My son John stepped onto our church's podium two Sundays ago and then took his place behind the pulpit.
It was his first sermon. Ever. He's 31 and works at a hospital. His education is in communications and business administration, not theology.
I pictured those in heaven who had spoken from the same platform: his mother, his grandmother, his grandfather. I thought of that line in Hebrews about a "great cloud of witnesses" who've lived faithfully and gone on to their eternal rewards.
I wondered whether they could see what I was seeing. If so, they must be popping the buttons on their celestial robes. If celestial robes have buttons.
Particularly I imagined my dad, the congregation's former pastor, a minister for 60 years all told, pacing proudly before Jesus' throne, pointing toward Bethesda Church and telling the Lord, "That's my grandson, you know! Now you bless him!"
John's always been a churchgoer, and since he was in grade school has, with only one temporary sabbatical, been a member of our church's music group.
But he never prepared for a religious vocation because he never wanted one. No thanks, he said whenever some well-meaning church member or visiting evangelist raised the subject. That's OK for Papa and Dad; it's not for me.
It still may not be for him, and that's fine.
Whether or not I've succeeded, I've tried not to pressure him toward the ministry. My dad used to say he was never sure where he got the call to preach, from the Holy Spirit or his mother, who pushed both her sons hard toward that vocation.
I've always felt my dad, in turn, pushed me, although I don't believe he meant to.
Therefore, I've tried (and tried) to take a hands-off approach with John.
Some months ago, though — attribute this as you may — I started getting a nagging feeling I should ask if he might like to preach a guest sermon.
I scooted the impulse aside.
But my nagging urge wouldn't go away.
Finally, one night on the phone, I said, "Have you ever thought maybe you'd like to speak some Sunday?"
"Yes, actually, I think about it quite a bit lately," he said. "I preach sermons in my head all the time."
Well, there you are.
When that Sunday rolled around, I experienced a jumble of emotions. I was proud, of course, to have a son willing to at least make a good-faith effort.
I was sad our departed loved ones couldn't be present in person to see it.
I also was nervous.
It occurred to me I'd never really heard John hold forth in public. When he was in high school, he appeared in several school plays. And he performed with his cousin in a local rock band.
But as for speaking alone before a crowd? No. He's a quiet, modest man.
Could he do it?
I'm happy to report that, by universal opinion — well, OK, congregational opinion — he knocked it out of the park. His message was everything mine usually aren't: short, laid back, linear, simple-yet-meaningful, funny. Short.
He said his Christian tenets could be summed up in a word: love. God loves us. He wants us to love each other.
Then he told about returning home one evening with his second daughter, Hadley, when she was a toddler. She had a favorite show she always expected to be playing on the TV. When they came in, something else was on.
Hadley had a meltdown. She started screaming and crying, heartbroken.
The thing was, he said, he'd noticed the television wasn't tuned to the right program before Hadley did. By the time she started squalling, he was already headed to the entertainment center to find the remote and start pushing buttons.
She seemed to think she'd never see her favorite program again while her dad had already set about fixing it.
John said that was kind of like God and us.
We get upset about tension at work or money issues or family debacles. We panic. Meanwhile, the Lord recognized the issue before we did. He's already on it, because he loves us, his children. He enjoys blessing us. We ought to relax and trust him.
For me, Sunday morning, Aug. 10, proved to be one of those rare, landmark times when everything felt preordained and right.
I don't know what any of this means in the grand scheme, and neither does John. Whether or not he'll end up eventually pursuing the ministry, who can say? He has no such plans, but he's no longer opposed.
In this matter, as in all matters, I'm doing my best not to try to predict the future, because when I do predict it I'm invariably wrong.
Still, I walked away that Sunday with a sense of continuity, of completion, feeling God had performed a special act for us, that, at least for a moment, he'd let our family come full circle: my dad, my mom, John's mom, me, John.
The third generation of Prathers had stood behind a Bethesda Church pulpit.
And the anointing rested on him.