Biblically, joy comes with the presence of God. Nehemiah wrote, “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh 8:10) while in the Psalms we read, for “all who take refuge in you [God] rejoice; let them ever sing for joy” (Psalm 5:11). God, says the Psalms “put more joy in my heart” (Psalm 4:7) and in God’s “presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). When God is present, there is joy.
When we opened Manna House this morning, we prayed with our guests on the front porch. We always hold hands for this opening prayer. This morning the hands of the guests that I held were icy cold. I made the prayer short so people with cold hands could get inside quickly and wrap their hands around a hot cup of coffee. About 500 cups of coffee were served through the course of the morning. “Manna House coffee sure hits the spot!” “This coffee is strong. Thank God.”
Kathleen worked with a guest and her husband to get them housing. He had been spending most nights outside while she had stayed at various shelters. Thanks to generous donors, Manna House has the resources to cover a few months’ rent. They moved into their new apartment this afternoon. It is one mile from where she works and on a bus line. Now she will be able to keep her job and take care of her husband. He is hoping to find steady work too.
A guest came out of the shower room to let us know that someone had crapped in one of the showers. I went in to see what needed to be done to clean up. The shower stall with the crap was still occupied. I was surprised. The elderly and frail man in the shower said, “I’m so sorry. I just go. I can’t help it.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, “it’s only crap. I’m glad you came to shower.” Given my sense of smell, the clean-up was not that bad. The man left showered and with clean clothes, smelling fresh.
Carolyn and Bergen staffed the clothing room, offering “socks and hygiene” and getting guests set up for showers. Hats, gloves, scarves were also given freely.
Byron shared the story during our time of reflection at the end of the morning at Manna House. Two guests, one a white male, the other a black woman. Both struggle with mental illness. The man usually has an angry scowl on his face and his hair is disheveled. The woman smells of urine. The zipper on the woman’s coat was not working. The man offered to help. He worked diligently and patiently for about ten minutes. He got the zipper fixed. The woman was able to close her coat against the cold.
Read a few stories in the Bible about hospitality and a common theme emerges: joy. Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to three passing strangers (angels disguised as men). Before long Sarah is laughing at the joke these strangers were telling that she and Abraham will have a child when they return a year hence. Turns out, it is better than a joke. Sarah and Abraham have a child in their old age and experience the joyously surprising way God keeps God’s promises. (See Genesis 18).
A widow and her son are near death from starvation. The widow welcomes Elijah the prophet to share her last meal. Only it is not her last meal. There ends up being enough for her and her son for years to come. And later, when her son takes deathly ill, the prophet heals the son. (See 1 Kings 17). Elisha the prophet is welcomed and he shares the blessings of God’s abundance with a widow who was in poverty. He is welcomed and he heals the only child of the couple that welcomed him. (See 1 Kings 4). In the New Testament, Jesus affirms that in offering hospitality we will welcome him (Matthew 25:31-46), and that those who offer hospitality will enjoy a banquet with God (Luke 14:12-14). Then there is the story of those who welcomed the risen Jesus and shared a meal with him. They find their hearts strangely warmed (and they were not even Methodist) (Luke 24:13-32). In Hebrews we read that in offering hospitality the joy of welcoming angels will be experienced.
The angels came this morning with cold hands, with struggles for housing, with struggles for health, mental and physical. They witnessed to the injustice of the world. They also brought with them the very presence of God. And when one of the angels asked for the “Word of the Day” we found this passage that speaks of God’s just priorities and a joyous day which is to come:
We give you praise, O God of life; both now and evermore we bless your name.
From east to west, and north to south, from sunrise to sunset may your name be praised.
You, O God are the eternal light. Your glory reaches higher than the heavens.
Who is like you, magnificent in holiness? And yet you live so close within.
You raise the poor from their lowliness; you lift the oppressed from the depths.
You give dignity to their lives, a place of honor with all the faithful.
You renew and strengthen all that lives; you make empty hearts content. (Psalm 113)