Luke 14:13 – [Jesus said:] “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,“
Last night was the normally scheduled evening for a faithful handful of disciples of St. Stephen Lutheran Church to head over to Flying J truck stop for a couple of hours to provide showers, do laundry with people, and eat with people at Denny’s. We go over to the truck stop because we know there are people who are living in the parking lot in their vehicles and there are transient people passing through. And we start with a belief that everyone deserves to feel human, to be clean, to have food in their stomach, and most importantly, to be community where people aren’t looking at you and judging you.
Last night was our normal time to do this, but it was anything but normal. When we started this ministry, I knew there were people living in the parking lot, but I didn’t know how many. I knew there were people who needed some basic necessities. I knew there were people who needed to be reminded of their humanity. I knew there were people who were doing what they could with that they had and it wasn’t enough. I knew.
And I shared this with others who took it to heart and followed my lead – as crazy as it sounded. And we went over to the truck stop. The first night I wasn’t even there – I was sick, but our people went anyway. And they encountered a man, did laundry with him, and got him food. One person. That’s what it started with. One person. We continued, trying different times and days, just to see when we could encounter more people. There was a time when no one showed up. It was disheartening to say the least. Then we had two who came regularly, but they weren’t living in the parking lot, but they came.
Then the last time we came, we started to encounter a couple of other people. I’m not sure who was blessed more by the encounter – the couple we spent time with, or us. Most likely, both. The blessings just take place in different ways for different people.
And then there was last night. It was our normal time to be there. But it wasn’t normal at all. 15 people came. Not volunteers from the church. People who needed help. People seeking supplies. But really people seeing much more than these simple things.
People seeking humanity. People seeking normalcy. People seeking community, conversation, interaction with others. People seeking out those who care that they exist at all. Isn’t that what we all seek – regardless of our economic status, the possessions we have, and the work we do? Aren’t we truly seeking to be acknowledged as existing – to know that someone cares that we are here?
We met all sorts of people last night. The first thing we try to do is learn a person’s name. A person’s name is vital. It is a recognition of the humanity of a person. This isn’t just someone who needs something. This is Owen. This is Adam. This is Rob. This is Jennifer. They are people, just like you and I.
They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, genders, skin color, and challenges. Some of them have full-time jobs, but they don’t pay enough to allow these folks to find decent housing. They are not slackers, lazy, or dumb.
Last night we showed up with our shapes, sizes, genders, skin color, and challenges of our own. And we got to know new people in our lives. We go to share what we had with people. And they shared what they had with us – their time, their laughter, their stories, their insights, their wisdom, and even some chocolate.
The part of the evening that has the most impact on me is when we go to Denny’s. Because there were so many people, we were actually divided into two separate groups, sitting next to each other at a bunch of tables shoved together.
This was a feast in many ways. There was laughter, joking, sharing of stories, lots of food, and more. There was humanity on display. There was joy. And Jesus was there too. Sitting in our midst. Reclining at the table with us, blessing this meal, sharing the love of God with all present.
While this was our normal evening to go to Flying J, it was anything but normal. It was a blessing. A blessing upon blessing. For both the people being served and those who were serving. The question is this though – what happens where there is blurry line between the served and the serving. Which is which? Yes, we provide some material things, but it’s so much more than that. It’s koinonia at its core. It is proclaiming boldly the Good News of God’s loving and saving presence in the world – only this time at the Denny’s in a truck stop. We don’t always know where or what the blessing will be, but we know that when Jesus shows up and encounters us, lives are changed – both those served and those serving. In this sense, there is no difference between serving and being served. We are all serving and being served at the same time – serving Christ and being served by him.
Blessing upon blessing. That’s the new normal. That’s the miracle that is happening on the Miracle Mile.