(…continued) An hour later I sat in the sanctuary at the morning worship service. I tried to concentrate, but my mind kept flashing back to the scene downstairs at senior breakfast. What had happened on that cold, drizzly Sunday morning?
Normally, I had to act as a kind of police force. I watched for the street people who stuffed extra packets of sugar in their pockets and sneaked Styrofoam cups inside their coats. I warned my kitchen volunteers not to leave anything unattended, as some of them had lost umbrellas, jackets, or purses. I even patrolled the restrooms to make sure paper towels and toilet paper rolls were not stolen.
The day of Charles’s visit was different. Those same people, even the most indigent among them, were digging around in their purses and pockets for money to give away. I saw their instincts reverse: they emptied their pockets, instead of stuffing them full. In the end, the senior citizens left the room much happier than when they had entered. And so did I.
As I mulled it over, I could come up with only one reason: the joy of giving. For once the seniors had an opportunity to give, not receive. Are people somehow incomplete and unsatisfied unless they find a way to give to others? Watching my seniors, I could not avoid that conclusion. For most of them, living on small Social Security checks in public housing, society doesn’t offer much opportunity to give. To live always on the receiving end must foster a peculiar kind of shame. I saw before me the dramatic change that took place when they, too, had an opportunity to give.
An intriguing verse in the book of Hebrews says, without much explanation, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Who knows, we might have entertained five angels in the basement of LaSalle Street Church that day. They left with full stomachs, and smiles on their faces. And they also helped 50 seniors learn about a joy they don’t get to experience much—the joy of giving.
Hebrews 13:1-2 — Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Acts 20:35 — In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Proverbs 22:9 — The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.
II Corinthians 9:6-7 — Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Matthew 25:40 — (Jesus said), “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.’”
Lord Jesus, who came not to be served by to serve, help us live useful lives.
Help us always to encourage, and never to discourage others; to be more ready to praise than to criticize; to sympathize rather than condemn.
Help us always to help, and never to hinder others. Help us to make the work of others easier and not harder. Help us to not find fault with the efforts of others unless it is our job to do so, or unless we are prepared to do the thing better ourselves. Make us more ready to co-operate than object, and more ready to say yes than to say no when our help is needed.
Help us always to be a good example, and never a bad example. Help us always to make it easier for others to do the right thing, and never make it easier for them to go wrong. Help us always to take our stand beside anyone who is standing for the right.
Grant that our lives may be lights shining for you in this dark world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
A Barclay Prayer Book, by William Barclay (1907-1978), page 244-245, (adapted).