Last weekend, I was sitting at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park watching the State College Spikes play and enjoying the company of family and good friends, when I happened to look up. The view is always amazing at Medlar Field with the beautiful backdrop of Mount Nittany in the distance, but on this occasion we were blessed with a spectacular sunset that seemed, at least for a moment, to make time stand still. In that moment, I was overwhelmed by a deep sense of joy and gratitude for the gift of life itself.
Perhaps one of the benefits of age and experiences, both good and bad, is that it provides perspective. This being only my second summer in Happy Valley, I am still finding the beauty of the countryside, small quaint towns and the warm and friendly people energizing and refreshing. After many years of city and suburban living, our little community feels like heaven to me. The hustle and bustle, pushing and shoving, honking and shouting, unending traffic and clouds of exhaust have all given way to friendly greetings at the town post office, good-natured banter at the barber shop and diner, high school sporting events, county fairs and sticky buns, chicken barbecues and spaghetti dinners.
When I go out for a drive, I am now met with the vision of Amish farm equipment pulled by a team of horses, six abreast, being driven by a young woman wearing a dress. And then there are the vast expanses of healthy wheat and corn and small roadside stands selling “fresh brown eggs” and strawberries. I wonder, do the others who live here see these things? And if so, do they realize how blessed we are to live in such a place?
But then I observe the incredible sense of community and closeness of the people, the way everyone seems to come together in times of crisis to show concern and provide support for their neighbors, and I think yes, they get it. This is precisely the kind of behavior that Christ called us to — to love and care for one another, to be kind and considerate and to put the needs of others before our own. During his time on earth, Jesus provided us with a new commandment — just one — and it should be the filter for all our words and actions. You can find it in the Gospel of John (15:12-13): “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
In just the short time I’ve been here, I’ve seen this command practiced in so many ways: organizations such as the all-volunteer food banks, the Hope Fund in Penns Valley, Interfaith Human Services, Hearts for the Homeless and even our local clubs such as Lion’s Club, Kiwanis and the Legion Chapters, all seeking opportunities to serve those in need. And then the countless individual acts of compassion where people look out for one another and help meet the physical and spiritual needs of others, without fanfare or recognition, in their times of need.
I received a sharp reminder just a few weeks ago as I worked at our church food table at the Centre Hall town-wide yard sale. At one point we were busily selling our hot dogs and barbecue, working hard to raise some funds for our outreach ministry, when a gentleman approached and handed me some tightly folded bills — “just a donation” he said, and then turned and quickly walked away. Imagine my surprise as I unfolded two $100 bills.
We live in a time when most of the news we hear is of hatred, dissension and evil, and it is very easy to become discouraged by this. But I’d like to invite you take courage, lift your eyes to the hills, see and enjoy the constant reminders of God’s love for us, and continue living a life of gratitude and compassion for one another — a life we have been called to.
Dave Downer is the pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Centre Hall.