I looked up when he sat his cup on the edge of my table. He looked straight at me, finished putting his coat on, picked up his cup and walked out. I've seen him there, (Panera in Westport), numerous times over the past 10-12 months. I often take my lunch break there if only to make use of their wifi and get a glass of tea. Often he would be asleep in one of the chairs in front of the "fireplace". Other times I would see him slowly sipping at his cup of whatever, sitting at a table, a little shaky, kind of just staring ahead. Over the prior months I was somewhat surprised to see him there so often. Most places would have asked him to leave, but the folks there seemed to quietly care for this young man. My guess is he is in his late 20's or early 30's and always seemed like a broken soul, just existing.
This day at the restaurant was different though. The next day was to be the last day the place was open. Panera in Westport is no more. And, as I said, this day, this encounter with this man was different than any other. This was the first time we had ever made direct eye contact. Truthfully I was uncomfortable. Mostly because I couldn't really read what was there for him. I couldn't quite tell if it was that he recognized me from being in the store I work in across the street; when management had me ask him to leave, or if it maybe was just a recognition from seeing me there at Panera before, or if it was a look of defeat that once again he was losing one more place of refuge and that I was part of the "society" that was responsible for his coming loss. It was an encounter I won't easily forget.
This week in the Pastor's class I'm supposed to talk with them about worship. One of the scriptures is John 4:24. In it we are told to worship in spirit and truth. As I've pondered the interaction with the young man, I've thought about what it might mean to talk about worshipping in spirit and truth or doing it for that matter, and how it might be different for us than for him. Of course the easy thing would be to go to Saint Andrew, be surrounded by the beauty and the community, feel good about it all and go on about my life. But, of course, that is probably too simplistic for John's statement.
In the Connection last week, Erin mentioned that in John, Jesus refers again and again, to the people that have been "given to him" by God. And she helps us give pause to consider who God has "given" to us. And so I wonder now, how we put one beside the other? How does worshipping in spirit and truth make a difference in the world of injustices that the young man I encountered lives in? I'm not exactly sure I know. Perhaps somewhere in the mix of it all, worshipping in spirit and truth, presents a possibility of being renewed. A renewal that will make a difference with and for the people that have been given to "us".
I went to Panera the next day, the last day the place was open, mostly to see if the young man was there. He was not.
Empower us Holy One as the ones that have been given to us, cross our paths.
Rev. Duncan has served as part-time Minister of Worship and Arts for the past 20 years. He and his husband Randy live in the Mid-town Kansas City area and volunteer with a local Beagle Rescue.