Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16
Every so often I am reminded of the responsibilities of this holy office I hold in powerfully forceful ways. My most recent lesson came just the morning of June 22 at the Akron-Canton Airport.
Anyone who knows me knows that air travel is my least favorite mode of transportation. I will be so bold as to say I detest flying! It’s not necessarily the flight itself – although the cramped and uncomfortable seats don’t help – but the drama that precedes it. It is having to take off shoes, belt, emptying pockets, and the rest of the performance one has to carry out in order to satisfy the commands of the Transportation Security Administration agents. They are the puppeteers and the travelers are the marionettes.
“Place your feet on the marks,” they bark out, “hold your arms above your head!”
It’s the one time in life that I’m thankful for my ample girth, lest my beltless pants succumb to gravity and produce more of a show than anyone bargained for.
My Sunday had already begun on somewhat of a disquieting note. With very few Sundays left at my current call at Covenant, I wanted to be in the pulpit this morning. But an early flight to Chicago for Bishop Formation (jokingly known as “Baby Bishop School”) made that impossible. When my routine is disrupted, my psyche is unsettled.
Then at the ticket counter I was told, “It’s $25 to check your bag. How will you pay for that?”
“Cash,” I replied.
“I don’t have any change,” came the retort, as I held out two $20 bills.
“Then I guess I’ll pay by credit card.”
So then I enter the line and begin to mentally agonize over the misery that awaits me. That’s when it happened.
A middle-age looking agent took my photo ID and boarding pass. While in line, I had been observing her interaction with the travelers. She was cheerful, friendly, and engaging. She seemed to cater to young children.
“Where are you flying to,” she would ask?
When the child would answer, she would feign excitement, “Well, I hope you have lots of fun!”
The cynic in me was sneering. “What a phony,” I thought. “I hope I get the other, calmer one.”
I hand her my ID without her having to ask. “Good morning,” came the seemingly artificial cheerful voice.
“Hello,” I replied nonchalantly.
Let me interject here that I’m dressed in rather nondescript attire – a blue blazer over an olive green knit shirt, tan slacks and deck shoes (they are not only comfortable, but easy to slip out of in the security line). My ID, however, betrays me. In the photo I’m wearing a very somber and official-looking black cleric, good for influencing law enforcement authorities when facing the possibility of a speeding ticket.
Upon looking at my ID she animatedly exclaims, “I knew you were a pastor!”
“How could you tell that,” I ask?
“You just have that look about you.”
“I guess there are worse things I could look like,” I cautiously remarked, proudly avoiding saying what I was thinking – that it was infinitely better than looking like a terrorist.
Then the woman totally disarmed me by asking, “Will you bless me?”
I was momentarily taken aback, but without making it obvious I asked her, “What’s your name?”
“Melanie,” she answered.
So I took Melanie’s hand, and prayed for her. I asked for God’s blessing on her, that God would surround her with love and protect her with God’s might. I asked that God would bless the work that she did (Wait a minute! I asked that?), and we closed with an enthusiastic, “Amen!”
We exchanged warm, heartfelt smiles, and I moved on to the next stage of my ordeal. But by that interaction, my entire attitude was transformed.
A few minutes later, as I slipped back into my shoes, tied my belt, and refilled my pockets, I reflected on what I had just done. I was utterly mesmerized by the fact that I had prayed for a blessing on a person who works for an agency whose mission in life is to torment me.
Thinking further about it I was woefully ashamed. After all, Jesus prayed for those who crucified him. Yet here I was, carrying this perpetual grudge against nameless, faceless, yet decent human beings who are only following directions in the course of earning a living by doing their job. I felt unbelievably humiliated, as if God were telling me, “Get over yourself, bud! It’s not always about you!”
The other obvious lesson to be learned here as well is the fact that as a pastor, my actions witness to the words I profess – even more so than others, because expectations are different. Had I behaved rudely, I would have failed to glorify the God that I serve. Though I would be readily forgiven, the guilt would still have been hard burden to bear. I could have very easily stuck my foot in my mouth. Grace alone saved me any further embarrassment.
Thank you, Lord, for helping me to see you in others, and allowing me to serve you in ways that glorify you. May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart always be acceptable in your sight. Amen.