Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jesus in a Coke Float

This is my column which was published in the "Faith & Values" Section of The Huntsville Times on May 9, 2008 - Steve West

When I was a child, my father served as pastor of a church in Fayette, Alabama. The church was right next door to our home. On the opposite side of us lived a woman I knew only as “Mrs. Alleen”.

I don’t remember a lot about life in Fayette because we moved away when I was four. But I do remember a few images: the large steps in front of the church, the playground, the kitchen and den of our home, and of course Mrs. Alleen. What I remember about her most is that she was always ready to invite me in for a Coke float. And I loved Coke floats. I have always had a lingering image in my mind of her gracious hospitality, with glass and spoon in hand.

Years later, I had the opportunity to go back to Fayette to preach as a guest in that church. I was curious about Mrs. Alleen and asked one of the church leaders what had become of her. He said she was still alive and lived in the nursing home. “Would you like to go see her?” I was delighted.

I’ll never forget this visit. He brought me to her room and told her there was somebody that wanted to see her. Her eyes turned to me with anticipation. I reached out my hand and said, “I’m sure you have no idea who I am, but my name is Stephen West.”

She immediately threw her head back and exclaimed, “OH! I remember you! I used to hear you all the time, standing out in the carport crying at the top of your lungs.” She mimicked the sound of my wailing. “One day I just couldn’t stand it anymore, so I opened up my fridge and asked myself, ‘what can I give that boy to keep him quiet?’ And all I could find was some ice cream and a bottle of Coke!”

Until that moment I had no idea why she had been such a person of warm hospitality! She had shown me Jesus in a Coke float. There is something incarnational, something wonderfully mysterious about self-giving love in the name of Christ.

Most of us roam around in life, crying out in pain. The child in us is screaming, sometimes loudly, sometimes silently. We expect somebody to take the pain away but no person can, not really. But what we can do for others is share the love of Christ, who is “made known to us in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35b). When we share the love of Jesus in a Coke float, a smile, or a gesture of care with somebody who is hurting, it makes all the difference.