And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Thus says the Rev. Paul Bond, pastor of Atherton United Methodist Church, as He begins reciting the “Sermon on the Mount” – word by word, sentence by sentence – as recorded in Matthew 5-7 in the Holy Bible.
Wearing sandals and dressed in the likeness of Jesus of Nazareth, Pastor Paul faithfully preaches this iconic sermon every two years, since he first brought the sermon to life in 1976 at Cole Camp (Missouri) United Methodist Church. Already this year, the Independence pastor has delivered the sermon – which includes “The Beatitudes” – to two different churches in Eastern Jackson County.
“The whole point in memorizing the scripture is to present the sermon the way you think Jesus would have presented it. You preach it like you would any other sermon,” he says. “Then you put emphasis here and there, where there is a need for emphasis,” explaining: “It is a lot more doable when preached with emphasis. ...You can pause and say it like Jesus might have done it. Of course, there's lot of variations that you can do. So people have appreciated it, and it's something I can do.”
What inspires him to preach the “Sermon on the Mount” from memory, he says, is that he thought it would be a good way to let Jesus speak for himself.
“It's a powerful, powerful sermon without all the silliness and interpretations that preachers like to put into it. ...If you do it right, people can feel it and get something from it. It's a powerful sermon just on its own legs. It doesn't need somebody to be explaining it all the time – except for little places here and there – and I do that in my introduction. But I don't do much,” he said.
Has Paul ever lost his train of thought? “Very few times,” he says. “I always have my script handy just in case I need it. Most of the time I have no trouble. I have (the sermon) down so thoroughly that I can probably recite the whole (25-minute) sermon now.”
Recitation of the “Sermon on the Mount” isn't Paul's only talent. He is also a skilled puppeteer who uses some 40 hand puppets to minister to the kids on Sunday mornings. Occasionally, he uses them in the regular service to speak to the adults.
His love of puppetry evolved as a young father watching “Sesame Street” on TV with his 2-year-old son, Justin. Infatuated with the show and its puppets, Paul purchased some hand puppets to enhance the children's sermon. So in 1975, Paul introduced Hoagy and Herman – for the first time – to the youngsters at Cole Camp where he was pastoring. Later, Spiffy the Spider and Mertimer the Mouse were added to the puppet troupe.
Says Paul: “I think a lot of people identify with the puppets. In many cases, they get more out of the puppet part of the service. It's very short – usually three to five minutes at the most. So you make your point quickly and you are done. That works better these days than anything.”
As for Spiffy the Spider and Mertimer the Mouse, Paul says you might find them in a corner of the Bethlehem stable – on that holy night – telling the Christmas story.
Paul, a board member of Puppetry Arts Institute in Independence and an outstanding woodcarver, is no stranger to “Around Town.” He was last featured May 1, 2015, revealing how he took a 7-foot tree stump in his front yard and turned it into a 6 1/2-foot oak statue of the Savior.
Since completing the life-size statue, Paul couldn't resist asking his neighbors across the street from his home at 38th Street South and Scott Avenue if he could take the 3-foot stump in their front yard and carve something from it. After all, he says. “The stump was in such a good place, was easy to get to and was crying out for me to do something with it.” With permission granted, the excited wood-carver wasted no time creating what neighbors Michael and Stephanie Lopez had requested: a squirrel holding a large acorn in its paws. Carving began last summer on Pearl, the squirrel. It was completed in a couple of months.
Then there was the neighbor at the end of 38th Street South who drew a caricature and asked his friend, Paul, who was his “walking-dog buddy,” if he would carve his drawing into a 6-foot stump in his backyard. He readily accepted the challenge, using his neighbor's caricature pretty much straight on – except for the nose. “He just had a button nose, and I decided I wanted a real nose. So I did that.”
Though ill at the time, Paul says his neighbor lived to see his finished caricature. “I was told that after the caricature was done (late last summer), he would go out in his yard, look at (the carving) and admire it.”
For Bond, itching to get his hands on a chainsaw, chisel and hammer, the summer of 2016 is shaping up as a busy, productive one. Leaning against his garage is a 6-inch slice from a large oak tree waiting for Paul to put a face in it – perhaps that of a clown – “just for fun.”
Then there's another stump in Paul's yard reserved just for Barnabas, a mostly black Labrador mix breed with white paws, whom Paul calls his “walking buddy.” A rescue dog from the shelter, Barnabas has been part of the Bond family for 12 years.
“I will probably start on that (carving) pretty soon,” he says. “I think I am going to have him lying down. ...I know how I want him to look without using a drawing. I want him to be half lying down on an elbow and looking out toward the street at something.”
Will Barnabas be Paul's last carving?
“No,” Paul says, noting he has another soon-to-start project awaiting him in his basement. “My daughter (Netanya) wants me to do a carving of her beagle. It will be one of those rainy-day projects when I can't get outside to carve. ... “I am not ready to quit. I'll just keep on going until I can't anymore,” he says, explaining he doesn't (carve) for its therapeutic value. “I do it because it is something I can do. I can express myself. It does give you a sense of satisfaction.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.