The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon

Willimon, William H.

Westminster John Knox, 2010

p. 102

Willimon’s father-in-law, Carl Parker, retired from the ministry for the third time in the fall of 1989, declaring that, at long last, it was time for him to retire for good and “move to the mountains of Hendersonville [S.C.] to live among the Floridians.” At his retirement service he wanted some “sweet soprano voices to sing his favorite, ‘The Ninety-and-Nine.’ Carl Parker preached . . . Something about the depth and breadth, the height and width of the love of God. . . Then he spoke about the man who was to die in the electric chair in South Carolina the next day. . . Somebody had held a service of remembrance for this man’s victims and their families. He had killed a couple of people, maimed others, in his rampage of terror. The preacher at that service had declared that he wished they would let him ‘throw the switch on this piece of refuse who destroyed those innocent lives.’ Mr. Parker went into lurid detail describing the crimes of this man. ‘And yet,’ he said, ‘today’s Scripture, as well as the sweet song we have heard, says that God loves that man on death row, values his soul just as much as God values us.’ The congregation got real quiet. ‘Why, according to Jesus’ story of the Lost Sheep, God will gladly leave us ninety-and-nine gathered here in the fold this morning and go to Columbia to death row to get hold of that one lost sheep. And when God finds him. God’s more happy to have him than to have all of us safe ones here in church.’

I noted, at the end of the service, that the congregation seemed a lot more willing to let Preacher Parker go on and retire to Hendersonville.”