I often joke that potlucks are among the main reasons I became a minister. Apparently I’m not alone in my culinary reverence for feasting because, last week, I gathered with fellow clergy to do what most of us do all too well — eat.
Like many Thanksgiving potlucks, ours began when the Methodist minister who chairs our gatherings invited us to share something for which we’re thankful.
A Pentecostal colleague began by broadcasting the dramatic news of his church’s numerical growth. A young Congregational pastor followed him, telling of her husband’s new job. Another pastor stood to share a story of forgiveness that his congregation had extended to an erring staff member.
As most people looked around wondering who’d be next, I stared into my empty plate. I wanted to share how grateful I was that someone brought deviled eggs, but thought better of it.
Then, just as our convener was signaling the beginning of our meal with a raised fork, a priest from Sierra Leone cleared his throat.
“I am thankful that Ebola has come to America,” he said.
There was a sudden stillness in the room, quickly broken by the retired priest seated next to me.
“Father!” exclaimed the retiree, “How can you be thankful for such a horrible thing?”
The priest, not a man to be shamed, stood and took a clearing breath before answering, “Ebola has been infecting our people for at least 10 years, yet America has only seen Ebola as a minor thing.”
As he sat back down, he added, “I’m grateful that America now seems motivated to find a cure.”
Most of us responded with stunned silence, staring at the 40-something priest as though he were a terrorist looking to propagate the infection.
But, in the few moments that followed the awkward silence, I heard the understanding tones of “hmm” and “ohhh” spreading through our gathering.
We got it. With one short stab, the priest had proclaimed the unspeakable and rightfully chastened us for our country’s lack of action.
His words brought to mind a saying I often hear in our surgical department: “Minor surgery is what happens to you. Major surgery is what happens to me.” While we are truly the most generous nation in the world, it seems as though wasn’t until the disease reached our shores that we saw it as anything more than a minor problem.
The priest reminded us that what happens to a piece of our world is happening to the whole. When it comes to Ebola, there are no first, second and third worlds.
There’s only one world and there’s no escape from it. NASA isn’t going to transport us to a massive space station or repopulate us to another planet. The president isn’t writing an executive order to build a quarantine wall around our coasts. If we don’t survive together, we will die together.
Ebola is the strangest thing I’ve ever heard someone express thanks for, but by the end of our thankful meal, the priest’s remark had reminded us of the wisdom from Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much shall be required.”
During the holidays, as you say a prayer of thanks, stop for a minute and ask yourself a question. If we are truly thankful for all God has provided in our lives, aren’t we also responsible to share those provisions with others?