He picked up the portable microphone that awaited him and began praising God, walking in the aisles and shaking and embracing each of the members of his flock, the whites, the blacks, the Latinos, in all, seventy-five of the eighty-one registered members were here today. Emmanuel began praising the Lord. God He is good. Let us all show the Lord how thankful we are today for bringing us His blessings. The flock jumped and sang and clapped at the very words of their humble preacher as the twenty piece band boomed its praises on brass chords and the choir raised its hands to heaven. But the preacher’s voice could be heard above it all. His very voice brought joy to their souls.

I am just a servant, the preacher said.

Yes Jesus, the flock replied, praise the Lord.

God has revealed his spirit through me.

Alleluia. Thank you God.

His Holy Spirit is your only protection in this kingdom of darkness. He will guide you like lost sheep to the light.

Oh Jesus. Thank you Jesus.

He will speak through me because he has appointed me your leader. He has drawn you to me, so you will listen to His words that come from my mouth. Nothing that I say comes from me. None of my wisdom is my own. All that I say comes from the Lord, for I know nothing.

Alleluia. Praise you Lord. Amen. Thank you Jesus.

The flock sang its praises, together, yet separate, each an instrument in a heavenly orchestra. Its melody was beauty to behold. The shepherd let his flock sing its praises for awhile, then silenced them with his hand as a conductor would his orchestra. All went from total noise to total silence in less than half a second, getting better performance than most luxury cars. He looked over his people like the father would his children. All looked to him expectantly, hoping for a word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit to come from him.

Sister Vera is not here, as well as Brother Brian. Our sister is ill with a sore throat. And our brother is in the clutches of the devil. He has been afflicted with depression. Satan has been harassing his marriage and home. Let us pray for them, let us bind the devil together.

Praise Jesus. Satan, we bind you in the name of Jesus. Alleluia. We resist your evil spirit as our Lord in heaven commanded us. By the authority of Jesus we bind you and loose the power of the Holy Spirit upon our brother and sister. We have all the power through Jesus Christ. You have no power with us Satan. Get from the temples where Vera and Brian’s spirits reside. Alleluia, Jesus. Thank you God.

A lull of noise hummed through the room once again. Some of the flock sang, their eyes and hands raised to the One Above. Others mumbled in a foreign language too exotic for any on Earth to understand. Emmanuel the shepherd stood in their midst, his head bowed. The acoustic effect was hypnotic; one could easily be lulled to sleep by it, but this shepherd would never allow such a thing to happen in his church.

He took his place at the front of the congregation. He looked upon them like a father with his brood. In the front, sat Casper Williams, the father he never had, who beamed pride at the arrival of the minister. The shepherd owed him a debt of gratitude, for without him he would be lost. Casper Williams knew almost everything about him. Almost everything. All attention riveted upon the minister, except for a single voice singing in the back. No one paid much heed; people received revelation all the time. The flock waited upon their shepherd for direction.

The shepherd announced a Bible verse. Immediately all complied except the singer, whose voice was so low that no one noticed his presence. The shepherd stood in silence, and the flock awaited him: Was he getting a revelation? The flock waited in anticipation. When none came, they bowed their heads in prayer, joining their leader in private meditation, waiting for God’s spirit to come to them.

The minister was in his own world, praying for strength. Unbeknownst to the flock, this was his most common prayer. Suffering and fear had been constant stalkers of him in his life. Many times when he stood up here he’d been tempted by the likes of Satan to succumb to depression, anger, rage. He was confronted by temptations that were likely to make him fall in these times of weakness. The gangs, the women, the drugs, the crime; they all waited for him to return. Satan always knew what one’s weaknesses were, and he using them as weapons against all of God’s creations, against him. And at this moment, he was under attack, the ghosts of two females and a man dogging him: Abdullah, the woman who never grew old in his spirit, who always remained alive; a little girl he had only met once in his life, and her father whom he had had such a vicious hatred for in the darkest part of his life. The hatred, born of jealousy and drugs, was long covered by Jesus’ blood, but many times he was plagued with desperation that sent him spiraling back to that day of condemnation. He was overcome with an urge to curse the people before him, even Casper the father he never had. Why couldn’t they find their own way, and leave him alone. Why did he have to be a leader to them, why did Casper expect so much of him, he thought, aware of the guilt he felt at holding back from the man he loved. But he didn’t know what he could do about it now, after all this time, to confess the lie he had been holding back. When Satan attacked him like this, he was rendered impotent. The burden of leadership became too great for him, the burden of a violent past unhealed. He couldn’t even figure out how to lead himself. How could he be a leader to others.

He was a symbol of awe to them. He was born to be a preacher, they thought. Just from his name, they could tell he was in the role that God intended for him. Emmanuel Jackson, the preacher, the bearer of light. Unifier of the masses. Emmanuel, God with us. There were two groups of sheep in front of him; the rich and white, who longed for the Holy Spirit in their lives but couldn’t find him in the stuffy mainline churches, and poor and black; those who looked at the preacher’s success and were trying to find the same access codes to God that he had, just to emulate the wealth that he had obtained. He was the middle ground, the safe point between two camps, the lightest of the blacks and the richest of the poor, he was the interpreter they clung to as a last hope for solidarity in a world that scoffed the peacemaker.

For he was a man of God. His life was the straight and narrow; no detours from the devil for him. Hard work. Prayer. Praise. Sacrifice. He scoffed at the arrogance he saw in the rich/lights and the self-pity he saw in the poor/darks.

get on your feet! Yes Lord!

praise and honor the lord! Yes Lord!

you are the chosen bride of Christ, no blemish is to be found among you! Yes Lord!

scorn all sloth and sin! Yes Lord!

resist the devil and he will flee from you! Yes Lord!

stand with Jesus! Yes Lord!

Jesus, Jesus, he prayed fervently. Save me from myself that I will see love and compassion instead of disgust and scorn for my flock.. I am just a sinner like they are. You are the Almighty. You have never sinned.

I have sinned greatly. Let me be humble like your servants Paul of Tarsus and King David, who were once like me. Let me become a little more like you today than I was yesterday. Draw me closer to you. I need you. Amen.

He lifted his head and saw the people about him. They rejoiced. Their shepherd was back. He began to laugh, and soon the congregation followed suit.

Jesus was the laughter of his soul.

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