It was Tuesday afternoon, and I was sitting in my office, organizing my week, which is to say (in some ways) organizing my mess. I was looking at sermon texts, and figuring out my visitation schedule, and doing a little beginning-of-the-week reading.
Then our office coordinator buzzed me, and said these familiar words, "There is someone here who would like to talk to a pastor."
This is a familiar sentence, and could mean any number of things, but it usually means that : 1) the person who wants to speak to me is a stranger to me, and probably to my congregation; 2) the stranger perhaps wants to complete one particular step of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, or 3) the stranger needs gas, or food, or some kind of crisis assistance. Sometimes I can help them. Sometimes I can't.
"I'll be out in a minute," I told the Office Coordinator, while I straightened my office a little bit, and made sure I had one more chair in my office.
When I went out to meet the stranger in need, I found that it was a man and his wife, as well as their teenager son. They looked sort of worn around the edges, tired, bedraggled. They told me that their niece was in the hospital, that she was very sick. She had already had a couple of operations, and would need more. They had paid all of their money in rent, and had nothing to pay for gas so that they could go and visit her. They also wondered about a coupon for some kind of food. The teenager wondered if we had any coffee.
I told the teenager that we should have some coffee on, and he should ask our Office Coordinator for a cup. I asked the couple the name of their niece, and said we would pray for her. I told them that we could give them a voucher for gas, although unfortunately, it would not fill up their tank. The high prices, you know. And I told them about a church very close to ours where I thought they could get sandwiches.
I printed the voucher for the couple, and took it out to them. I asked the teenager if he got his coffee. He smiled and said yes. I told them again we would pray for their niece, and wished them well.
After they left, I had a very fleeting thought.
I wondered, for a moment -- what if it was all a story? What if when they left the building, the three of them collapsed in laughter because I believed their story?
I don't know why I thought that. Maybe it was because there are warning stories that circulate periodically, stories about scam artists who visit churches with particular hard-luck stories. Maybe it was the memory of the time, long ago, when I had helped out a few people with gas, and then watched one of them drive off in a large SUV.
But perhaps instead, it was because I had preached on Sunday about the foolishness of the gospel, and the foolishness of what I was doing struck me, for a moment. There is a certain foolishness to what we do, listening to the stories of strangers, saying we'll pray for them, giving them a little help for the road. And yet I am convinced that it is what I'm called to do. I'm called to believe them. I'm called to foolishness.
We're called to foolishness, which is to say, we are called to love. We are called to listen to the stories of strangers, and believe them, and pray for them. We're called to give out the cup of cold water, or hot coffee, to a stranger, to give shelter to the homeless, and to pray for our enemies. Foolishness.
This is not as easy as it sounds. It is hard to be foolish. I know that if I saw this family standing by the freeway exit, with a sign that read, "Anything will help," I would be tempted not to roll down my window. It might seem too foolish.
It is hard to be foolish. But the truth is: we aren't called to be foolish alone. We are called to be foolish together.