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Pastor Jeremiah Steepek

"Pastor Jeremiah Steepek"You may have read the story of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek. I saw it on facebook, and I want to share it with you. Here’s the story:

Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service….only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food….NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation……..”We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek”….The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation…..The homeless man sitting in the back stood up…..and started walking down the aisle…..the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him….he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment….then he recited

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning…many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame…. he then said….Today I see a gathering of people……not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples…when will YOU decide to become disciples? He then dismissed service until next week…….Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others.

The particular version I saw on facebook had 52,144 “shares” and “42,710 people like this”.Then come the comments:

…This story isn’t true…

Well…
It didn’t happen. But the story is true!

Jesus says, “There was a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him…”
“A sower went out to sow…”
“A man found a treasure hidden in a field…”
“A woman took some leaven…”
“There was a man who had two sons…”

“Hang on, Jesus,” is the first reaction of some people to Jesus’ stories, “that’s not true.”
“You are lying!”

Well…
It didn’t happen. But the story is true!

…God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day…

“Well, that’s obviously false!” they say. “God hasn’t even made the sun yet, how can there be days?!”

Well…
It didn’t happen. But the story is true!

There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.

“Hang on there, Nathan,” you think King David said, “you’re just making that up! That’s not true, is it?!”  [Read the whole story in 2 Samuel 11-12]

Well…
It didn’t happen. But the story is true!
King David knew it was true. So true that it converted him.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright…

Yeah! Right! That’s not true. Where is this land of Uz anyway? Once upon a time in the Land of Uz…

The photo isn’t of “Pastor Jeremiah Steepek”. It was actually taken by Brad J Gerrard who writes:

I was walking down the street in Richmond, saw this man talking to someone, could see he was quite a picture in the making. On the way back, when he was free I had a short conversation with the gentleman and he agreed to let me photograph him. I liked the result. He was very friendly.

If we cannot cope with the truth being presented in the form of a story, we will struggle being a Christian, or a spiritual person generally, in our contemporary age.

For them, here is a version that (apparently) did happen:

Early morning on June 23, Willie lay under a tree on the church lawn covered up by a big overcoat. He still had not shaved or combed his hair. He wondered how many people would approach him and offer him food, or a place to sit inside an air conditioned room, or just see how they could help. Twenty people spoke to him and offered some type of assistance.

The sermon title was “The Least Used Parts of the Body” and based on I Corinthians 12:12-15. According to Pastor Lyle, “Often the least used parts of the body are the ones that mean the most, like our heart and mind. We need to understand that there are no small or least used parts in the body of Christ.
“Too many of us only want to serve God one hour each week. That doesn’t cut it. That is not God’s plan.”

While he preached, his daughter-in-law cut his hair and his daughter helped shave off his scruffy beard. He changed shoes, and beneath the overcoat, he was wearing his Sunday clothes. He put on a tie and his suit coat, all the while continuing to preach his message. Before the 200 people gathered that morning, he went from looking like a homeless person to the new pastor of the congregation.

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22 Responses to Pastor Jeremiah Steepek

  1. Tim says:

    Interesting to contrast Jesus’ saying as quoted in the story with the *injunction* form in James 2:.

  2. Eric says:

    There was another true version (or at least, true enough to get reported in the news) a few years ago in the news: Church Minister Shames Congregation By Dressing As Tramp (

  3. Robert W M Greaves says:

    I think there is a difference between a story which is true (this really happened) and a story which expresses truth (e.g., parables).

    I suspect many of the problems which arise from people taking an overly literal view of the Bible come about from us not being able to recognise the cues from the cultures of the Biblical writers which show which is a true story and which is a story which expresses truth.

    This story ignores the cues to the difference in our culture, and this is what upsets some people. To me, it’s dangerously similar to the way Dan Brown tries to blur the difference between the fiction and the factual in his books.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      With respect, Robert, I think your distinctions are quite culturally limited. Many who read your comment will think that the truth expressed in a parable can be expressed better as a statement. Others will treat a parable as an allegory. The midrash tradition will express the truth of a story in another story.

      The upset some people feel may be good energy to explore what these people think these cues actually are, and how do they affect understanding of the choice, presentation, and interpretation of “what really happened”?

      The edges between your true story and story that expresses truth are blurrier than you are suggesting. IMO.

      Blessings.

    • rachael says:

      I agree! Passing off a story that expresses truth as actual fact, is in fact lying. Christ did not tell parables saying they were true stories and later everyone found out they were just made up to make a point. He told them as Stories. And everyone was aware that they were such.

      • Bosco Peters says:

        Really, Rachael? So no one ever went and pointed to the “actual inn” where the Good Samaritan took the robbed man, and no one ever took Jesus’ saying “there was…” to literally mean “there was…”? And “Stories” never contain facts. And the two are never conflated or confused? Blessings.

  4. Robert W. M. Greaves says:

    Culturally limited? Probably. I live in a culture which is very different from my own and I witness (and suffer from) cultural misunderstandings on a regular basis. I try to be aware of my own cultural biases but no doubt there are some I’m not aware of. But even if it were possible to abandon my own culture I don’t think it would be desirable. God made us social creatures and had me raised in a particular culture which he chose for me for his own reasons.

    I would say the truth in parables can be expressed as a statement, but that doesn’t have to mean better expressed as a statement. Stories have more of an impact than bare statements of principles.

    Doesn’t Jesus’s explanation of the parable of the sower show that some parables are allegories?

    I’m quite happy with the idea that perhaps the difference tends to get a bit blurred at the edges. I’m told the difference between living and non living is also blurred at the edges when you get down to the level of viruses and bacteria and such. That doesn’t make the difference valueless as a way of understanding the world.

    Sorry for the long post, but you’re sending my brain whizzing off in all directions. ;-)

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks, Robert. I think whether parables can be allegories, and even whether Jesus’ explanation of the “parable of the sower” actually happened might be a digression too far :-) I want to continue to hold that Jesus’ parables are true, whether they happened or not.

      I find a parallel in metaphors. If someone says, “I fell in love”, or “I feel low”, I understand these statements to be true, even though I understand they did not actually happen: there was no actual falling involved, there is no change of height. Similarly parables etc. are metaphors in story form. That you see cues missing may be so, but most don’t pause to note that my fell and low statements are metaphorical and seek the cues to the difference between between “I fell in love” and “I fell in a hole”.

      So, for me, the Bible and all it contains is true. That does not mean I need to hold that it all happened.

      Blessings.

  5. Robert W. M. Greaves says:

    Parables as extended metaphors? Hmmm. I’ll have to do some thinking and re-reading. Thanks for a stimulating discussion.

  6. Hi Bosco,

    As I mentioned on Twitter, one of the ways I frame this kind of thinking is to distinguish between what is “fact” and what is “truth”. Let me explain thusly:

    I can learn all the facts about love – brain chemistry, heart rate changes, temperature changes, psychology, etc. – but until I have actually fallen in love, I do not know it’s truth. On the other hand, once I have fallen in love, I may not know the facts, but the truth is obvious.

    So, in the same way, I would say that the whole Bible is true, but not all of it is factual. Or, to use your words, all of it is true, even if not all of it actually happened.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Grace
    John

  7. David Earle says:

    This story follows quite an ancient form of a messenger of God appearing as a beggar or lowly visitor. It is a common form of folk tale in the Orthodox tradition – that Jesus will turn up unexpectedly as a beggar. We also see it mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures of entertaining strangers, who turn out to be angels. When I was checking online, I found reference to Lord Vishnu also turning up as a beggar in the Hindu tradition.
    So it is really a story we have known for thousands of years. That we encounter God when we least expect it – and God can appear to us on those we might judge to be least worthy of our attention and hospitality.
    I am saddened that we have lost our ability to appreciate the folkloric of these stories and must judge then solely on some criteria of historical accuracy. (I am equally saddened that anyone thinks Dan Brown writes anything other than fiction.)

  8. David Earle says:

    P.S. great post and thanks for presenting it this way.

  9. A great lesson disguised lie … fooled everyone pretending to be who was not … the lesson is … NOT TO LIE, because the devil is the father of lies … Jesus never pretended to be who was not …

  10. I am a new ELCA pastor. Coming from a more conservative, evangelical background, I struggled with this story. A friend shared a similar view to yours with me and I disagreed with her because the author of the story tried to convince us that the story was true – full name, picture and everything. But it didn’t really happen. How does one distinguish lying by looking for the truth in the lie? I especially saw no use for the made up story when there was a perfectly good true story that conveyed the same thing. Does our passage from Jeremiah 23 this week (speaking of Jeremiah Steepek) apply to the situation? I am sure there were truths conveyed in the false prophets’ dreams. This is why I struggle with accepting the story.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks, Mark. You again, too readily IMO, slip into a use of the word “true” that identifies that with “what actually, historically happened” when you say “the author of the story tried to convince us that the story was true“. I suggest that what is preferable is to discuss this as, “the author of the story tried to convince us that the story actually happened”. You do this again in talking about “…a perfectly good true story…” Blessings.

      • Rev. Peters,
        Thank you for your quick reply. I understand what you are saying, that I need to broaden my understanding of what is “true,” and that is precisely the problem. You failed to answer my question. How do you distinguish a lie (something we are not supposed to do) when looking for the truth in the lie? Author Michael Scott has a great quote in “The Magician,” “the best lie is wrapped around a core of truth.” Should one value the truth in a deception? Should we credit the serpent in the garden for the truth it told Adam and Eve? Isn’t there a danger in accepting all things said for the slightest glimmer of truth in them?
        A friend in Christ,
        Mark

  11. Although the story was true, the content of it is harmful. To teach something of God do not lie …

    Aunque la historia fuera cierta, el contenido de ella es algo dañino. Para enseñar algo de Dios no se debe mentir…

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.