A Night to Remember

The Gospel writer John says that Jesus began and ended his earthly ministry with meals. From water turned to wine at a wedding feast, to fish grilled over a fire by the lake, and all in between, Jesus revealed himself over meals.

And so maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that when we sit down to a meal in his name, Jesus still reveals himself. It happened here this week when 150 guests sat down to a four-course meal served to them on fine china, on tables covered with white tablecloths and decorated with candles and fresh flowers.

This was a first for many, who often go to bed hungry, if they have a bed at all.

The meal was the dream of the late Ryan Cenk, who passed away two years ago at age 22. Ryan was a regular volunteer at the Tuesday night meals hosted by our friends at Outreached Arms. Ryan had battled brain cancer beginning when he was 10 months old. The disease affected his growth and had made it hard for him to see and walk. But he had the advantage of being great in Spirit. He became an Eagle Scout, an advocate for the physically challenged, and a volunteer for many causes that mattered to him.

Ryan’s dad, Bill, had kept the dream of “Ryan’s Night to Remember” alive. Atria’s Restaurant group catered the entire gourmet affair at no cost. A whole team of Atria’s cooks and servers donated their time. Another crew of volunteers, including First Church elders and deacons, worked tirelessly too. For four hours, the Williams’ family kept the dishwasher going. 

So it was indeed a night to remember; to remember a brave young man who revealed Jesus to the world through his life; to remember how Jesus revealed himself over a meal in a grand old church; and even to remember how Jesus revealed himself through a family sweating together around a dishwasher.

If only

In the last few weeks, Pittsburgh paid last respects to two of its great leaders and philanthropists, Steeler’s Chairman Dan Rooney, and businessman Henry Hillman. Both men were wealthy, yet unassuming. They were men of stature and grace who used their gifts to make a difference in the community.

This week we paid last respects to Ryan Cenk, someone a bit less well known, but who used his gifts to make a difference as well. Ryan lost a long battle to cancer last Saturday. On Tuesday, while Ryan’s family and friends lined up around the funeral home and down the street for the first of three viewings, the people Ryan served and volunteered with prayed and sang and ate a meal together in our church. Just the week before, Ryan was serving them himself.

We sometimes make the mistake of dreaming of the things we could do “if only” we had this or that advantage. Ryan was small and looked younger than his 22 years. Even on good days, he needed help to walk; cancer at age 10 months had taken some of his mobility and sight.

But Ryan had the advantage of being wealthy in Spirit. He was certain of his stature as a child of God. He had the gift of a loving family and friends who, instead of keeping Ryan for themselves, helped him use his gifts out in the world. Ryan became an Eagle Scout, an advocate for the physically challenged, and a volunteer for many causes that mattered to him. He served food to the homeless for the last two years in our church.

Think of the difference we could make “if only….”

But wait a minute.

Have we not all been gifted, just as Ryan was? Aren’t we all children of the Living God?

What other advantage do we really need?