by REV. LAURIE TENHAVE-CHAPMAN
First Congregational Church, Rockford
On any given weekend, we could expect to see the same scene when we looked out our window across the parking lot: a middle-aged man buffing his vintage car to shimmery perfection. We lived in a condo complex when first married, and you get a peek into other people’s priorities because you live in close proximity to each other. Clearly, nothing mattered more to him than this car. I never saw any evidence of a wife or grown children coming to visit—just him and his beloved car.
We were newly in ministry in this suburb of Chicago and I knew of countless needs in our community. People in our congregation were involved in so many different forms of outreach: food banks, clothing supply, a homeless shelter in our church basement, a victim-offender reconciliation program, a street ministry in downtown Chicago. These varied ministries and so many others were giving people rewarding opportunities to deepen their faith and meet Jesus in the face of others. I imagine that those who volunteered their time slept well and found good reason to get up each day, knowing that their skills were needed. How sad that this man had no knowledge of how his skills could be used to help other human beings. This inanimate object passively received the life’s blood of his time and energy, offering nothing more than a flashy show when he would take it out for a spin—not much lasting satisfaction in that.
This man is just one individual, but he represents countless others who struggle to understand what their purpose is for each day. One of the challenges to those of us in faith communities is to pray for these people, befriend them and invite them into situations where they might discover the joy of giving for the sake of another. The mathematics of Christian outreach is hard to teach: the more you give away, the more you have. However, once someone experiences this—perhaps in a smile gently offered from someone helped—they will likely find that a few smudges on their car is not so catastrophic after all.