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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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More than a hand-me-down encounter

We met decades ago when I was a young pastor and Elizabeth was a single mother of three children. We lived a few doors from one another and I'd encountered her children coming and going on the sidewalk in front of the parsonage. Elizabeth and I had spoken once in front of my house on the day I invited her daughters and son to come to Sunday school.

The children did come. It wasn't long before several teachers approached me with concerns about how the kids were dressed and whether they had enough to eat. I admitted I knew little about the family but promised to go see their mother. That mission carried me to Elizabeth's door, unannounced, on a Monday morning.

Ringing the doorbell, I was welcomed and ushered into the house. Inside the door was a mountain of clothing, taller than any laundry pile I had seen in my life. "Don't mind that," Elizabeth said. "People don't think my kids dress good and so they are forever dropping off their old, discarded clothes on our front porch. I guess they don't know that even poor people have good taste in clothes."

We sat at the table, stirring the instant coffee Elizabeth had quickly made with hot tap water. She was a gracious host; I an awkward guest. Yet, in the hour that followed we discovered how much we had in common. We cared about kids, were new in that city and loved gardening. I met a woman who worked hard to stretch her government check to meet a growing family's needs. She met a woman who was learning how to be a pastor in a neighborhood and not just inside a church building.

This coming Sunday in many of our congregations we will hear the story of Thomas, the disciple who was absent on Easter evening and spent the next six days off-kilter, hearing the others describe their encounter with the risen Christ while he ruminated on a story too good to be true. Thomas was gutsy enough to admit that it would take more than a hand-me-down account to make a believer out of him.

I remember Elizabeth and her kids in this Easter season. In the years since we met, there have been others like her who have shown me what it means to live amid the challenges of poverty and family hardship with trust and confidence in the durable promises of the God who raised Jesus from the dead. They have shared their stories of the amazing ways in which God's presence has carried them through the toughest times, ways in which a living Jesus has stood in their midst.

This Easter season we are reminded of the importance of sharing the good news in fresh, firsthand ways. It's one thing to post Easter announcements on Facebook or sing our hymns of joy within the sanctuary. It's an altogether different matter to carry the news of a living Christ into the streets and homes where people live. It just may be in those unlikely encounters, with coffee mug in hand, that we, too, will be surprised by the presence of the living God. 


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