Sometimes you realize that you're where you're supposed to be, even if the reason you went there in the first place didn't pan out.
Earlier today, I went to an area nursing and rehabilitation center to see a member recuperating from recent surgery.
When I walked across the parking lot, a woman, leaving the place after making her own visit, called out from her car, "Hello, Father. Where's your church?"
"Actually," I said, "I serve Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville."
"Oh!" she told me, "years ago, when I was going through some tough times, I went to talk with a Lutheran pastor. He helped me so much."
We talked for awhile. Our brief conversation reminded me that, while sometimes monstrous things are done in the name of Christ by those who claim to be Christian, the Church, whether laypeople or clergy, also does a world of good in Christ's name. And people like that woman are grateful for it.
When I went to our church member's room, she wasn't there, but in physical therapy. By experience, I know that takes some time and it's not a convenient moment for therapist or patient to be interrupted for a visit that includes prayers and Holy Communion. So, I decided to leave a note.
I asked for a piece of paper from a nurse at the nearest desk. She handed it to me and asked, "Are you a pastor?"
"Yes," I said.
"My parents go to Grace Lutheran Church in Springfield."
"One of my favorite pastors is the senior pastor there," I told her.
"You know Pastor Powell? He's great! I'd go, but we live pretty far away. And my husband likes a more contemporary service. They have one, but it's once a month."
I told her that there are lots of churches, Lutheran and otherwise, that offer varied worship services. "There might be a good one for you and your husband."
I then handed her the note for our Living Water member, asked her for her name so that I could pray for her. She seemed genuinely touched.
Out of the facility and onto the parking lot again, a man with a "Vietnam Veteran" ball cap was getting into his car. "Hi!" he called out. "How are you today? Do you have a loved one here?" I asked.
He explained that his ninety-seven year old father was a resident there. His mind is still sharp, he explained, but he can't hear and he's nearly blind. He's got other health issues and he sometimes says he wishes that he could die. "I tell him he can't feel that way," the vet told me, "but I understand how he does."
He looked down. "We also got some bad news today. My wife's got some sort of heart problem. The doctor says she doesn't necessarily need surgery. They're going to try to use medicine. But it was discouraging for her."
As we talked more, he told me of his own health issues, including diabetes and accompanying neuropathy.
He said all of these things without any discernible self-pity, but I could tell that all of it was weighing on his mind. He expressed gratitude for the care he gets through the Veterans' Administration.
Our conversation covered other topics too. He mentioned having gone on an Honor Flight, something that my dad, a Korean War-era Air Force veteran is going to be doing in September, on his eighty-eighth birthday.
As I got ready to leave, I told the man, "Believe me, I think that I can understand a bit how you feel with your dad's situation, especially with you being pulled in different directions. My own mom just died in April and though my dad is in great shape, you can't help being concerned.
"But, I want to encourage you when it comes to your wife's situation. Seven years ago this past month, I had a serious heart attack. had a 100% blockage of the left anterior descending artery. They call that the widow-maker. I've got a stent and a pacemaker/defibrillator. I lost 40% of my heart muscle. I just saw my cardiologist for my annual check-up yesterday. He still says that he can't understand how I developed a blockage and he doesn't know why I survived the heart attack..."
"I do," the vet said. I agree with him, of course, that God spared me that day in June, 2010. And I chastise myself often for not always remembering that if God saved me, He did so for His purposes not mine, so that I can accomplish the things He has for me to accomplish. Things like going to nursing homes when the person I'm visiting is unavailable.
"You tell your wife, there are all kinds of things the cardiologists can do. I'm living proof of it. And let me pray for your wife and your dad. What are their names?"
"Denise and Martin," he said.
"I'll be praying," I told him. (If you'd pray for Denise and Martin, too, I'd appreciate it. Prayer in Jesus' name is powerful!)
Three people I'll probably never see again. Each of them a divine appointment for this date in God's day planner for me. Each an opportunity, in little ways, to share a reminder that the God we meet in Jesus Christ is around and that He cares and that His people, the Church, care too.
In Hebrews 13:2, Christians are told: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." The verse directly references an incident from Genesis in which Abraham welcomed messengers or angels of God, including the Lord Himself, to His tent. Christians are to be welcoming people, knowing that everyone they meet reflects the God in Whose image they were first created.
But, sometimes we show hospitality--a word related to the word hospital, the name for places of healing--when we meet people out in the world and extend to them the healing compassion, concern, and shelter of the God Who loves them infinitely, the God we can only know through Jesus Christ.
That's why Jesus says that whenever we serve those the world considers to be the least--the elderly, the young, the hurting, the overlooked--we serve Him.
And for that to happen, we have to be in the right places, open to being interrupted by God's plans, willing to trash our own. I sometimes forget that, getting caught up in my own agenda. But living with an openness to God's appointments for me is one of the most fulfilling aspects of following Jesus.
When you get out of God's way long enough, you realize that you're exactly where you're supposed to be, even if the reason you went there in the first place didn't pan out. At least that's what I've experienced.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]