by Nikki Byers
This testimony was shared with the beloved community of First Baptist on Fifth on October 1, 2023 as part of our “Attending Church” focus on what it means to tend – or “attend” – the life of our church.
In the parable you are going to hear shortly it talks about the kingdom of heaven being like stumbling upon a treasure in a field and it being so valuable that you sell everything to buy the field. You found something you weren’t even looking for.
Here are some stories that describe things in my life that I seem to have stumbled across……
And they are from my time when I was the minister of missions in the pandemic here.
As part of my job as minister for missions I had oversight for our benevolence fund to the community. At that time we had a rather large fund designated for benevolences and the mission committee had decided that we would give as much as we could to as many as we could for as long as we could. I was really able to simply give to those who asked. And the stories and lives that were shared with me were precious and they were gracious and worthy. Example: House fire. Family jumped out the window. Paid for a week’s hotel stay.
Or the things that we did with Ashley Elementary school, the meals we provided to staff, parents and children. The books we collected so that we could give five to each child. And contrary to the image that is conjured when describing the school as low income, minority, transient low performing….these children and families are warm, welcoming, gracious,hopeful….and you want to do everything to mitigate because you know how their lives in this world are going to be.
The enculturation of our world, the consumerism, the status structure, the fear of the other can block out the view of the preciousness that is always at hand.
During the pandemic Richard and I took a lot of walks downtown. And in those walks we would encounter so many different kinds of people, many that were homeless or seriously down on their luck. I remember we made the conscious decision to greet everyone we met, look them in the eye and say hello. And we decided to carry five dollar bills in our pockets so that every time someone asked for money we would give them $5. Those decisions transformed our walks.We would encounter individuals with stern, fearful faces that would break into a beatific smile that lit up his whole being. We did not want to dodge those individuals who might want to ask something of us.
And then there was this particular afternoon when I was on the staff here and walking from my house to the church for a staff meeting. Right ahead of me on the grass by the sidewalk were two men and woman kind of huddled on the grass. They looked a little sketchy to me and I instinctively started across the street to the other side. About midway in my crossing, I thought what am I doing? Could I any more be that Levite in the crossing to the other side in our well known story of the good samaritan. So I crossed back over and asked them what was up? Was there something I could do? They told me their story, the woman was not feeling well and they needed to get her back home, but had no money for a cab or Uber. I gave them the money in my pocket, $20, I think. The manner they received this, the way they shared their story….there it was, the kingdom of heaven.
The first words of Jesus when he began his ministry was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” The kingdom of heaven is at hand……always.