I know I said I would talk about moving in this post, but I decided to put it off. I'll talk about moving later. Right now, I want to talk about something more interesting. I'm back now from Invitation to Service. It was just what I needed. It was a great experience, as always, and I'm really glad I got the chance to recharge.
I wanted to share with all of you some stories I got to hear at ITS this year, and the line of thinking I've been on since I heard them. This post will be rather long as a result, but bear with me. The first story is from our speaker this year, Pastor Glen Egertson. He talked about being a college student and being moved, one day as he was driving home, to pray, "God, I'm available. Use me." Just a few moments later, he saw a broken-down VW on the side of the road, and he knew how to fix VWs. So he pulled over, helped the person get their car running again, and sent them on their way. A few years later, he told the story to some Christian friends on a camping trip, and they decided to pray the same prayer as a group: "God, we are available. Use us." On the drive home from their camping trip, they saw an old man with a broken-down VW bus in the middle of the desert. Again, they pulled over, helped him fix his bus, and sent him on his way. Pastor Glen said that as he watched that old man drive straight into the setting sun, he was reminded of the passage from Hebrews: "Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels." And he told us a third time, when he prayed the same prayer, and had the same experience.
The second story is a bit more exciting. This one is from Pastor Steve Beckham, who leads ITS each year, and who also happens to be the pastor who married Steve and I. We had just heard this reading from Matthew 25: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' " I'll tell his story the way I heard it, from his point of view.
"When I was a seminary student, I was writing a paper late one night about Matthew 25. I was writing about this passage, where Christ says, whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. In my paper, I was saying, 'What if Christ means this literally? What if Christ really plays hide and seek with us in the hungry and the poor? What if the person you meet on the street asking for money is literally Jesus? Would that change the way you reacted?' As I was writing this paper, I started having huge cravings for chocolate. I kept telling myself to just keep working, finish the paper and go to bed, but I couldn't ignore these cravings. There wasn't a speck of chocolate in my whole apartment. So I'm thinking to myself, where can I get chocolate at this hour of the night? Well, the 7-eleven down the street is open, they probably have some kind of chocolate. So I got in my car, because it's Berkeley and I didn't really want to walk at night in Berkeley, even though it was only half a block, and drove over to the 7-eleven.
"When I got there, there was a man waiting just outside the door. He was obviously a bum, and I thought, 'He's going to ask me for money, what am I going to give him?' My friend and I used to carry around rolls of nickels, because there are so many panhandlers in Berkeley, and everybody asks for money. Christ says you should give to all who ask, so we would carry around rolls of nickels so we could give a little something to every person. But in my rush to get out and get some chocolate, I had left the roll back at my apartment. So I open up my wallet and look to see what I have. I've got two ones and a twenty. I don't want to break the twenty to buy chocolate, and I'm sure as heck not giving him the twenty. Remember that I'm in the middle of writing a paper about meeting Jesus in disguise. So I get out of my car and I'm walking through the door and I hear the guy say something. I say, 'I'm sorry, I don't have anything to give you.' He replies, 'No. I wasn't asking for anything. I just said I hope you find what you're looking for.' And I say, 'Oh! Well... me too.'
"I go into the store and I'm looking at the candy section. It's pretty depressing. I turn around to go, and there next to the counter is a display of dark chocolate Reese's cups, two for two dollars. I grab two of them, pay, and start walking out again. As I pass the man outside the door, I hear him say something again. Again, I say, 'I don't have anything to give you.' He says, 'I wasn't asking for money. I just said I hope you found what you were looking for.' I say, 'Thank you, I did.'
"I get into my car and I'm thinking about this man, what he said, and my idea about Jesus literally meeting us in the form of the poor and the hungry. I really want to give this guy something. I look down at the chocolate I'm holding, and I get back out of my car. I go up to him and say, 'Listen, I've got two of these packs. Do you want one?' He replies, 'No, I don't need a whole package. But I'll share one with you.' I open up the package and take out two of the four Reese's cups and offer them to him. He says, 'No, I will share one with you.' He takes one of the Reese's cups, says, 'Thank you,' and breaks it in half. As he offers the other half to me he says, 'Things are better when you share, aren't they?' "
Pastor Steve ended his story by saying, "If Jesus really does play hide and seek with us through the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned, don't you just think he'd do something like share communion with you with chocolate?"
Hearing Pastor Glen and Pastor Steve's stories got me thinking. We think of miracles as pretty flashy things--angels descending, the bush burning but not consumed, the virgin birth, the heavens opening, the temple curtain tearing, and so on. Certainly all of those examples from the Bible are miraculous; but we don't often see things like that happening today. Does that mean there aren't miracles anymore? I say no. What if miracles are happening all the time? What if we encounter them every day, but we're often not in a position to recognize them? Is a broken-down car on the side of the road a miracle? It could be, if it's the answer to a prayer. Is a man breaking a piece of chocolate in half a miracle? It could be, if everything done to the least person is done also to Christ.
What if, every single day, we are experiencing miracles? If I walk past a stranger on the street and smile, that could be a miracle. If a person in the midst of stress and frustration finds the strength to still be selfless and faithful, that could be a miracle. Miracles are God's interaction with the world, but He can act in very simple ways that are easy for us to miss if we're not looking for them. God is touching each of our lives every day. I think that the practice of faith and prayer does not cause those miracles to happen, but rather makes us more aware of them. If we open our eyes to see those miracles, we can find them all around us.