The congregation I worked with previously was situated a few blocks off of Interstate 35, an extremely busy highway. As such, we often got travelers stopping by the church building asking for help. There was a convenience store right behind it as well which added to the foot traffic. Coming into the office one morning, I became very annoyed. There was an iron bench bolted into the ground at the front of our building which had been donated in honor of a family who played a big part in the congregation. Thrown under that bench I saw a Dr. Pepper can and honeybun wrapper. I grumbled as I stooped to pick them up and head for the trash can. There is a large, brass plaque dedicating the bench to Vern and Mildred Waller. I was upset at the lack of respect for these two people by whomever made use of their bench. Maybe it was just carelessness; a symbol for a world that doesn’t really care about anyone or anything these days. Suddenly, my grumbling internal rant changed in tone.
Maybe it was a local teenager who was stopping here for a snack before heading back home to a violent and ungodly household. Maybe it gave him a few moments of peace before the yelling started again. Maybe he didn’t pick up his trash because he wasn’t taught basic courtesy in his home. Maybe he will wonder about the people who gather inside that building and of the momentary peace he felt sitting outside for a few moments. Maybe he will wonder if there is a greater and more lasting peace to be found inside.
Or, maybe it was that homeless man walking down I-35. You know, the one I drove right by yesterday afternoon? Maybe he stopped here and rested before going back out in the hot summer sun to continue his lonely journey. It had rained briefly the night before. Maybe the bench (which is tucked under the overhang) kept the rain off his head. Through the bench, we provided a bit of kindness that may indeed have been appreciated; but if not, at least we gave him a chance to rest and gather his strength. Maybe that’s all we can provide to some people by showing the love of Jesus. A kind word, a friendly hand, a brief respite from their troubles. Then, they may go on their way and never see us again (or thank us). It doesn’t matter. Our obligation is not affected by their gratitude or acknowledgement. We must follow our Lord’s example. They didn’t respect Jesus and everything He did for people either. Jesus warned His disciples that “A servant is not greater than his master” (Jn. 15:20). We should expect no better treatment. Just do it anyway. So, I had to pick up some trash, but only because someone had used what we provided. I let my scowl melt into a smile as I cleaned up the bench for the next weary visitor. I let the joy of that service wash away my cynicism and annoyance. I think the Lord much prefers me that way. May the Lord shine upon you.