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I was merely going out to ask the guy across the street not to park his car directly behind our Suburban. It’s hard to see back there. Plus, really, I think it’s kind of rude to park at the end of someone’s driveway. I was asking nicely, but I just never understood why, when there was ample parking space in front of the house they were renting that he thought that the best place was at the end of our driveway, making it difficult for us to get out. I seemed inconsiderate. And, more, as the snow will soon begin to fall we have a great interest on our street keeping the road as wide as possible. We live on a hill. Sometimes in winter you really want to have a two-lane road because the car going downhill may not be able to stop. It happens. You need some passing room. It’s safer. And, as I said, there was ample room for him to pull off the road right in front of his home. He didn’t have to park where he was parking. But, I was going to be nice about it and I was.
So, that’s what got me out of the house in the dark to talk with the new neighbor across the street on a weeknight. Slightly confrontational? Yes. But something learned by actually living on the street for the past 7 years and seeing how it all works. We need some room to maneuver.
I, frankly, was a little nervous as the door closed behind me. I’m really not one that handles confrontation very well. I’m more of a “smooth-it-over guy.” I didn’t want to have anyone upset with me. I like everyone to love me and be happy with me. I don’t want to be seen as an obnoxious neighbor.
And, as I got out there at night I saw a familiar face among the four persons standing out there. She’s someone whom our church has helped out financially. She’s someone who has worked with my kids in daycare. She’s someone who used to work in a drive-through coffee shop and I used to go get coffee from her every Sunday morning between our 8:30 and 10 AM worship services. 16 OZ SKIM MILK LATTE WITH SUGAR FREE HAZELNUT, HALF THE USUAL AMOUNT OF HAZELNUT (my drink of choice.) And each Sunday she’d ask me what I was preaching on and each Sunday I’d give her a terribly abbreviated version of my sermon. Each Sunday.
One Sunday we were discussing poverty in church and I shared some of the statistics about “the working poor” and the struggles they face. She said, “Pastor Jim, that’s me. I work two jobs and sometimes three in this town just to try keep living here and each month I get farther and farther behind. There’s a lot of us in this town.”
Sometimes it was she who preached to me.
Well, in the street at night, addressing the car parking issue, she said to the others from the rental unit. “Pastor Jim here is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” and she put her arms around me to give me one of those those “side hugs” that are always pretty “safe” but can still show some genuine affection. I love flattery, but it’s what she said afterward that I really loved. Afterward she looked at me and said,
Do you remember all those Sunday mornings you came and got your coffee and shared your sermons with me? Well, those were awesome. I always looked forward to that time. I grew up Catholic and left the church a while ago, but those times brought me closer to Christianity than I’d been in a long time. They kind of restored my faith in the church. Thank you.
As I think back to those Sunday morning coffees, I think I got the sense that she truly enjoyed hearing my condensed sermons. And I think she got the sense that I wanted her perspective and to hear her stories about them for the week. I did. And to hear now, in the dark, a few years later, that God was acting in her life because of those conversations was awesome to hear. It was a blessing. It was a blessing for me to know that it made a difference.
I don’t really want to take any of the credit here. I’m very happy calling this a “God-thing” and leaving it there. But I am going to hold onto this conversation.
Sometimes in ministry I can wonder why it is that I do this…this whole ministry-thing, with its meetings, and planning, and worrying about church finances, and running off to Bible studies, and entering into some dramatic highs and lows in persons’ lives.
So, why do I do it?
Because sometimes, God, acting through me, leads to a transformation in someone’s life. Sometimes I see someone drawn closer to God again (like my friend in the street). Sometimes a person learns something and their eyes are opened to a new reality about Scripture or person and work of Christ. Sometimes I can see the proverbial “gears” grinding away in their minds as they begin to understand faith at a deeper level. Sometimes right choices are made and wrong choices are confessed and atoned for. Sometimes marriages are saved or children come home or those who have lost loved ones are comforted in their time of need.
I do it because the Holy Spirit is alive and kicking and sometimes works through even me as surprising as I sometimes find it. And sometimes, like in the account above, I get to actually see some of the fruits of this whole minitry-thing.