When I was in my very first ministry position in a tiny town in Illinois I met an old woman with no legs and three ferrets. She lived in a run down house along the town square, next to one of the three churches in this town of 500. I met her in the heat of summer, sitting on her porch in her wheelchair, fanning herself. Amongst her colorful stories, as the ferrets ran to and fro, she shared with me that her power had just been cut off because she couldn’t pay the bill and her food was rotting and she had no fans to keep her cool.
Young and eager as I was, I jumped into action thinking, “surely we can help this woman!” In my calling around to assess the utility situation I learned that when it was a certain temperature outside, the power company could not cut your power for health and safety reasons. I called them on her behalf to lobby. I learned, however, that when the bill is over some number of thousands of dollars, the law doesn’t apply. She owed thousands.
My next idea was to contact the church right next door to her. I was preaching at a different little church just outside town, but I figured, “hey, we’re all the body of Christ, we can work together to serve this woman.” I called the minister and asked if we could run an extension cord over from their building just to power her fridge and a few fans while we helped her sort things out. He said that we could not, and that they were not going to help her any more.
I’m sure it was complicated, but to me, it didn’t feel complicated. I was furious. And desperate to help her.
One block down was the town’s only business: a bar. So I went to the bar. I opened the creaky door and peered into the dark, windowless room, lit only by neon beer signs and a few dingy lamps, as every small town bar seems to be. Two men sat in the dark drinking Busch Light. Country music was playing from a cheap radio. I approached the man tending bar who turned out the be the owner. I explained the situation and asked if perhaps he could help with at least some ice for this woman’s cooler to keep her food cold.
Not only did the bar owner fill a cooler for her – he kept filling her cooler all week until we figured out a better living situation for her.
This is the Kingdom of God.
I’d rather be a willing bartender in the presence of God than a cynical religious person anywhere. May we love those we see in need today.
Grace and Peace,