Have you ever been traveling and found that you did not have the money you needed to get where you needed to go? When I was in seminary years ago, I had the good fortune to travel abroad for a cross-cultural class. Pastor Jerry Schmalenberger had been teaching at the seminary in Hong Kong and led a class for us there during the month of January. Part of our experiences included meeting several Lutheran missionaries who were assigned to Hong Kong and facilitated a ministry to the Filipino community. This is some of what I remember of a trip we took to meet them on a Sunday morning…
We were staying at the seminary in Kowloon during our visit, but to meet the Filipina women we had to get over to the “Central” island traveling on a short ferry ride. The Filipinas were domestic servants working in Chinese households. The day we went to meet them was their only day off all week, pausing from the work that allowed them to send money back home to their families. The Filipinas met up with each other in the downtown business section of Central island when everything was closed, bringing their lunches to share with each other as they sat on the street corners. We saw bright faces and heard stories and laughter shared together in the sunshine and freedom of the day.
One or two of the Filipinas had met our group and were helping us to navigate our way to Central island. As we reached the metal turnstiles to pay to get aboard the ferry, we realized that we needed the correct change to feed the machine. I was unfamiliar with the currency and fumbled with trying to get what was needed, realizing that I did not have the correct coins. Before I could try to get the change I needed and as I was fearing I would not be able to go, one of the Filipinas who were guiding us quickly took the money from her own pocket and paid for my fare. She laughingly refused to take my larger bill, and graciously encouraged me to get on through for the boat. I felt humbled and grateful for the unexpected gift given so easily from one who worked so hard to earn it and so freely shared with me.
There is a story of when Jesus was visiting a religious leader and joined him on the Sabbath day for a meal. Jesus apparently was watching where people were sitting in the gathering of teachers and religious leaders who also were guests. Jesus noticed that they were taking the best seats at the table, and said,
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11
In this country we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. With the ongoing pandemic, perhaps your plans have changed from what is traditional for you or your family. Will you still set the table and cook familiar foods? Will you share a meal with those who are known to you, who are “in your bubble” and who you feel safe with? Are you withholding invitations to avoid a crowd and possible infection? Is there any question about where you will sit, or who you will sit with, or how you might honor this day if you are alone? What will be the “best seat” for you tomorrow, as we continue to live under “Covid rules”?
There is permission for us, particularly this year, to know that however the day unfolds for us is good enough. We don’t have to have things exactly right or just as we have always done it before, and we can be curious how a humble meal can be just as warmly shared in the way that you choose this year. The surprise of abundance can be joy enough, even as we pray for those who will experience discomfort tomorrow and extend our care and resources as best we are able. We might also remember Martin Luther’s words about our belief in God,
Let us pray...
Thank you for loving us and protecting us, especially when we do not have it exactly right and feel unprepared for the challenges we face. Bless the meals we share and help our hearts to be humble and generous, giving and receiving with joy. Amen.