I had an unusual job assignment last week:
Preach a sermon to honor the lives of 28 United Methodist ministers, 17 clergy spouses, and a large number of laity who died over the past year in The Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In front of 1000+ people at the Jackson Convention Center.
I felt so honored and overwhelmed by Bishop Swanson's invitation to preach.
I also felt nervous in a way I never had with the weight of responsibility.
By the time Annual Conference arrived, I had a manuscript and spent every free moment reading & rereading the sermon. I wanted to commit as much of it to memory as possible. As I sat down for breakfast at the hotel the day before the service, I fixed my eyes on my tablet.
"Well, good morning, how are you doing today? Do you want some coffee? How about some cream? I'll bring you any flavor you want. Do you want juice, too?"
I looked up to a face as familiar as the voice.
Paula had worked at this hotel restaurant since my college years. When I was home on breaks, my mom, sister, and I would often eat breakfast at this hotel, and she would wait on us. Her eyes were always bright, and she always encouraged us to take our time, to spend as much time in the restaurant as we'd like. Years had passed since I'd last seen Paula, but her joyful, generous spirit was hard to forget.
After she took my drink order, she thanked me.
After she brought my coffee, she said, "If you need anything, you call my name, and I'll come."
When I said "thank you" to her, she always responded, "Oh no....thank you."
As she cleared my plates after breakfast, I realized that I had become distracted from reading the sermon. No sooner did I reach for my tablet again, Paula spoke.
"You know what? I love my work. I've been here for 17 years, and I can't imagine doing anything else."
My heart told me to listen, but my head told me I had a job to do.
I turned away from the screen to look at Paula. "That is great to hear because you are really good at your job."
She kept right on talking. "I'm on my feet a lot, but that doesn't matter. I'm grateful that I can walk. I love seeing people like you and your mom. I love my work."
As she left to fix me a cup of coffee to go, she told me to stay as long I'd like. To take my time. Instead of returning to the tablet, I paused to say a prayer of thanks for Paula and to ask myself, "Do I love my work?"
Yes, of course, I love my work as a pastor, writer, and student.
Yet I had become so caught up in the seeming "bigness" of preaching at the Memorial Service that I'd forgotten what mattered most: to love the calling. To love the One who calls us. To express love of my work with the same joy and anticipation that I witnessed in Paula.
My liturgical planner, Sacred Ordinary Days, includes this simple prayer that became my refrain leading up to the service. I thought of Paula as I prayed. Her work had enabled me to do my work. In the ordinariness of a breakfast buffet at a local hotel, I had encountered the sacred.
When the service began, and I stepped forward to preach, I was no longer focused on the words on my tablet, although I did refer to them. Paula had helped turn my eyes away from doing my task to loving our work.
Our jobs are not always easy, and we may struggle to say we love what we do as much as Paula. But our work together is much more fulfilling when we shed light on each other's lives.
How might you shed God's marvelous light in someone's life today?
all good things to each of you,