One of the great preachers of our time is Dr. Fred
Craddock. Craddock tells a story about vacationing with
his wife one summer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night
they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked
forward to a private meal. While they were waiting for
their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-
haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the
guests. Craddock leaned over and whispered to his wife,
"I hope he doesn't come over here." He didn't want
anyone intruding on their privacy. But sure enough, the
man did come over to their table. "Where you folks
from?" he asked in a friendly voice.

"Oklahoma," Craddock answered.

"Splendid state, I hear, although I've never been there,"
the stranger said. "What do you do for a living?"

"I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips
University," Craddock replied.

"Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you?
Well, I've got a story to tell you." And with that, the
gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with
Craddock and his wife.

Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly and thought to
himself, "Oh, no! Here comes another preacher story!"

The man stuck out his hand. "I'm Ben Hooper," he said.
"I was born not far from here across the mountains. My
mother wasn't married when I was born, so I had a pretty
hard time. When I started to school, my classmates had a
name for me, and it wasn't a very nice name. I used to go
off by myself at recess and lunch time because the things
they said to me cut so deep. What was worse was going
to town on Saturday afternoons and feeling like every eye
was burning a hole through me, wondering just who my
father was.

"When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came
to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early.
But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I
got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I felt like
every eye in the church was on me. Just about the time I
got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked
up and the preacher was looking right at me. 'Who are
you, son? Whose boy are you?' he asked. I felt this big
weight coming down on me. It was like a big black cloud.
Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he
looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile
a big smile of recognition. 'Wait a minute!' he said. 'I
know who you are. I see the family resemblance now.
You are a child of God.' With that he slapped me across
the rump and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance.
Go and claim it.'

The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock
and said, "Those were the most important words
anybody ever said to me, and I've never forgotten them."
With that, he smiled, shook hands with Craddock and his
wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.

And as he walked away, Craddock--a native
Tennessee-an himself--remembered from his studies of
Tennessee history that on two occasions the people of
Tennessee had elected to the office of governor men who
had been born out of wedlock. One of them was a man
named Ben Hooper.

       -- Adapted from a Sermon by Fred Craddock.

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