Last Sunday After the Epiphany – Year B – Rev. Aimee Baxter
Last Spring after I picked up my youngest son from Preschool, I went through the Cutter’s Drive-thru to grab a gift card and thought I’d get some milk for the little guy in the back. They gave it to me in a plastic to go cup and I thought that I was talented enough to prop it in my lap, while opening the sippy cup, and driving away. As you can imagine, that did not end well and I found myself at the end of the drive through with milk all over my lap, legs and the floor board. I whipped the car out of the way and parked realizing that I had nothing to clean up the mess with because we had just used up the napkins in the console the day before. I jumped out of the car, leaving my door wide open, to get the diaper bag out of the back to find something to help clean up this mess. Looking back, these few minutes were certainly not some of my finest moments!
While searching through the bag, I felt the presence of a person right behind me. She said, “Ma’am, I’ve just finished my shopping at Family Dollar and I didn’t have enough money for my light bulbs. I need $2.”
Can I be completely honest with you? My first thought was not kind and was something to the effect of, “Can you not see that I am covered in milk?!” And just as quickly as this came to my mind, my heart was convicted that I had probably just paid more for this cup of milk than she needed for her lightbulbs.
So, I paused, took a breath, recovered from the startling, and turned around to see a beautiful face of someone in need. I told her I had made a mess, needed a minute, and not to go anywhere. As I turned to complete the cleaning, I remember feeling that I wanted to help her but that I never have cash and wasn’t sure that I would be able to. Then, I thought I could get the baby out, go into Family Dollar and pay for them, but again I honestly dreaded that thought. Then, it hit me. I had exactly two dollars and from the craziest place - the Nielsen TV ratings form. Yep, filled out the form and got two bucks!
I was so excited! I turned to her and said that I would be happy to help, grabbed the $2 out of my wallet, and gave it to her. She thanked me profusely and said she was going straight there to buy the lightbulbs. Then, she ran as fast as she could pushing one of those carts you put your shopping bags in with reckless abandon straight to Family Dollar. And I sat there in my car, soaking wet, and watched in awe of what a gift she was to me in that moment.
I’m not sure what she spent that $2 on. The cynical part of me questions it, but the person who experienced God’s presence and hers in that moment is confident it was lightbulbs. That’s not really for me to judge and not really what matters.
Here’s what I do know...
My plan for that drive-thru experience was interrupted and because of the interruption, I actually saw this woman and her need.
God provided for that need in the most unlikely way - some survey I filled out on a whim because - why not?
In her eyes and her response, I saw God.
This interaction reminds me of the well-known quote from Les Mis, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
By the grace of God working in my mind and heart that day, I was compelled to choose love even when I felt flustered and put out. It’s because of that love I saw God. My hope is that she saw God too.
We are bound by this mutual need and desire to see God in each other and through one another, and it is best expressed simply through love.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
In our Epistle reading today, we see Paul using similar language as he addresses the Corinthian church. He writes, “For we do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
For Paul, being a slave for the Gospel, or a servant as we might say, is how the world will see the light of the Gospel and the face of Christ. Paul’s words cause us to pause and consider how being a servant and loving one another, is perhaps the best way to be a light to the world and the face of Christ.
The Corinthian church really struggled in this area among other things. I mean, they do have two fairly long letters written to them. If you’ll recall these are the same people to whom Paul writes 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter. He continually has to remind them what love is - that it is patient, and kind, and not self-serving or boasting. We can be really good at a lot of things and have all the right answers, but if we don’t have love, then we are nothing. Love asks us to consider the other above ourselves. Love bids us to live a life that isn’t about us, but about being a servant so that the face of Christ can be seen.
A couple of weeks ago while going to Loc’s I saw this same woman going from car to car asking for change from people. Immediately, I felt disappointment and thought oh she’s one of those folks that does this all the time. I parked and saw her coming to me and my guard went up. I rolled down my window, she asked for change and I told her I didn’t have any. She replied accordingly and went on her way.
I was totally thrown by her being there and it all the sudden became about me. I questioned if God had been in that moment in the Spring. Or did I just make that story up to feel good? I was a touch irritated because I thought she had a genuine need. Mostly, I felt duped. And to be really honest, I had already been thinking about sharing this story with you all and felt like I couldn’t anymore. She was “one of those regulars” and I fell for it.
As I was putting my son to bed, I was trying to think of other times that I had seen the face of God through acts of loving-kindness that I had either done or had done to me. In that moment, God spoke to my spirit and said, “You saw me last Spring through the interaction with the woman at Cutter’s. You missed the opportunity to see me today. And what makes it worse, is that you just taught a Bible Study this morning where you discussed that it’s not up to you to determine who is worthy of grace and love.”
Well, alright then, God. I see where I went wrong. I leaned into my cynicism, and disappointment, and my own understanding, rather than leaning into this woman and her need. I’m learning more and more that we don’t love well when we are so caught up in our stuff that we miss opportunities to see other people and to love them.
Please don’t hear me saying that to show God’s love to people is to give money to everyone you see. Sometimes that isn’t very loving at all because it enables behaviors that are harmful to them.
That being said, I could have done things differently two weeks ago. I could have engaged her in conversation. Or ask her what she needed the change for. I could have invested some time in her, and even if she was scamming me, she was still worthy of love. I found myself that night praying: Lord, forgive us, when we are blinded by our own desires and fears and forget that all are made in the image of God and all are worthy of love.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. I absolutely love Ash Wednesday for a lot of reasons, but I think it’s mainly because when those ashes hit my forehead and I have the privilege of marking others with them, I am reminded of my humanity and need for God’s grace, and how all of us are made in the image of the divine.
It’s out of this deep awareness, I believe we love one another best and then in turn, love and honor God best.
Ash Wednesday also marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is a season to consider the ways that we will willingly inconvenience ourselves or sacrifice something that we are used to having as an act of love and devotion to God. I wonder if beyond the sacrifices we will make, we can see this season of Lent as an opportunity to see the face of God in how we love others. Maybe we can make Lent about growing in the love of God and neighbor.
As a parish, we will offer several communal ways to do that.
Food Drive for St. Michael’s
Our prayer is that you will consider engaging in these opportunities as a way of actively loving others and in return experiencing God in new and fresh ways.
May we love another person, and see the face of God. Amen.