September 4th, 2013

Hebrews 1:14 – Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?

Notes from a Pastor: He came with slow and hesitant steps, not to come to church but walking by the church toward the very end of his rope of endurance, his courage worn thin and his heart weary. A brilliant man of middle years, well-educated and with a loving heart, a broken and battered heart, ready to give up entirely. He had lost a loving partner after years and years of faithful caregiving, and in the process lost his job, and lost his home, and more importantly, lost his way. And he ended up here, having run away from the sadness of his life. He lost himself in sadness, lost all hope and joy, and lost his faith in the scriptural promise that joy comes in the morning, no matter the darkness of the night. And he found himself a stranger in a strange land, without means or resources, sleeping in a homeless shelter, grateful to be off the street. And that was the first light to shine on him, in the welcoming kindness of the Mendocino Coast Hospitality Center.

Feeling grateful for a place to stay but fragile, he walked through the days until he could check in each night, and he wondered if he was finished, and in that feeling of hopelessness and thinking of endings, he walked passed our little church and heard the singing of a familiar hymn, and standing outside listening, felt tears spill out of his eyes, and he walked on by, knowing he was late, knowing he was a stranger…but not feeing brave enough to come in. But the next Sunday, led by the music, he came in and sat down, made himself small in the very back corner. He listened to the message, watched the children, felt the living beloved community connecting all around him. And after the service he saw that they shared coffee and food and best of all a warm welcome but shy and fragile, he snuck out quickly. Weeks went by and he came back again and again and felt the genuine interest of the people who included him so easily in their conversations and let him slip away when he needed to. He left each week feeling he had been led by God to a safe place and the shadow of his despair had been pushed back a little and he determined to give the little church a chance…and he came back the next Sunday and the next Sunday after that, giving his life another chance.

I had not yet met Joseph, being home recovering from illness. But my children and grandchildren had met him and were drawn to him and when we passed him on the street they hollered out the window a joyful greeting and I pulled over to the curb and we all got out so they could introduce me to their new friend Joseph. He was charming with them, kind and quick with a smile and a chuckle, a gentle man with sad eyes.

Two weeks later, finally back in church but as a convalescent not a preacher, I sat among my congregation and listened to their shared joys and concerns and we got ready to pray together. Joseph stood up and in the most gentle way asked if he could share an experience. Encouraged by the congregation he said, “A few weeks ago, filled with dark and dreadful despair, I walked by here planning how to end my life. I heard you singing a hymn I love and was moved to turn and come in. My heart was eased in this place and by the power of your kindness and the grace of the Holy Spirit I felt a call to live and to serve and to begin to put aside my sadness. You people here have saved my life and the Spirit is alive in my heart once again because of this kind and loving place. And I just wanted to thank you.”

For the next several weeks I saw Joseph walking all over town—and every time I saw him he was more joyful. How do I know? He started wearing orange tennis shoes and purple striped socks and neatly pressed shirts in bright colors and a smile and a friendly wave were offered to everyone nearby. He looked like happiness in bloom.

Then last week he whispered to me that he had applied for a job—a job for which he was well-qualified and that if he were chosen he thought he would be able to serve this new community with his decades of skills. He didn’t want to announce his hopes in church because they were fragile and life-changing. But by the time Sunday came round he was exuberantly sharing his joy that he had been given the job and now could look for a place to live, perhaps share a place with an elderly person who could use a little company and help…

There are almost no jobs available in this small economically depressed—almost desperately so—coastal town. Yet Joseph got a job, a good job, with benefits. A miracle, people said.

And perhaps it is. But I think the real miracle happened to all the rest of us, who saw Joseph move from darkness to light, from death to life, from despair to joy, heaped up in full measure, pressed down and overflowing. And no one was unmoved and unchanged. Joseph thanked the church for being ministering angels in his time of greatest need.

But the angel who came to us while we were unaware is Joseph, who has reminded us that when we reach out beyond ourselves to touch another heart and offer warmth and hope and belonging that God is with us, wherever two or three are gathered. And the Comforter and the Counselor and the Healing Power of the Holy Spirit enters into our hearts in new ways and miracles begin to happen. They may start small and build slowly or be sudden and dramatic. But they are angel-blessed. And we can’t help but know it when we have been visited by a ministering angel and they cannot help but notice when they too find clouds of witness to the love of God. And I believe that in heaven, angels are singing for Joseph and for all of us, for “are we not all ministering Spirits?” Turn around, look and see.