We were about as different as two men could be. If we had been singing, I would have been the high tenor while he sang bass an octave low. His voice was so deep it rumbled like a semi using a jake brake on a downgrade.
We worked well together, getting a lot done that morning. We were tentative with one another, feeling each other out, searching for a comfort level. All that changed when we took our lunch break. After going through the line and filling our plates with barbeque and beans, we made ourselves as comfortable as we could while sitting on piles of building materials.
Just when I got my mouth full of barbeque, my new friend suddenly grew talkative. Putting on his best imitation cotton-field voice, he rumbled, "Has you ever noticed how white folks and black folks smell pretty much the same once we gits all hot and stinky?" I finally managed to quit coughing and sputtering, and got my food going the right direction when he hit me again.
"And has you noticed," he said, "that Methodist preachers and Church of Christ preachers say pretty much the same thing when we hits our thumbs with a hammer?"
Not quite so unprepared this time, I said, "I didn't realize you heard me say Dagnabit."
His deep belly laugh made my teeth vibrate, and he said, "Well, if that's your story, you better stick to it, but that ain't what I thought I heard."
He had one more zinger for me: "I bet it would really make your day if you could get this old boy straightened out on baptism and music."
"Listen," I said, trying to get back in the game, "if you are ready to be baptized, you need to find somebody else to help you, because right now, I'd hold you under so long the only music you'd hear would be harps and trumpets!"
The ground shook again as he laughed like Fat Albert and said, "You know somethin'? You all right... unless you hits your thumb again!"
Right after lunch my new friend disappeared. I found him on his hands and knees, writing scripture verses and short prayers with a magic marker. Someone had obviously told him church volunteers often wrote like that on parts of the house that would be covered with finish materials. He had selected the sub-floor as his place to write. At first I thought he was so big he was having trouble getting up. Then I realized he was not only writing the prayers, he was praying the prayers.
I introduced him to the woman whose family would live in that home. She was fulfilling the "sweat equity" required of all Habitat homeowners, who continue to do volunteer work after their own home is completed.
At the end of the long, hot day, when my ten-pound tool belt felt like fifty, I trudged almost half a mile to where my truck was parked. Easing my aching muscles into the driver's seat, I realized I had seen and lived the gospel that day, and I hadn't even been to church. Church may be where the gospel is preached, but the world is where it is lived.
Church has been my life, but I'm not sure Jesus likes that. He didn't spend much time in the pulpit, but he did his preaching from a boat, on a mountain side, in a living room in Bethany, by a well in Samaria. If he were alive today, is it possible he would choose an unfinished Habitat house for his pulpit?
My new friend suddenly had a soft voice that didn't rumble. "You're all right," he said. As I began to protest, he added, "by the grace of God, you're all right."
I could accept that, gratefully realizing that no other power in the world could make me all right.
By the grace of God!