Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A lesson in gratitude . . .

I have much to be thankful for—I affectionately call him “horseradish man.” “Ray” is one of the regulars at the Community Meal. His is one of those faces and voices that I see and miss when he is absent. Still his words humble me. To put them in context, let's go back to Wednesday night. . .
Ray grabbed me and asked me if I had a second for him. It happens fairly frequently when we go to feed the homeless, so I had no expectation of what was about to happen. “Sorry I missed you guys last month.” I remembered that he was not there, and when it is freezing and one is dealing with the homeless, a missing familiar face can cause some worry.
“I wondered if you were ok,” I let him know.
“I figured. It's cool to be missed, but I wanted to let you know that I was not ungrateful.” He said.
“Ungrateful?” I asked.
“Ya. I just wanted you to know and for you to let your people know that I can't begin to thank you all enough for what you do for us.”
“Thank you. I will let them know.”
“It's just that the last time you guys served, it was Ash Wednesday.”
I thought about it and remembered my conversations with a few of the hungry back then. There was some genuine concern that we might be late for our church that night because we were feeding them. Some went the extra step of suggesting that we should not have served seconds, for fear of the time.
“You know, Ray, you're right. I had a bunch of people here worried we would be late for church.”
“Yeah, well, we are so grateful for what you guys do, and everyone wants to make sure you don't get in trouble with your people or your bishop by being late on such an important day.”
“I appreciate that, but the same people who make that food for you are the same people who show up for that service. They aren't going to complain too much, as long as I show up.”
“I suppose that's probably right. Anyway, I wasn't here because I realized it was Ash Wednesday and I had a lot to be thankful for and I need to go thank God. So, I went to the night service at that Catholic church over there where Big Paul was killed. You know the one? And I went to church and got ashes. I didn't eat, but the priest said it is a day of fasting. Do you fast on Ash Wednesday?
“And you still come here and serve food? Doesn't that make you hungry?”
“A bit. But I needed to be fasting.”
“I was being pulled in a bunch of different ways, and I needed to be reminded who it was that I served and to slow down and rest in Him. Sometimes I forget that it's not up to me.”
“I suppose that makes sense. You priests can get really busy, I guess.”
“You know what does not make sense?”
“What do you have to be thankful for?”
“Lots! I didn't catch pneumonia this winter, so I am healthy. I didn't have anything stolen. I still have my life—Big Paul lost his. I have been well fed. Heck, you guys gave me a meal I will never forget as long as I live. You even let me criticize it and defend me with all these guys when they thought I was being ungrateful. And you took the time to explain that your meal was nowhere near as good as the one He is making for us. I suppose you could say I still have my dignity, and many of us down here don't. Understand what I am saying?”
“Yes. Now I do. But I have a question for you. Why don't you share these insights with the others here?”
“They might think I was bragging and not be willing to list. What is it He says? 'Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing?' By the way, we read that on Ash Wednesday and then we all got marked with ashes. Why do we do that after reading that?”
“Yeah. Sometimes we don't pick readings to go with our services very well. Sometimes there is a bit of a disconnect. But I don't think you need fear that you are bragging. In fact, I think you should share your story to encourage others, particularly the ones who serve here and the ones who live like you are forced to. Maybe some of the servers will come to realize the impact they have made for His kingdom, and maybe the others here will begin to remember that they are loved by God as well.”
“I couldn't teach anybody anything about God.”
“You reminded me of some of His teachings tonight, Ray. And maybe that is the lesson He has given you to share with others.”
“Whaddaya mean?”
“Maybe it is your job to remind everyone here that they are loved by God and that everyone else is, too."
“I dunno about that, Father. I think I'll leave the teaching to you. Now, about that sharing, gotta Pepsi for a latecomer?”
Brothers and sisters, we gather this week to remind ourselves about Jesus and His Kingship. You and I would have picked an Adonis-like figure such as Saul, someone who looked the part of a king. But God had someone else in mind. Specifically, God had in mind a king never before seen in the world! His king would study His word and engage in the instruction of His people. His king would listen to and be guided by His prophet. His king would strive for justice and champion the cause of the widow and orphan. His King would serve His people. And His service of His people would cost dearly.
Our reading this week begins with a triumphal entrance. It ends, however, with a reminder of the cost of our freedom and our salvation: His body and His blood. Brothers and sisters, many of us realize that cost and offer our lives and our possessions in service of that wonderful King who came to save us. That fact is born out by stories such as Ray. Think of this for just a moment and give thanks to God that He would use you in His plan of salvation: your faithful service and loving creation of meals reminded at least one individual that he was loved by God and that, even in a homeless state, he had reason to thank God. Better still! Those of us who know Ray know that He will continue to share his stories and his thankfulness. Your fluff, your bread, your casseroles, your meatballs, your smiles, your ears were used by God to proclaim release to some of those around us who most needed to hear it!
Yet, some of us gathered here may only be waving palms because it is the thing that we do this day. For some of us present, this day is little more than when we line the streets to celebrate a Packers Super Bowl victory or a Chicago Bulls championship. It’s fun. It’s different. It’s even a great excuse to “tie one on.” But it really does not impact our life. Brothers and sisters, the events which we remember this week are the most important and significant events in human history! God’s messiah came. He taught us and loved us even when we refused to believe Him. And still He walked that road to Calvary. His love for us and His recognition of our need for Him was such that He went to the cross knowing that many of us would refuse His offer, would reject the door He created. Is He your King, just as He is Ray’s? Or is His story just an excuse for a meal and a party and not the way to eternal life?

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