"For the world never learns -- just as we did
They gallantly go to their fate,
Unheeded all warnings, unheeded
The maxims of elders sedate."
From “A Voice from the Town” ~ Banjo Patterson
A little over a week later, Jemimah had just stopped on the footpath outside the school to close the gate when she heard a confident male tread approaching behind her.
“Did you get kept in at school this afternoon?” Matt Gordon’s smile greeted her as she turned around to face him, “I went by your place and saw you weren’t home yet. You didn’t forget about dinner, did you?”
“No, I’ve been finishing around this time since school began. I find I can get all my preparation done, and fit in a circuit of the cross-country course and still be home not long after five.”
“You’re running the cross-country? You?”
Jemimah laughed, relinquishing her heavy basket into Matt’s outstretched hand. “I know, unbelievable, isn’t it? I have to do it for sport with the children, so I’m trying to build up my stamina by practicing every afternoon. So far I’m up to a fast walk for the first half and a slow shuffle for the rest.”
Matt had obviously changed and showered after finishing work today; his face was clean shaven and his shirt, while very smart, would be too modern for his job at the Courthouse. Although her hair was still damp, Jemimah was glad that she’d showered and dressed back into her school clothes before leaving. She felt a little silly doing that after exercising each afternoon when her home was so close by, but she hadn’t liked the thought of running into anyone while hot and sweaty in her gym gear.
Today it meant she didn’t have to rush straight home, and she readily agreed to Matt’s suggestion that they head straight to the pub for an early tea. It was hard to believe a whole fortnight had passed since she’d first met Matt at the general store; since the afternoon she’d sat chatting with Nan about starting school, time had literally flown by.
“It’s good to see you’ve survived your first week at school, anyway, Jemma,” Matt said a little while later when he seated Jemimah at a table in the pub’s dining room. “Tell me all about it.”
“It’s been really good. I’d been so worried about everything - and of course, there were a few hiccups - but overall it went well. And you know,” she added, as though it was hard to believe, “most of the time it’s been fun.”
Matt laughed at this and said, “Oh, no! You’re not allowed to enjoy your job, you know.”
“Well, I am. The children are beautiful - I want to hug them all - and I’m getting to do all the things that were special when I was at school. Do you remember Miss Carter and her big lolly jar? And her special stamps that she put on our hands and foreheads when we’d been good? And the little song Mrs Banks would sing before story time each day? I’m doing all of those with the children - and they love it too. Do you remember Mr Wallace’s game with spotting the horseshoe?”
“Certainly do. We’d be sitting at our desks and he’d ask us all to point to the horseshoe, and we’d look up to find it wasn’t where it had been the last time we’d seen it. And the one who found it first got a gold star …”
They reminisced over their early school memories, smiling over the good teachers and cringing over the not-so-pleasant ones. They paused while their meal was served, and then Jemimah bowed her head in a silent grace. When she looked up, Matt smiled and said, “I’m really glad to hear it is going so well for you, but I’m not surprised. You’ve got to be the perfect person for an infant’s teacher if there ever was one.”
Jemimah blushed at his compliment and shook her head, “No - it isn’t me, Matt. There’s been so many times this past week where things could have gone wrong, but God stepped in. Like when one of my children started acting up, right then Miss Armstrong came in - and she dealt with him immediately, and I knew then how to handle it the next time. And there’s a lady from church who helps in the classroom, and she quietly points me in the right direction when I’m not sure what to do, and so many other things like that.”
She took a deep breath, hoping that she could use this opportunity as another chance to witness to him. “It makes all the difference knowing that there are people praying for me, and that God’s answering their prayers, and mine. I couldn’t have got through this last week otherwise.”
“Whatever you reckon, Jemma, but I think you’re selling yourself short. When my hard work pays off, I’m not about to give the credit to God or anyone else!”
“But Matt, that’s robbing God of his glory. You mightn’t recognise it, but he’s helping you in everything you do, by his loving providence. I know you think you don’t need God - but it’s not just about you. We have to obey God - and he tells us to be thankful and acknowledge what he does for us. When we don’t, we’re sinning against him … and he will punish us for that.”
Matt quirked an eyebrow at her, obviously amused. “So the wrath of God is going to fall on me because I’m honest about being good at my job, and earning the regard I get?”
“No - yes - no, it’s more than that.” Jemimah felt sick with nerves, but was determined to try the approach that Angie had suggested. “You see, we might think we’re good people and not doing anything so terribly wrong - but that’s only compared to our own standards. When we compare ourselves to God’s standards - like in the Ten Commandments - we can see that we are guilty before him. Do you know what the Ten Commandments are?”
“Go on, Jemma, I can see you’re dying to tell me.” Jemimah’s hands might be shaking, but Matt was perfectly relaxed. He sat back and finished off his beer while she nervously recited the Ten Commandments to him.
She half suspected Matt was just enjoying watching her bumbling attempts to explain her faith, the way he’d always done at school, but she had to try to get through to him that he really did need Jesus to forgive his sins.
“So you’re saying we have to keep the commandments to get into heaven?” he asked when she had finished.
“No - that’s the point. We can’t keep them, no-one can, because we’re born with a sinful nature that just can’t make the choices that please God. The point is that the commandments - God’s law - show us that we need God. They show us how bad we are and that we do deserve to be punished, and need to be saved from that punishment.”
Matt cut the last of his steak from the bone and said, “So we don’t really need to keep the law at all? Once you’ve seen that you’re bad it’s served its purpose and you can do what you like?”
“No, the law is still important because it--” Jemimah searched for the right word, “it represents what God is like and how we are to please him. If we love God, we do want to please him by keeping his law and living the way he wants us to. If we don’t try to obey God it proves that we don’t really love him after all.”
“So someone who says they’re a Christian but doesn’t try to keep the commandments isn’t saved after all?”
There was something about the glint in his eyes as he waited for her answer that made Jemimah feel like the mouse beneath the cat’s paw, but she could only agree with what he said. “Yes, the Bible says that if we love God we will obey him.”
Matt chuckled. “Then why are almost all of you Christians breaking the fourth commandment every single week - ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,’ huh? The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, and not the first.”
Jemimah’s mouth fell open, and she took a nervous sip of water before answering. “But we do keep the Sabbath day, it’s just that now it is on a Sunday. It’s the same thing …”
“No, it’s not - one is the law God gave, and one is the modern church’s choice to do something different. So how can you say you’re not choosing to break his commands? Doesn’t that mean you’re all not really Christians?”
Jemimah ran her tongue over her lips, her mouth suddenly dry. She didn’t know, she just didn’t know the answer. She always accepted that was what the church did now, have the Sabbath on the first day instead of the seventh, but she didn’t know why. Or whether it was anywhere in the Bible …
No wonder she did no good in witnessing to Matt, Jemimah thought miserably, she could never answer his questions well enough. How could she ever convince him about God when he could see she really didn’t know what she was talking about?
Tears were stinging her eyes, and Matt reached out to squeeze her hand.
“I’m just teasing you, Jemma - I didn’t mean to make you upset. I think it’s gorgeous the way you’re so eager about your faith, but you’ve got to not take it so seriously. The whole thing about religion is that it’s full of flaws and contradictions, if you look at it too closely it will fall apart before your eyes. That’s the whole point of it being faith - you have to believe in something that really doesn’t make sense. That’s fine for you to hold on to if it makes you happy, and I know it does, but when you try to push it on other people you can’t be surprised when they point out the problems with it.”
Jemimah blinked rapidly, willing herself not to give in and cry. “I’m sorry ….”
He gave her a reassuring smile. “Don’t be, I know you well enough to know where you’re coming from. That makes all the difference, I know you’re not trying to impose your religion onto me just for the sake of it. You really are trying to do me a good turn, aren’t you?”
“And I bet you won’t give up until you’ve converted me,” he laughed. “Well, I hope you’ve got good stamina. I don’t mind you trying so long as you don’t mind me giving it right back. But I don’t want to spoil your faith for you, either. I feel a bit mean, like telling a kid there’s no Santa.”
“No, if what I believe really is true, it will survive your questions,” Jemimah said a little shakily, “I just wish I knew all the answers for you.”
The publican’s daughter appeared with the dessert menu, and Jemimah was relieved when the natural turn in the conversation led on to more relaxed areas. Matt’s question about the fourth commandment on the Sabbath day had left her truly shaken - not only because she felt she’d failed him by not being able to explain it to him - but because she couldn’t explain it to herself.
She’d only brought up about the Ten Commandments because Angie had told her it was a good way to show Matt his sin and his need of salvation - but it had been a total disaster. What if Matt was so fed up with her trying to witness that he didn’t want to see her anymore? She might never get another chance to get it right.
Although she tried to keep cheerful for the rest of the evening, Jemimah was still feeling pretty low by the time Matt walked her home.
“Same time, Tuesday week?” he asked as he stopped by her door.
“Oh.” Jemimah couldn’t conceal her surprise. “You still want to have tea with me? I thought … I thought you might be sick of me talking about what I believe.”
“Of course not. Look, I can’t help but stir you about it, because I think it’s entirely irrational - but it’s part of who you are, Jemma. I wouldn’t want you to change that for the world.”
Jemimah let out a slow breath. “Thank you. And I’ll do my best to find out about what you asked about the Sabbath day …”
Matt laughed, “Don’t worry about it, I really couldn’t care less. The truth is ever since I read a leaflet I got in the mailbox from the Seventh Day Adventist’s I’ve wanted to throw the question at someone from another denomination and see what they made of it. That’s one of the reasons I don’t have any time for religion - there are so many different opinions and they all contradict each other. And it’s why I can’t stand people trying to shove their particular brand down my throat, and tell me it is the only right one.”
He lightly brushed the tip of her nose with his finger. “I don’t mean you though, Jemma. I know you well enough to realise you only mean well. See you in a fortnight!”
He stepped off the stairs, and gave her a cheery wave goodbye from the end of the path. Jemimah watched him disappear down the street, feeling she had been given at least one more chance to get it right. But for now, what weighed most heavily on her mind was the question Matt had raised about the Sabbath. He mightn’t really care about what the answer was - but she did.
Jemimah closed the door behind her and went straight through to her bedroom, but after flicking through her Bible for nearly an hour she was no closer to finding any verse which explained why the church would move the Sabbath to a Sunday. It was only when she was standing in the shower, having given up in despondency, that she remembered the Confession of Faith that she’d put unread in her bedside drawer the night Pastor Turnbull had given it to her.
Barely pausing to dry herself off and pull on her nightie, Jemimah dashed back into the bedroom and took the little book out. She scanned the contents page, hoping the vague memory she’d had of seeing a section on ‘The Sabbath’ was accurate, and breathed a relieved “Yes!” when she found it.
Jemimah turned to the page then lay down across the bed, holding the book in front of her as she read. There were several paragraphs about other aspects of worship, but the paragraph relevant to why the New Testament Church had changed to meeting on the first day of the week was only brief.
As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God's appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord's day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.
Exodus 20:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10
She had been right in thinking there had been no one passage in the Bible that spelt out the change from the Sabbath day on the seventh day of the week to the Lord’s day on the first of each week, but the Bible references gave a sample of the accounts of the New Testament Church meeting together on the first day, and the first day of the week being referred to as the Lord’s Day by Christ’s followers. It was a relief for her to confirm that the change had been made under the leadership of the Apostles in the early church directly following the resurrection of Jesus - and not something that had been added centuries later.
Jemimah read the paragraph in the Confession of Faith over and over. She wished there had been more information, but even so, it had given her a couple of ideas to follow up. It would be good to look through the whole of the New Testament for other references to the Christians meeting together on the first day of the week, and she wanted to find out more about the connection between Christ’s resurrection and the change from the Old Testament Jewish Sabbath to the observance of the Lord’s Day.
So this is what Pastor Turnbull meant about knowing for yourself why you believe what you believe, she mused, a little ashamed that it had never crossed her mind before to find out about it for herself. Wondering what else she had taken for granted about the Lord’s Day, Jemimah began reading over that whole section in the confession.
It was only when her eyes began jolting over the page that she had to lay the book on the cabinet beside her bed. Tired as she was, her mind was still fired with the thought of learning more about the biblical reasons behind the things she’d always believed.
Pastor Turnbull had mentioned she’d be welcome to come to the Bible Study he held at his home on Tuesday nights, where a small group were working their way through the various doctrines of the Bible. She’d dismissed it at the time, feeling she had more than enough to handle with two in-depth sermons each Sunday - but now she wondered whether she should go after all.
It would be a nice break from the long evenings alone in her flat listening to her neighbours fight, and on the coming Tuesday night she wouldn’t even be seeing Matt Gordon. The following week, when he was back in town, she could probably still go to the study group - if she met Matt early and went straight to the Turnbull’s after tea.
As Jemimah slid under her sheet, she tried to remember who Pastor Turnbull said came to the group. Angie and Nan, of course, would be there, and she thought Pastor Turnbull had mentioned Karen’s husband, Colin, as well as a couple of people she didn’t know so well yet. One other name came to mind just as she reached out to her bed lamp - Jack Hart.
Jemimah switched off the light with a sigh. There had to be a complication to everything, she thought, but then shrugged. Surely even Jack Hart would be on his best behaviour in the Pastor’s home.
© R. L. Brown 2007