I had a great time yesterday afternoon. There were some uncertainties about my day, so I hadn’t signed up for a shift at our booth at the Art & Wine Festival and planned to get there when I could. When I did get there, the team had things very well in hand. I asked what I could do, and someone suggested that I go out in front and bring in the business. I said okay, and got out in front of the booth and started telling the world about our freshly-made lemonade and beautiful brownies. Business seemed to pick up a little, but it was hard to tell whether that was related to my chatter or just to the increasing warmth of the day. As I got into the swing of my new role as midway barker, I began addressing people directly, and I will admit that felt a bit risky—quite a few steps out of my comfort zone. When someone walked by with a Polish or a plate of chicken salad, I told them that they needed lemonade to wash it down. When folks walked by with glasses of wine, I told them that a big fat brownie would really go good with the wine. I congratulated other people on having found the best food booth in the park and encouraged people heading for the chicken salad booth next to us to eat dessert first.
As I started talking directly to folks, their response to my words changed. With only about five exceptions over the course of an hour or so, people turned to me and smiled. Some answered me. Many stopped in their tracks and came back to buy something. Quite a few responded that they would be back, and I saw several who did indeed come back to buy our luscious lemonade and sinfully delicious brownies. By the time I needed to leave the booth, I was having a great time. Okay, I thought to myself. This was good. I took a little bit of a risk, and maybe it made a little difference.
Later in the afternoon, I went out for my walk. As I walked, I thought about
today’s lections. I thought about the Hebrews, fearing themselves lost
in the wilderness and pleading for new gods to guide them. I thought of Paul
writing to Timothy, naming himself as a sign of God’s mercy—seeing
himself as an example of the ways God seeks out the lost and brings them into
I thought about the shepherd who leaves behind all that he has—the 99 sheep he leaves in the wilderness while he goes to search for the single lost sheep. I remembered my own times of lostness—the times when God’s presence seemed so far away—the times when I searched for other gods, and I wondered about all the people who were at the festival— wondered about their experiences of lostness—wondered about their searches for other gods. As I walked, some of the faces I saw during the day came to mind. Aaron and Thomas, the two little brothers who shared a lemonade. The woman with the walker who is no longer able to bake for herself and who carefully tucked her brownie into her satchel to eat later. The four bikers who laughed out loud when I told them that brownies go great with the beer they were drinking. The woman who returned to our booth for a brownie, reminding me that she had promised to come back for dessert.
As I continued to walk and think about those faces and the lives I’ll probably never know about, I heard a siren behind me. Like many of us, whenever I hear sirens, it’s my practice to pray for the folks who are in trouble and for the folks who are responding. As the paramedic rig passed me, I sent out a prayer for the person they were aiding, for safety for everyone in the rig and in their path and for God’s presence with those whose lives would be changed in some way because of the emergency situation. As I watched the rig heading for the next big intersection, I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the bravery of those paramedics and all the people who respond to emergency situations. I thought about firefighters—those who answer calls here in our own neighborhoods and those who were going up the stairs of the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center as others were running down. I thought about police who never know what’s behind the door they’re knocking on or whom they’ll meet in the car they’re stopping for a traffic violation. I thought about ambulance drivers and fire engineers who know that their driving skill won’t mean much if another driver sees only the green light and fails to see the emergency vehicle in the middle of the intersection.
All of those images flew through my mind in much less time than it takes to tell, and I stood there on the sidewalk, stunned by the thought of all that these folks risk—all that they leave behind—every time they walk out the door to do their jobs. Everyday, they stand ready to seek out the lost among us and to pay the price for that search.
As I started walking again, my thoughts returned to my time in front of our
I thought of all the work that’s gone into preparing for our participation this weekend. I thought of the folks who have planned and recruited and painted and cleaned and cooked and gathered and toted and poured and stirred and smiled and said thank you and done all the other things it takes to make this event happen. And I thought again about all those people walking by our booth. I thought about and was glad for our visibility in the community as we participate in this festival. Then I thought about all those people and wondered how visible we really are to them—and how visible they are to us—during this event. I remembered the moments of click when people realized that I noticed what they were doing and was actually speaking directly to them— was actually opening connection with them.
And the questions started coming to me: Are we living our presence at the festival in a way that helps make us known to the community or is it just another way to raise funds to support ministry for our parish family? Is there a difference between our presence at the festival and that of our chicken salad neighbors from the Rotary booth? Are we being examples of the ways God seeks out the lost and brings them into new life? Is there a way to do that? Then I began wondering about what happens when we go out into the world in our daily life—to the grocery store, to the workplace, to gatherings of our various communities. How does our presence at the festival or in the world let people know that there is a place where the lost can come home? How do we let them know there’s a place where they can find the God they’ve been searching for?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I’ll be taking those questions with me when I go back to the festival this afternoon, wearing my collar and prepared to go wherever the conversation needs to go. I’ll take those questions with me because that’s what we’re called to do: to go out into the world holding our questions, our fears and our faith, praying for open hearts and minds, for eyes that see and ears that hear, praying to hear God’s voice leading us and trusting always—always—that God goes with us on the journey.
Thanks be to God.
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