When we first moved from a small town in Arkansas to a large city, my four-person family lived in a two-bedroom apartment. A few years later, we left our complex and moved into a house, and promised ourselves that we’d come back to visit an older couple that we’d befriended while we were living there. We passed by the complex numerous times throughout that next year, but in the hurry of the day, or to avoid an awkward encounter, we didn’t stop by.
Until one afternoon, when I was driving to the nearby international market for groceries, and I knew I needed to pay them a visit. So I bought a bouquet of flowers and stopped by the complex office, just to make sure they still lived there.
The office was closed, so I drove over to the building where they lived, and there standing on the edge of the sidewalk was the wife, a cancer survivor, with her dog Dudley.
“I was coming to see you!” I said with a smile. She said hello and pointed me toward the apartment so I could give the flowers to her husband. I could tell from the look in his eyes he didn’t quite remember who I was, but the act of a young mother stopping in the middle of the day to deliver a bouquet of flowers to an old neighbor meant something.
Growing up, I heard stories about random acts of kindness, anonymously dropping off gifts for people, blessing them in some way as to remind them that they are not alone. It was almost a Christian duty to spread kindness like this, because it was kindness without expecting anything in return.
I thought about doing that for these neighbors, leaving a simple note or just a bouquet on their doorstep, but that’s not what was needed. In all that may have been awkward or uncomfortable about that encounter, these people needed to know that I saw them.
We live in a volatile time.
While we spend our lunch breaks arguing over how Jesus treated people, are we actually neglecting the very people he told us to care for in our everyday lives?
We’re called to “minister” to the lonely, widowed, orphaned, oppressed, afraid, neglected, poor, and misunderstood.
What if we need to practice out-loud, face-to-face, radical kindness that is not understood by the culture we live in today, a culture that is practiced in data and convenience?
What if we live beyond our belief systems and into the mystery of Jesus, of learning to be human to one another? This is what we are called to today, and it is a calling outside of the digital world, where we can comfortably be at home and invade the presence of another person through words and online attitudes.
Maybe we are called once again into a face-to-face ministry, involving faith-to-faith conversations that challenge us and challenge the church, conversations that quite possibly will end up creating a new kind of church today.
When I delivered those flowers, I was not aware of who they voted for or their stance on all the issues that I care so deeply about.
Sometimes, the faith we so loudly profess in our online presence needs hands to hold out a bouquet of flowers in the real world, or a mouth to be quiet in the presence of someone who is truly mourning. Sometimes we are called to literally walk the un-walked paths, to go where it is difficult and uncomfortable, and not to do it anonymously, but with our bodies and spirits, with our hands and our names.
Jesus did not anonymously wash the feet of his friends. He got down on the ground and looked them in the eyes. And when he healed, he healed in the flesh, with everything in his being. He used his body and his spirit, his words and his deeds, to bring shalom.
I do not want the least of these to ever say, “O church, where were your hands and your feet? O church, where was your eye contact and your extended grace, your kindness in my time of need? Instead, you shook your heads at each other while we waited in the streets. You argued over laws and belief systems instead of practicing what you say you believe. O church, we needed you, and you were not there.”
Instead, I pray that we do not take lightly the work of ministry, that we do not consider it a traditional paradigm to be set aside.
Today, in a world that is fighting at all extremes of belief for a voice and a microphone, I pray we’d stop to hear the small one, the one that told me in the midst of a busy afternoon to stop and give flowers to people who needed to be reminded that they are not alone in a world that is too loud to hear them.