Public domain from absfreepic.com Public domain from pxhere.com
“And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.”
Matthew 10:42 NLT
The other day I was listening to KLOVE. It is a nationwide, listener supported, Christian music radio station (107.3 FM, or 95.5 FM for those in Worcester County) where inspirational stories, and moments for prayer are also shared, as well as contemporary faith based pop, and rock songs are played. One of the stories told between songs really resonated, and I wanted to share it….
It was winter. The roads and streets were slushy with well trod snow. It was cold out, as the narrator shared. She was getting warmed up, and waiting for her latte at her usual coffee shop walking distance from where she worked, a busy section of a large city.
As she was walking out of the place, coffee cup in hand, she noticed a man clearly down on his luck, going along the street, the gutters, hands wet, looking for and fishing amidst the slush for loose change. She watched him as he counted out what he had found. He alternately looked at the coffee shop, and his hands calculating if he had enough to purchase a cup of hot coffee and allowing him to be a customer to spend some time out of the cold.
During this time she watched people walk by the man as if he was invisible. Others were visibly annoyed by his presence. But not her! She was what I’ll call a “coffee cup Christian.” Because what she did was straight out of Jesus’ playbook on how to be a decent human being, as well as ambassador of Christ….
The woman went over to the homeless man, and invited him inside, asking if he would like to have a cup of coffee and a donut with her. She asked if he might not want some company and that she preferred not having a cup alone.
The man understood her generosity packaged in a way that wasn’t made to seem as mere charity, but far more than that – shared, compassionate humanity.
During the course of their conversation inside, the man shared a bit of his background, and how he ended up on the street. As with most people who are homeless, there usually is a series of events that lead to such a level of loss.
But here’s where a simple act of kindness, seemingly randomly happening, may in fact be orchestrated by a God who IS paying attention…..
After some more talk – some about her life, some about her faith in Jesus, and apparently some laughter, too, and perhaps warmed by the kindness of the moment as much as the heat in the café, the man told the “coffee cup Christian” that before she came to him, he had planned on having one last cup of coffee, and then was going to kill himself. He could see no light at the end of his tunnel, no purpose remaining in his life, no hope or reason to continue living. But after her act of kindness, and talking about Jesus, he felt differently.
Can a cup of coffee change a life? It can if God’s timing is involved.
Do our sandwiches matter at the Sunday services for the homeless? Recall our prior Pastor Wanda recounting how the street people who attend Worcester Fellowship church have come to know CCUMC. I remember her telling the story how they preferred our lunches to those from other churches. The scuttlebutt being that we are more generous and put more things in our bags than others.
Does what we do matter? Does it even get noticed? More than you think. And is never missed by the One Who matters the most ….God.
Yet how often do people walk by homeless folks as if they had become mere fixtures of the sidewalks and storefronts. How often have people gone into grocery stores, passing clearly hungry people standing outside the doors. And how many come out with something for their lonely, hungry ‘fellow traveler to the grave,’ to go Dickens?
It is easy to dismiss others – blaming their lot in life on bad choices, when in fact a little circumspection, gratitude, and recognition “there but by the Grace of God would go any of us.”
As a physician it has been both my belief and training that it’s not my job to judge. Way above my pay grade! My job is to treat, and do it with compassion. How you got there is for another time. How we get you better is what matters.
Moreover, we should remember that everyone is at risk for sadness – the rain falls on us all. Consider Rabbi Harold Kushner near iconic book “When bad things happen to good people.” Which is to say each of us should thank God every day when bad things don’t happen, or we have emerged from them.
The world is hurting. It has been so since time immemorial. As Christians, God has called us to be the helpers – the ‘coffee cup Christians.’
To be sure few of us as individuals, or even en mass can fix every problem everywhere on the planet. But we can make a difference – one person at a time, or collectively. But our assignment is clear….
“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, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:35 – 40
This reminds me of two people, two situations…
One involves a friend – let’s call “SL” – who is frequently involved in missions; most recently to Haiti. But now she is looking closer to home. She wonders what she, and some like minded friends can do together to address some of these needs. She shared some of her ideas, and they are Christ driven, and really good ones! For her it isn’t enough to be a great mother, sister, church attendee, friend, and mentor. It is about looking around and seeing what needs God has set upon her to try and help out with. No grand illusions, just simple roll up your sleeves Christianity.
I have no doubt when she and the Almighty sort out the “what’s next?” she will be the right “coffee cup Christian” for the task.
The second situation involves an unknown church and me….
Once upon a time I was running at one of my usual ‘happy places.’ I knew it well. Knew the distances by heart between various street signs and landmarks. Although not typically a creature of habit, I always parked in the same place, and ran the same route. Only one summer Saturday evening I changed routine, and for reasons I didn’t know at the time, I parked at the opposite end of my trail, in the lee of an old stone church.
It was a hot evening in a small city. Sounds like the start of a song, right? I digress. At any rate as I was completing my run, sweat pouring out of me, I started hearing music. It was familiar....but I couldn’t quite place it. As I kept running I could hear the music louder…and the sounds were from my folk mass days…they were Christian folk music. Which as I’m running, wondering was I dehydrated and hearing things. This was a secular town, and no concerts were scheduled that Saturday.
And I could smell bar-b-q, too! After a run, food seemed like a good idea! But then I could have been imagining that in my pre Gatorade state of dehydration, too.
Finishing my run near the church I saw a bunch of folks on the front lawn, listening to musicians. So I decided to get closer look, and take a listen, and chose to lean against a street lamp off to the side of the audience.
As I was carried away with the heavenly music – and it was really beautiful, especially with the sky being painted at sunset – I looked up and saw a woman standing next to me. Her name was Christine, and invited me over to join them.
She offered me some food. I responded I didn’t have any money on me. Christine said “we don’t want your money. You look hot and we have food and water here. Let us offer some hospitality.”
As she was doing that, some other ladies came over. One offered me her chair, another offered water. One picked up a plate and asked what she could get me to eat.
Conscious of my pre-shower, post run attire, and quite possibly my aromatic state of affairs, I politely demurred, and thanked them for their kindness, opting to return downwind to my lamp post.
As I was leaving, Christine reminded me the offer stood if I changed my mind, and then invited me to church the next day, stating that the musicians would be playing during Sunday service as well.
The next day I returned, and they remembered me, immediately offered a beach chair, as the service was on the same lawn, and invited me to stay for coffee and food after the service.
Would it surprise anyone I attended that church for 3 years before moving? What I described was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the hospitality and good things the folks at church did for others in the time I attended?
They were ‘coffee cup’ or in this case ‘bottled water and bar-b-q’ Christians. And it mattered. They had no idea whether I got there as a hitch hiker from somewhere in the galaxy, drove a jalopy or Porsche, rode a skateboard, or pedaled a bike, whether I was housed or housing insecure. They just offered food and something to drink because I might be the least among them, or because hospitality is our duty and privilege as people of faith.
Having watched my faith family at CCUMC for the few years I’ve been part of this wonderful team, I know we share a “coffee cup Christianity” state of heart and mind.
That said, goodness can never get tired. There are always people rummaging for change, like the man in the KLOVE story, or the folks we feed spiritually and with sandwiches at Worcester Fellowship Ministry, or so many others along the way – the lonely, the sick, the ones who have lost their faith, the sad, the isolated, the hungry, whether rich or poor financially, there are all of us at some point who need to know we are cared about, that we matter.
We all need a ‘coffee cup Christian’ to reach out to us in our dark times. And we all need to remember the power that comes when we are “coffee cup Christians” because the least among us may not be poor of finances but poor of spirit. All we will ever know is if we follow Matthew 25, if we sense a need, and we reach out to help fill that need, even if it is one sandwich, one cup of coffee, we will make a difference.
So today, tomorrow and…. I will try to remind myself that every day is an opportunity to share time, love, and maybe just maybe even a cup of coffee.