A guest asked for the Word for the Day when he rode up to Manna House on his bike. Well, first he asked for the air pump for his tires, then he asked for the Word for the Day.
I got our Manna House air pump for him and I came back out on the front porch. I got out my Bible and read a passage I had come across in Morning Prayer, “Each one of you has received a special grace, so, like good stewards responsible for all these different graces of God, put yourselves at the service of others” (1 Peter 4:10).
The new arrival thanked me for the Word and got to work on his tires. The rest of us were sitting around the front porch. The rain that fell off and on all morning kept us out of the backyard. The Word for the Day lingered a bit in the air. I could see a few guests had perked up and listened.
“We all have something from God, something we’re good at,” a guest offered in response to the reading.
“What is your special grace, what is your gift?” I asked another guest sitting next to me.
He hesitated and looked down. Then he answered, “I don’t know that I have any gifts.”
“Surely you do. The Bible says so. God’s grace is with you.”
So he thought a bit more, and softly said, “I’m a good mechanic.”
“Shade tree mechanic?”
“Definitely. I know engines.” He now had a bit of pride on his face.
Like the guest who thought he had no gift, each guest I asked seemed startled by the question.
One guest said, “I’ve never been asked that question before. Give me a minute.”
While he thought, a few others started to share answers.
“I can do dry wall real well.”
“I’m good at prayer.”
“I have the gift of gab.”
“I can take apart just about anything” said another. And sure enough, all morning that guest had worked on taking apart an old computer he had found in the garbage down the street. Periodically he would tell me about the part he had just excavated. “This here is the hard drive.”
I kept at the question. “What is your gift?”
The guest who had asked for a minute came back to the porch. “I can see the devil when he’s about.”
“Now that’s a fine gift. Where’s the devil today?”
No one argued his point.
Then one guest has his gift identified for him. “He’s got the gift of interruption” a guest said pointing to one of our more verbose guests, and the porch erupted with laughter.
Later, I wondered about the hesitancy of our guests in answering this question, “What is your gift?” I am sure for some of it was simple humility. But the way each guest smiled when they shared their gift and the way they listened carefully as each guest shared their gift, I had a sense that more was going on. Kathleen suggested another possibility as we talked.
“I’d say most of our guests haven’t been told by others what their gifts are or even recognized as even having a gift. They’re mostly told how they are worthless; that they don’t have any gifts.”
I thought about the preaching so prevalent in “missions” for homeless people. There’s a lot of talk about sin and how people are on the streets because they haven’t accepted Jesus. I thought about the derisive descriptions people give for our guests from the streets. Bums. Crackheads. Lazy asses. Scum. Dirtbags. I thought about the way public policies are crafted to address “the homeless” by seeing them as hazards to the well-being of downtown or other areas.
The faith-filled assertion in First Peter is that we each have a gift, a grace from God, and all of these gifts contribute to the beauty of our lives together. This applies to our guests as much as to anyone. I think I’ll keep asking this question at Manna House, and elsewhere, “What is your gift?”