This is a story I used in my last sermon to illustrate that God's love isn't limited by our human measures of respectability.
Fred Craddock is a lecturer at Phillips Theological Seminary in the United States. He tells of a time he was on holiday in Tennessee. He and his wife were having dinner at a restaurant when an old man started talking to them, asking them how they were doing and if they were enjoying their holiday. When the old man asked Fred what he did for a living Fred saw the chance to get rid of him - "I'm a preacher."
"A preacher? That's great. Let me tell you a story about a preacher." The old man sat down at their table and started to speak. As he did Fred's annoyance was changed to one of profound humility. The old man explained that he was illegitimate. He was born without knowing who his father was, a source of great shame in a small town in the early twentieth century. One day a new preacher came to the local church. The old man explained that as a youngster he had never gone to church, but one Sunday decided to go along and hear the new pastor preach. He was good. The illegitimate boy went back again, and then again. In fact he started attending just about every week. But his shame went with him. This poor little boy would always arrive late and leave early in order to avoid talking to anyone. But one Sunday he got so caught up in the sermon that he forgot to leave. Before he knew it the service was over and the aisles were filling. He rushed to get past people and out the door, but as he did he felt a heavy hand land upon his shoulder. He turned around to see the preacher, a big tall man, looking down at him asking, "What's your name, boy? Whose son are you?" The little boy died inside, the very thing he wanted to avoid was now here. But before he could say anything the preacher said "I know who you are. I know who your family is. There's a distinct family resemblance. Why, you're a child of God!"
The old man sitting at Fred Craddock's table said "You know, mister, those words changed my life". And with that he got up and left.
When the waitress came over she said to Fred Craddock and his wife, "Do you know who that was?"
"No" they replied.
"That was Ben Hooper, the two-term governor of Tennessee."