Coolidge Winesett was an older gentleman who lived in rural Wythe County, Virginia. His house was old and the toilet was at the end of a long trail. I told you it was rural.
One Saturday a few years back, according to the Danville, Virginia, paper, Coolidge was sitting on the toilet when the rotten floor gave way. He was plunged into the 15 foot deep pit which was half filled with the muck and mire (I’m bending over backwards here to keep it nice) of decades of use. He was injured and in pain, and unable to get out. He yelled and yelled, but because of the isolation of his place, no one heard him. Soon he was hoarse and gave up yelling.
On Sunday, it rained. Big rats came into the toilet along with all kinds of creepy-crawly things.
On Monday, Jimmy Jackson, rural mail carrier, left Coolidge’s mail in his box. On Tuesday, he noticed the mail was untouched and decided to check. That’s when he saw the front door of the house was open. As he walked around the house, calling for Coolidge, he heard a faint voice coming from the toilet. He dialed 911, then ran to the home of the closest neighbor for help.
The two men pushed over the toilet, then crawled down into the “stuff” and took hold of their old friend and lifted him out.
This story came to me from Don Davidson, now pastoring in Alexandria, VA, but at the time serving Mt. Hermon Baptist Church outside Danville. Don was doing a weekly devotional via fax in those days. He followed the story with something like this: A friend is someone not content just to send love notes or to call out words of encouragement. A friend is not content to call 911. But a friend will get down in the muck and mire with you and help you out.
Don ended his message with: Go be a friend to someone today.
I ran across that story this week from my journal of 2000.
When I posted it on Facebook, Don Davidson was first to comment. “I was thinking of this story just today,” he said.
Now, imagine that. It happened nearly 20 years ago and on the same day he and I think of it. In my case, I came across the story in my journal. I’d used it on my morning radio “phone call from the pastor” back then.
I told Don that just that morning after sharing the story with my wife–who was horrified at it, as you might expect–I had said, “Don won’t be using that story with his sophisticated, urban congregation.”
Why you just possibly might want to use this in a sermon…
One: You have a scripture for it.
It’s a pretty good illustration of the opening verse of Psalm 40. You know, the one about the Lord hearing my cry and bringing me up out of the miry clay, the pit of destruction, Although that is not exactly what the Psalmist had in mind, it makes the point.
Two: No one will ever forget it. Smiley-face goes here. They’ll try, but it won’t work!!
Why a preacher might not want to use such a story…
While we grant that some of the more delicate in the congregation will be offended by the story–“Pastor, why did you tell such a tale?”–others will love it and will be telling it all week.
But that’s not the reason I suggest caution in using it.
After you tell it, most of your audience will not hear another thing you say for the next ten minutes. Their minds will still be in that old rotten outhouse. They will be thinking of old man Coolidge Winesett and imagining what they would do if they were the mail carrier who found him there.
Any illustration that sucks all the air out of the room and overwhelms the rest of the sermon is probably not one you will want to us.
However, you’ll find a use for it. Maybe the next men’s meeting. Men will–you’ll pardon the expression–eat this up!