Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kingdom Kindness

Two weeks ago, I had this encounter in the Market Basket in Central Plaza here in Haverhill.

For those of you blessed with a Market Basket in your community -- well, you know that you see all types in those stores. More so than in your typical grocery store. Central Plaza seems to have its own special types of people that make life living in an urban setting the adventure that it should be.

But this isn't a story about Market Basket (although I have many opinions about that grocery store and its horrible lack of natural and organic products).
I had just come from working in the garden and before going home, I needed to pick up a few quick items at the grocery store. I was gross, sweaty, and dirty -- and wanted to get home as quickly as possible to clean up. I made my way to the Express lane - which was a mistake. (I have this bad habit that I picked up from my father-in-law of always choosing the slowest lane, regardless of how short it looks).

Ahead of me in line was a young woman who was currently negotiating with the cashier and an elderly lady with three or four items on the conveyor belt. The woman currently being checked out was arranging and rearranging items in her cart, checking totals, and asking the cashier if she could charge this and this separately. I looked up and the light was flashing. Part of me was frustrated -- after all, this was the express lane and if this was how things were going to go down, she should have picked another lane.  I realized that I could be here for awhile and settled in for a long wait. The woman in front of me and I started up a casual conversation (she thought I had pretty skin and wanted to know what products I used...I didn't tell her that hot water in the shower is my only facial regimen). After a few polite exchanges, the line had grown to include a woman behind me and two more people after her.

It was obvious by this point that the woman at the front of the line was getting frazzled. She was trying to figure out if she could afford the pack of bagels she was holding or if she should have the cashier put it back along with some other items. I mean - this was a process. High level negotiations were going on...and I was getting ready to jump ship.

The elderly woman in front of me, seemingly out of the blue, asked her if she had children, to which she responded, “yes, and another one on the way,” turning to show off her stomach. All the ladies started exclaiming over her condition and sharing their own pregnancy experiences (a conversation in which I was clearly unable to be a full participant).

She then explained in embarrassed tones that she was trying to budget out all of the food she was getting - paying for the WIC items first and then using extra change she had to pay for the rest. She turned to the cashier and gave back the bagels, saying that she didn’t have enough to cover the cost.  The lady in back of me said, “You go ahead and get the bagels, I’ll pay for them.” The young woman protested, but the good samaritan insisted, saying, “I remember being in your position. I’ll pay for the bagels, you don’t worry about it.” (To which the gentleman behind her responded, “are you going to pay for my groceries too?”)

The pregnant mother was so grateful for the gesture and so appreciative of the small kindness shown to her. It struck me just how simple it is to show God's love to people around us. While buying someone's bagels at the grocery store may not make the local news, for that woman - who was trying so desperately hard to do right by her kids - those bagels were God's grace. The woman who purchased them may or may not have been a follower of Jesus, but in that moment, she was most assuredly a conduit for God's transforming love and power. In that small, random act of kindness - God's kingdom was made tangible and real.

It's one of the most powerful ways that God's kingdom breaks forth. In the gospels, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed - the smallest of seeds that produces the largest of trees. Our small acts of kindness are ways that Jesus makes himself known. String them together and it's a powerful expression of life in the kingdom, with the power to heal, transform, and make us whole.

We have a new branch in The Vine called Urban Kindness. It meets on Sunday afternoons to show some love to the Washington Heights neighborhood. Lately, we've been working on a small abandoned island of green in front of Fantini's bakery (they made a donation to make our Community Garden possible! This is our little thank you gift to them). I hope that as we've been out there for the past few weeks we've been planting more than flowers; I hope we've been planting the seed of hope in the neighbors as they've walked by and seen us in action. I hope we've been planting the seed of community as we've developed a little partnership with the laundromat around the corner who has helped us get water. I hope we've been planting seeds of the kingdom that will be ready to sprout up all over the neighborhood!

Sometimes, it just takes one small action, one small kindness, to change a life. What can you do today to be an agent of God's kingdom?