For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:15,17)
John works in the Santa Rosa Beach Post Office near where we live in Florida. We see him regularly because one of Angela’s many gifts is buying presents for our ever-expanding global family. Rachel and I have the privilege of packing and shipping them, which can sometimes be quite a task, involving customs declarations and careful address checking. John has become an important link in this global network of gift-giving, and we let him know how much we value his assistance. Rachel has made a friend of John and has shared with him her love of watercolor painting.
One day, John challenged Rachel to paint him an elephant – I am not sure that he was altogether serious about his request – but Rachel took him at his word and painted him a magnificent elephant that we framed and then presented to him on our next visit to the Post Office. John was overwhelmed and told Rachel that her painting was now hanging in his home. John always makes a point of greeting Rachel and me when we enter the facility, and during the weeks that I was incapacitated by my broken leg … he came out from behind his work station so that he could greet me in the parking lot! I’m not sure that the customers standing in line were quite as impressed as I was! Most people don’t even know John’s name or care about what he does – his life is hidden from view – but for us he is a dear friend and helps keep our international family network functioning.
There are many such hidden people – men and women who serve us and keep our world functioning in a wide variety of ways.
Hidden Figures is the title of a movie released in 2017 that tells the story of three brilliant African-American women at NASA – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962. It was a stunning achievement that helped restore the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. Angela has a personal connection to this story through her cousin Sylvia Glenn, who was a relative of Senator Glenn! As a mathematician, I was fascinated by the story but saddened by the way in which these three women were kept hidden by the prejudice of that day. I am delighted that they have now been recognized for their remarkable gifts and scientific contributions.
Candy is a vibrant Africa-American woman who worked as a janitor on the staff of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, where I was called as rector in 1991. For most members of the congregation, Candy was hidden from view, but I quickly discovered that she was not only very good at her work but also had an infectious joyful attitude. I also found out that she had a powerful singing voice and that she was married to Bill – pastor of a small Pentecostal church. I began to dream of ways we could work together. Pentecost Sunday was approaching, so I invited Candy and Bill to bring their entire congregation and join us for Sunday morning worship. They all knew how to worship, and it wasn’t long before the whole church was a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, Holy-Ghost-sanctified Pentecostal assembly. Thanks to Candy and Bill’s witness, we knew that we were in the presence of the living God. It was a glorious moment, for which I still give thanks.
Our son Jon is the rector of the Church of the Holy Cross in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also a turf maintenance supervisor with the North Carolina State University Facilities Division. He describes himself as having two churches – one in the morning from 6:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. and the other in the afternoon/evening and weekends. His morning congregation is made up of men and women who wear hi-vis safety vests and work all over the more than 2,000-acre campus – and yet are invisible to most of the 44,000 students and faculty. Jon makes sure that his work crew carry out their various assignments at the highest standards, but he also lets them know that he cares for them as individuals. This has led to many fascinating conversations about personal and deeply spiritual matters. They have even started asking him what he preached about on the previous Sunday, which leads to many more profound questions. They have the assurance that while they may be hidden from the students and faculty, they are well known and deeply loved by their heavenly Father.
“Deborah” is an elderly Jewish widow whose family persuaded to move into a residential care center not far from our Florida home. She found the hidden, restricted world of senior care not at all to her liking, so she moved out and rented a house in our immediate neighborhood. Angela and Rachel befriended her and she soon became part of our extended family and the recipient of regular deliveries of homemade cookies and brownies. She made it clear that she was not ready to join us for worship at our local church, but she was interested in receiving copies of my occasional sermons, and we have had a number of lively conversations. Somewhat to her family’s chagrin, Deborah has now bought her own house in an adjacent neighborhood and is hidden no longer!
No-one is meant to be hidden in the kingdom of God … each and every person is valuable … and we have a responsibility to see them. A song from the early
1970’s by Jodi Page Clark of the Community of Celebration says it well:
Look around you; can you see.
Times are troubled, people grieve.
See the violence, feel the hardness.
O my people, weep with me.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison
Walk among them; I’ll go with you.
Reach out to them with my hands.
Suffer with me and together,
We will serve them, help them stand.
Kyrie eleison, …
Forgive us, Father; hear our prayer.
We would walk with you, anywhere.
Through your suffering, with forgiveness,
Take your life into the world.
Kyrie eleison, …
Your brother in Christ,