There is this adorable old church in our little town. It’s a ramshackle building, looks like it was abandoned years ago. And it’s no wonder, there are 6 other churches in this small town. Each one is struggling to stay alive. Struggling to be relevant and effective and doing the best they can with a handful of faithful members.
The other day I met an elderly gentleman, thin, walking with a cane, he looked like the wind might blow him over. And he was walking to the big city. He only had about 25 miles to go. He didn’t have a sign, or a thumb out for a ride….which is a good thing, because my wise husband has expressly forbidden me to pick up hitch hikers. So, he wasn’t exactly a hitch hiker. Just a hiker. With a cane.
Turns out this old man lives in that old, tumble down church. A church with no heat, no water, and no electricity. I’m guessing the roof leaks. I’m guessing there is no insulation. I’m guessing most of the windows are boarded up and broken. I’m guessing there are rats and roaches.
And he’s not alone. There are more of them, living in this church.
When I was a little girl, my Grandmother would sit me on her lap and play a game with her hands, folding them and twisting them and saying “Here is the Church, Here is the Steeple, Open the Doors, and Where are the People?” Then she would twine her fingers through and they would appear and she would say with joy, “Here are the people!”
Where are the people?
Why are there six churches, paying for heat, and water, and electricity, and sitting empty 6 days out of the week, and only half full for a few hours on Sunday? What if they combined, shared a building, and if they couldn’t get along and really didn’t like each other, they could have separate services, or even meet on Saturday? What if they opened the doors of the extra church buildings and filled them up with….the People.
Where am I?
I’m in my nice warm house. With my pantry full of food. And my loving family. And my extra coats and blankets in the closet. Because I might need one that color to go with that outfit. The power could go out in an ice storm, and I might need those extra blankets to keep warm. You know, in case the generator doesn’t keep us as toasty as we’re used too.
“If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” Said who? Says Jesus. I’m guessing He would say a few words to me about my closet full. But wait, I mean, wasn’t he speaking in a parable? Or figuratively? Or theoretically? Or Hyperbolically? Helvetically? Ummm, no. Not getting that. Pretty sure he meant it. And I’m pretty sure I prefer to skim over that part.
My husband and I were eating out, pre-PANDAS crazy diet, at our favorite little hole in the wall, mom and pop restaurant. It was us, and a man at the table beside us. He was professionally dressed, quietly journaling and reading, as he ate his meal alone. When the waiter came by check on him, I overheard (read, “eavesdropping” here), the following conversation:
Waiter: “I really like your ring.” (Making conversation, angling for a nicer tip.)
Man: “Thanks, my Uncle left it to me when he died. I’ve always liked it too. Would you like to have it?”
Waiter, stunned: “Are you serious?”
Man: “Yes, I’d like to give it to you, as a gift.”
Waiter: “Why would you give me your ring? That’s a really nice ring.”
Man: “My Father gave me the greatest gift I could ever ask for when He sent His Son to die for me on the cross. There is no gift that I could give that would compare. This is a small gift compared to the gift He gave to me.”
The waiter accepted the ring, and went back to the kitchen. I’m sure he told the entire staff what had just occurred. And he probably tells this story every time someone comments on his ring. I’d like to think that, anyway. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never seen an act of spontaneous generosity that compared to the one I witnessed in that restaurant among strangers. It was truly the greatest sermon I’ve never heard.
Now, for “the rest of the story.” Close your eyes. Oh, forget that, you have to open them to read this. Ok, picture the man at the table, and the waiter. And then the non-hitchhiker with the cane. Now picture me and my husband. What color are we? Honestly, you have a picture in your mind…I know you do. And I’m guessing this is going to offend some of you. The man with the ring was black. The waiter, also black. The hitch hiker, he was black too. As for my color, it’s a lovely shade of pale, with a tint of green from a bout of tummy troubles. But nevermind about that. The thing of it is, generosity doesn’t have a color. Love, is not colorblind, it’s every color in the crayon box. But the adverse is also true. Hate….it’s men in black masks. Fear….hides itself in the daylight and masquerades as bravery after dark. Jealousy…is a shade of green most often seen in the sewer. And after puking.
I wish I could say that I’ve done something, for those folks living in that church. I wish I could say I left a bag of groceries and a bunch of sweaters and warm socks. But I’d be lying. I haven’t done a damn thing. (Pardon my language, but it’s the only appropriate word.)
And I have no excuse. But I hope the Lord gives me a chance to remedy that.