A dangerous thunderstorm moved through our part of eastern North Carolina on Friday night. It was loud, dramatic, and as impressive as any in recent memory. The first reports said the front would move north of us and miss the island. That didn’t happen. The clouds shifted and darkness fell like Wiley Coyote’s anvil in the middle of an empty desert.
The gray explosions in the distance closed in quickly. The concussions and cracks of the thunder were followed by immediate flashes of lightning. When this thing happened, it was right on top of us. Nothing was seven, ten, or fifteen miles away. The sound and light were as one. The parsonage shook. The dogs cowered. The wind blew and the rain barely poured. This wasn’t a midsummer night’s thunderstorm. Mother Nature was cashing in Her chips and going all in on our souls. This was a Friday night poker game between the forces of good and evil and the people of Ocracoke were up for grabs.
Between nine and ten o’clock it got nasty. Somebody got angry. Demons drank too much and played their music far too loud. The emotions between heaven and hell became raw. Had someone been cheating? That’s when I saw the lightning fall. The closer to Earth the fire came, heaven was that much more likely to be ripped apart. Once, now twice, with God all in, the devil felt obliged to call. “Let’s see you cards, cowboy.”
“Straight flush,” the cowboy told Old Scratch. “And you’re holding nothing more than three of kind or my name’s not well, you know who I Am.”
Mr. Scratch flipped over his cards. There they were: three aces, a king, and queen. Three of a kind; he’d lost again. As he pushed the chips across the table, I heard the sky rumble deep and low, toward the north.
“Hot days make for long nights,” said Old Scratch.
“I’ll keep my souls and be on my way, old man. You’d be wise to do the same,” said the cowboy.
“Oh, I’ll go.” Scratch said as stood and flipped his chair over on the floor. At that moment, the low deep rumble from the chips faded and a single, grand bolt of lightning came from the sky and struck the cross on top of the United Methodist Church’s steeple. The cross was blown to pieces. Scratch was a sore loser.
Scratch left with his demons in tow. He had forgotten the most important lesson of the cross: crosses are all about saving things.
The rest of the church was unharmed. Sure the organ was damaged and the printer needs replacing. Some of the more superstitious folks in the community might believe the local Methodist church getting hit by lightning is a sign of God’s displeasure. No doubt this is because the preacher is a theological liberal with outspoken opinions.
The preacher, however, knows the truth. Sometimes you get hit by lightning, despite all you do to serve Jesus. Jesus is not Zeus. God doesn’t send messages with thunderbolts. God’s messages are sent with love; person to person. Our destroyed cross reminds me of the greatest gift one person can give another. Broken crosses mean death is destroyed. Broken crosses mean salvation not condemnation.
In my mind, the only being who would destroy a cross is a half-wit loser like Mr. Scratch. He’s out there, on his way to a Klan rally or another divine poker game, looking to sabotage the one thing embodying God’s perfect love for humanity. Don’t make the mistake of confusing a message from God with evil messing around on a Friday night. We ought to know better by now. God works in mysterious but predictable ways.