At the Western North Carolina Annual Conference Service of Ordination last week, United Methodist Bishop William Hutchinson preached a powerful ordination sermon. During a portion of the sermon, Bishop Hutchinson shared one of the multitude of great Fred Craddock stories, this one taken from the book "Awakened to a Calling". Here's what he said:
"Fred Craddock tells a wonderful story about a student he had one time in an advanced Greek class that was reading the Letter to the Romans in Greek. The class was small, because it was so advanced, consisting of about six students. I wish he were here to tell it, but if you’ve ever heard Dr. Craddock preach, maybe you can imagine him saying this:
“One of the fellows in the class – one girl and five fellows I think – one of the fellows came in a little late and already had on his tennis outfit. It was a one o’clock class. I hated one o’clock classes (and wasn’t too fond of morning classes, really). But he came in all ready for tennis. Had on his little stuff with alligators on it – you know, the little shorts and the shirt matched and the socks matched and he had a can of tennis balls and his tennis racquet and New Testament and he shoved all that under his seat and opened his New Testament, and said, “Sorry I’m late.” Well, I was a little aggravated. You’re not supposed to come into a Greek class happy, and he obviously was happy. You were supposed to creep like a snail and in great pain and ‘please don’t call on me’ – that’s the way you do it. And he came bouncing in like ‘tennis, anyone?’ He stopped off at the Greek class on his way to the court.
So naturally I called on him, because we were in a place like Romans 9 that is tough as toenails. If you get into the third-year Greek, you stay up a little longer that night because that is tough reading. I called on him. I said, ‘Would you translate the first four or five verses?’ So he did – beautifully. Well, I have got to do something here. I said, ‘Well, identify the nouns,’ and he identified the nouns, talked about each one of them.
You know, in the passage Paul says, ‘I’m telling you the truth; I’m not lying, God is my witness, my conscience is my witness, the Holy Spirit is my witness I have great sorrow – lupae.’ It is a word used to describe a woman having a baby. Hey, I have great sorrows. The words that were used to describe Jesus in Gethsemane, lupae, and unceasing anguish, odunae. Just the sound of the word in its anguish, odunae, is the word used to describe the rich man in torment who didn’t share his food with anybody and he’s in anguish. It’s with this word that Paul says, ‘I have this sorrow, this anguish. I get up with it in the morning and go to bed with it at night, it never stops, and I could almost wish myself to be damned if it would save my people.’ I said to him, the student, the tennis boy, I said, “Tell me about that verb ‘I could wish,’ ‘I could almost wish.’” He said, “Yeah, youcoma – that’s the first singular of youcomi. ‘I desire a wish,’ but it’s an unusual form.” He said, “Some people call it inchoate, not imperative; some call it tangential imperfect, inchoate imperfect. It expresses something that is almost but not quite. ‘I could almost wish myself to be damned for their sake.’” And Paul meant just that so I said, “Shut up.” The student just translated so well.
When the class was over and he was getting his can of tennis balls and tennis racquet and was ready to go bounding to the court, I stopped him. I said, “Would you stop a minute?” He said yes. I said, “What did you think about what you read from Paul?” He said, “What?” I said, “That ‘sorrow and anguish,’ and ‘could almost wish myself to be lost if it would save them.’” He said, “Aw Prof, I consider that really unprofessional. It’s not very professional.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well it’s not professional to get that close to people. Pretty soon their problems are your problems. You should keep your distance from people. See ya!”
For a moment I almost envied him. I don’t know if he went into ministry. You know, it’s possible that he went into ministry as a professional and is still doing it as a professional. But I felt heavy about it, because if he did he would miss that almost unbearable joy of almost hearing, every once in awhile, the groan of God and trying with all your art and craft to do something about it.” (Awakened to a Calling, edited by Ann M. Svennungsen and Melissa Wiginton, Abingdon, pp. 34-36)