7/2/2017 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 10:40-42.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I read through today’s gospel, I remembered an old story that I read on the internet a few years back. Today, on this 4th of July weekend, it just seems appropriate that I share Tom Kadel’s story with you.
Kadel wrote: “I want to tell you about something that happened while I was in Ohio, in July of 2003, just after my mother’s death. It is a story that involves a cup of coffee, a duck and a toothless old man.”
“On the Tuesday following my mother’s death,” he wrote, “there was the usual flurry of activity – people to call, arrangements with the funeral director, planning the service with the pastor, and time with family just remembering. Things went well, by the grace of God.
I was staying in a motel in Troy, Ohio, only minutes from the hospital Mom had been in. I had been to Troy, but hadn’t ever really seen this beautiful little city. So, after all was done, and I had said good-bye to my sisters and their families, I decided that rather than go back and sit in the motel alone to await my family’s arrival the next day, I would just drive around and look at Troy.
But, there was something I had to have first – a cup of coffee to take with me. Right next door to the motel was a little restaurant called Crazy H’s. To put the best light on it, we could call it “unassuming.” It is the kind of restaurant where you always check your silverware and plates to make sure that they’ve been washed – you know the kind I mean.
I walked in and went up to the counter, where I was waited on by a smallish woman with rather sunken features. “Hard Life” was written in the deep lines that etched her face. She was probably in her forties, but could easily have passed for sixty. “May I have a cup of coffee to go, please?” I asked. “Sure,” she replied. After hunting for a cup and lid, she poured the coffee and handed it to me as I handed her my money. “Ah,” she said, “forget about it. Just do something nice for someone.”
She said that with a warm smile that overcame the deep lines in her face. I thanked her and left. As I drove away, I sipped the coffee. I want to tell you, it was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. It wasn’t because of the taste. It wasn’t because I got a freebie. It was because the coffee had the flavor of grace in it.
Maybe if this had happened on any day other than one so filled with emotion and meaning for me, I might not have tasted the grace. But that day, I did. I was truly moved, and I savored that coffee, sip by sip, as I rode around Troy viewing the city and thinking about Mom. I really wanted to find someone to be nice to, but since I didn’t know anyone in Troy, I had no idea how that would happen. So, all by myself, I savored this cup of coffee, flavored with grace.
Grace is always undeserved. Grace is always a surprise. Grace is always one other thing, too. It is always something that has the power to transform us into persons we could not otherwise be. When that waitress said, “Just do something nice for someone,” she transformed me into a person who truly wanted to touch someone else’s life with an undeserved and unexpected measure of grace. But alas, I saw no one else that night.
The next day, there was practically nothing to do but wait for Thursday’s funeral service. My family had left Harleysville and was on its way to Ohio. I decided that this was a good time to drive to my hometown, Urbana, and immerse myself in memories of Mom and Dad and friends and experiences that had shaped me. I was still thinking about that waitress’ kindness as I drove the 45 minutes from Troy to Urbana.
My first stop was the city park – a place I just love. There is a big pond there with a tree-filled island in the middle and dozens of waterfowl – three or four swans, many Canadian geese, and dozens of Mallard ducks – all swimming peacefully. It was a good place to begin my memory tour.
As I watched all those birds floating gracefully on the pond, I suddenly became aware of a flurry of activity about a quarter of the way around the pond. I couldn’t see clearly what was happening, except that about a dozen ducks seemed to keep flying hard into another duck. I noticed that duck wasn’t moving – just flapping its wings frantically. What could this be?
I began to walk over to that place and, as I drew closer, I noticed that the unmoving duck had its beak straight up in the air. Closer in, I could tell it was hooked on something. Closer still, and I could see that it was hooked on a fishing hook and the line was snagged in a tree. The duck was truly stuck and the others, with all their bashing and bumping, were trying to free it. But, the duck was caught.
I looked around, realized I was the only person in the park, and wondered what to do. I didn’t have a knife and I didn’t have a clue how to free the duck. It was awful to see. I bent near the spot where the captive and its friends were and tried to speak comfortingly to the terrified duck. I wanted so much to free it, but I couldn’t. All I could do was try to soothe it.
“She’s in a fix, eh?” The words from behind me startled me. I was sure I was alone, but suddenly there was this toothless old man in a kind of golf cart. I have no idea how I could have not heard him approach.
“Well,” he said, “let’s see if we can help.” He had a knife and, remarkably, he had a small paid of wire cutters on his belt. Together we tenderly pulled the duck from the water and he cut the line and then removed the hook from the duck’s bill. Even more tenderly, he placed her back in the water and she swam off, surrounded by the other ducks, to the far side of the pond.
“Hey,” said the toothless old man, “that felt good, didn’t it?” He laughed a bit as he watched the duck swim away. Then he called off to that duck, “Hey, Mrs. Duck, you go on and do something nice for another duck, okay?” My breath stuck in my throat.
As he started to drive off, I thanked him and he replied, “Oh, it’s what I do. I work here.”
I suddenly caught on. My experiences Tuesday night in Crazy H’s and Wednesday morning at the park pond were not two events, but one – a story to comfort me and to teach me. I had been approached by God in a hard-life-faced waitress and in a toothless old man.”
In a cup of coffee, a duck, and a toothless old man, Tom Kadel found the grace of God. Although a stranger, the welcome mat was put out and he received freely with strings removed and set free.
Unfortunately, as we celebrate this weekend of freedom, we have become a people who are afraid to extend the welcome mat. We have become a nation of people who do not know each other and who, as a result, do not care about each other. As Craig Kocher said, “In a world where people are attacked in their own homes, answering the doorbell becomes an act of faithfulness. Offering directions to a lost traveler provokes second thoughts. Holding another’s hand involves body contact. Visiting the hospital or retirement home means an encounter with the sick, the dying and the lonely… Mumbling hello to a stranger on a crowded street may seem odd. A little airplane flight to visit friends can be nerve-racking; a bomb may be abroad. In this kind of world, a world of walls and barriers, violence and loneliness, Christian hospitality becomes a prophetic act.”
And yet, that is what we are called to do – to welcome the stranger with a friendly smile, a warm hand shake, a helping hand, and a small cup of coffee. These are little signs of God’s grace that can transform lives in ways we will never know. For, we never know where or when or from whom we will experience God’s grace, ourselves. It can happen when we least expect it, in an undeserved welcome or in a helping hand.
As we have received the grace of God through the acts of kindness of others, we are to pay forward, sharing the welcome of God’s grace by doing something nice for someone else, without expectation of reward. In that way, the world will become a better place for us all.
So, put out the welcome mat, my friends. Give and receive the grace of God. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.