A number of years ago while part of a work camp in Durham, North Carolina, I was assigned to work with a group of young people on the house of an elderly African-American woman. Before even meeting her, I was informed that she was a cancer survivor who had adopted her two granddaughters. I decided that I was not going to get to close to this woman. I was going to be there for the young people and minister to them. That, I had decided, was my purpose that week.
This mission week was in June 2001. Dad had died from prostate cancer in April 2001.
In my still grieving mind, I did not want to get close to someone who had cancer, because losing that person to cancer was too hard. Distance was my approach.
And so, on Monday morning, I fulfilled my approach. I worked hard. I answered the youth’s questions. We got started on tearing up a rotten floor and starting to build a frame for a concrete slab at the end of the wheelchair ramp. At lunch time, the crew gathered in the homeowner’s bedroom, where she had camped out while we ran around the house doing our thing. The youth wanted to include her in our lunch and our midday devotion.
I quietly slipped into the room, grabbed a piece of pizza, and settled in the corner. The homeowner said, “There he is! There’s the pastor!” I was taken a back at first. This was a time in a life when I was struggling with my call to ministry – never mind ordained ministry. It would be seven years before I would graduate from seminary and thirteen years before I would be fully ordained in the United Methodist Church.
I did not see myself as a pastor. Yes, I worked in the church. And yes, I got to go on mission trips as a part of job. And yes, I occasionally led worship. But, I did not think of myself as a pastor.
I was quick to correct the homeowner that I was not a pastor. I was just a youth leader.
She was quick to correct me. “This morning when you walked past me, I felt the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus passed by.
“In me??” is what I was thinking to myself. I thought for sure she was mistaken. There was no way that the Holy Spirit was moving through me to the point that she could feel it.
By the end of the week I had worked out of the stuff I was hanging on to regarding Dad’s death. I had reclaimed the hope of the resurrection and what that means as a person of faith. I had come to terms that God was indeed calling me to ministry. Yes, even me. And even though it would take me a few more years before I was completely comfortable that God was calling me to ordained ministry, this summer in Durham I accepted the call on my life.
Jesus passed by.
I was overwhelmed that someone I had never met before had sensed the Holy Spirit in me. And yet, that same person was the one who pointed me in the direction that God was calling me. God was at work in me, and while I believe that God wasn’t going to give up on me, this homeowner was a signpost directing me toward God’s call instead of away from it.
Sometimes we expect to see Jesus pass by like we would a parade. There is great anticipation. There is the grand marching band preparing the way. There are the preparatory floats getting us excited. And then, at the end of the parade, there is Jesus!
Most often, I think, we come upon the parade after its passed by and we feel disappointed because we missed it. We missed the excitement and the fun. But what I’ve learned over the years is that Jesus doesn’t pass by with all that fanfare. But, instead, in unexpected ways.
Jesus is the stranger at the gas station telling you your tire is flat.
Jesus is the child who runs up and gives you a hug.
Jesus is in the random acts of kindness done by neighbors for each other.
Jesus is the random phone call you receive asking you how you are doing.
Jesus is the friend who takes you out for coffee when they know you’ve had a bad day.
Jesus is the dog who loves on you no matter what.
Jesus is the young person who preaches to her friends by her good works.