A Sermon Without A Sting

Nothing gets folks riled up like a mean old wasp flying around, and when a lot of wasps fill the air, the fun begin. I recall how much joy I got out of watching red wasps flit about the sanctuary at New Hope when I was a boy.
I knew from great personal sacrifice that a wasp sting is one painful sting, among the worst stings in fact. And so it was with keen interest that I watched red wasps flutter about in New Hope Church in the 1960s. Throughout my boyhood, I was certain a wasp would nail a member of the congregation some day giving me a memory for life.
All this wasp foolishness came about quite by accident. I was in the process of researching material for a book I’m writing on the blues and how the shag developed when I came across a 1953 newspaper with a small news item buried low on the front page. There it was. “Wasp Disturbs Church Service.”
I couldn’t read the little story without smiling. Here’s what the story said.
“A buzzing wasp came near upsetting a church service Sunday at the Ocean Drive Presbyterian Church. The church’s pastor, Rev. Howard C. Leming, in the midst of his sermon was ‘dive-bombed’ by a big wasp which came down out of the church’s rafters.
After discreetly dodging the insect’s assaults for several minutes, the harassed minister cut loose and swatted at the pesky varmint with a hymnbook. Finally the wasp flew down into the congregation and lit on the top of a bald-headed church member who swatted him into eternity.
The subject of the pastor’s sermon for the day was “Temperance and Temper and How to Control Them.” Reverend Leming said later that he was “thankful for the opportunity of illustrating his sermon with a vivid example.”
Well, there’s something about baldheads that wasps like. Maybe a gleaming pate looks like an airfield to Mr. Wasp. Maybe it sends out a secret signal that says, “All clear for landing!”
How well I remember watching a wasp come in like a glider one day to make a perfect landing on Mr. Harvey Bonner’s bald head. I was sitting right behind him with a wasp’s eye view of the matter. Though he was fully focused on the sermon, Mr. Harvey knew something was up literally. I saw just one tiny flex of a neck muscle. And then he sat as still as a stone while that wasp cakewalked around his bald head.
The wasp must have been on his head five minutes. I half expected its mate to fly down and start building a nest. But no other wasps arrived. The bold wasp that had staked a claim to Mr. Harvey’s head crawled around in tight circles, flexing its wings as if it was about to take off. It crawled north, south, east, and west. And then it raised its shiny blue tail and I just knew Mr. Harvey was about to get a jolt from Hell itself. But no, it just wagged its tail up and down like it was practicing stinging.
“Shoot,” I thought. “That wasp’s a dud.”
After sufficiently mapping Mr. Harvey’s head, the venomous critter crawled down the side of his head, stepping out onto the man’s right hear. I must admit that I was secretly praying, “Oh Lord, don’t injure Mr. Bonner but do let this wasp releaseth its stinger into yond man’s ear.”
After doing a few pirouettes on the tip of his ear, the wasp set sail and returned to the ceiling where the cycle began anew.
Now most folks would lie and say, “Oh I sure hope that wasp doesn’t hurt that fellow.” Not me. I wanted the wasp to sting Mr. Harvey, not to do him pain, of course, but to create a disturbance. I was curious as to what he might do when the wasp let him have it. Perhaps he would have been stoic and simply endured the pain or maybe he’d have shouted “Hallelujah! Praise be to God” and run outside. Or most likely he would have slapped the wasp into eternity as that fellow in Ocean Drive did back in 1953.
I don’t ever see wasps in church nowadays. One of the great steps backwards in church entertainment was the advent of central air conditioning. Sure makes entertainment in church hard to come by. All the windows are sealed shut. Central air does its job quietly and efficiently and the wasps? Well, they are nowhere to be found.
Before New Hope installed central heat and air, wasps were regular attendees at Sunday services. They’d cluster by the handful up in the ceiling where the electric cords attached to the ceiling. As other wasps joined the fun, a cluster would get bigger and bigger. Then, suddenly, it was too big! That’s when it fell toward the congregation, a swarming ball of evil.
As it fell, the wasps broke away one by one and flew back up to the ceiling. A few wasps, however, no doubt disoriented, would buzz the congregation causing great spurts of joy to fill my heart. Older ladies in hats would bat their funeral home fans about with more zest than usual, and I can assure you their eyes were not on the preacher. Oh, no. They were following every move those satanic wasps made.
And then that one courageous wasp risked being swatted into eternity by landing on Mr. Bonner’s head. Too bad it was such a dud. One of the great disappointments in my life will always be the fact that not once did a wasp sting a church member during one of Dr. Warren Cutts’ soul-cleansing sermons.
And Mr. Harvey? If you ask me, he should receive a posthumous Purple Ear for the courage he displayed so many years ago.

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