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A Joyful Gift

I had the privilege of concluding our 5-week Wednesday Evenings at Lent program yesterday. This is part one of what I shared yesterday on our parish theme: Be A Joyful Gift To Others.

There’s a story of a teacher who told his students that he would be giving an exam the following day. Each student came prepared the following day to take the exam. When they got to the classroom the professor was already seated in his chair. On each desk was a piece of paper that had been turned upside down. When it was time for the exam, the professor asked each student to turn the paper over.

The students were surprised to discover that there were no questions, just a simple dot in the middle of the paper. For their question, the professor asked the students to write what they saw on the paper. After the exam, the professor collected the paper and then adjourned the class.

At the next class, the professor shared his disappointment with the students-each student wrote about the dot that was in the middle of the paper. No one wrote about the sea of white that surrounded the paper.

We often limit ourselves to the little dot. He said, and because of that we miss the incredible beauty of life and the love that draws us into the life of others.

There’s a story of a lady who worked at NIH, originally from Canada. Her work was one where she worked primarily on rare cancer diagnoses. Whenever she discovered a rare form of cancer in any patient, she would have followed that patient all through their life.

But the interesting thing she did, which wasn’t part of her job description, was to conduct research into her patients' families. This was to help her discover the potential of the same ailments in the family and to understand how the cancer developed and if there was something that she could learn in her efforts to help with a cure.

She didn’t limit herself to the dot in the middle; she saw everyone who was connected to that dot, and she saw the others who appeared invisible on paper but who were alive. She wasn’t only a gift to her patients, but to their families as well.

When Christ Church's Spiritual Life Commission met last year to reflect on a theme for this year, I felt so blessed by the depth of input from all our members. It is always humbling to see parishioners share their thoughts on important parts of our common life.

What really excited me was the belief that each of us can be a joyful gift to others. The others weren’t necessarily defined- who are they? What sort of people are we talking about? Are these people we know or don’t know? Who are the others?

But the fact that the commission didn't define who the others are, reminded me that each of us is an other, so we didn’t have to define it.

When I think about the other, I think about the story of the Good Samaritan. The Levi, Priest, and the Samaritan. Everyone was an other. But for the Samaritan, the otherness of the wounded man made no difference.

After narrating the story, Jesus asked, "Who was the neighbor to the wounded man?" and the lawyer answered the Samaritan. His response was 'Go and do likewise.' Go and be like the Samaritan. Don’t be constrained by the otherness of someone. We are, each one of us, an other.


A few years ago, I told a story about a South Carolina lawyer who was an Episcopalian. This lawyer detested the idea of shaking hands during the peace. And so, each Sunday, during the peace, he would fold his arms and frown his face. He was in a space where no one was the other, yet everyone is an other.

On his 40th wedding anniversary, the lawyer took his wife to the Bahamas to celebrate their anniversary. They arrived in Bahamas and did all the touristy thing. But then they decided to worship at the local Anglican cathedral on the Sunday - remember, this man worships every Sunday.

To his utter amazement, he and his wife were among the minorities in the sanctuary. For the first time in his life, he saw himself as the other. For the first time in his life, he found himself in a space where who he was and how he looked was of little to no significance to people with whom he worshipped.

During the peace, something amazing happened. He saw his fellow worshippers being gay, joyous, and going around shaking hands and hugging like we used to do here at Christ Church before the pandemic.

The wife didn’t have a problem shaking hands. But something dawned on this lawyer; it was like an epiphany moment, reality did set in, and he realized that he couldn’t fold his arms or frown his face. He simply couldn’t do the same thing that he used to do back in South Carolina.

The spirit of the people in the congregation and the giving of one to the other was so infectious that this lawyer couldn’t help but be transformed by that experience and extend his hand to shake the hands of the other. The more cynical reason is that he knew where he was and that if he had folded his arms and frowned his face, they would’ve run him out of that sanctuary. He knew there was no way that he could have disrespected his fellow worshippers by folding his arms.

The lawyer returned to South Carolina a changed man who had then begun shaking hands on Sunday during worship.

The point here is that you are an other, and I am also an other. That is probably why we didn’t feel the need to define who the other is with our Spiritual Life Theme. But more than each being just an other, anyone can be a joyful gift to everyone else. And for that reason, the other needs no definition.

If the other needs no definition, can we offer ourselves as gifts to whoever the other is? The question is, can we offer ourselves as joyful gifts? The issue here isn’t so much about the gift but whether it is a joyful giving of the gift - a joyful giving of the self. 



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