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The Rev. Michael Sullivan The Rev. Michael Sullivan
The Rev. Michael Sullivan is rector of Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church in Atlanta, GA, and the author of two books.

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Holy Innocents' Episcopal Church, Atlanta, GA

Starbucks as teacher

October 09, 2013

This morning began like most any other.  I was catching up on emails, preparing a sermon for one of our weekday Eucharists, and contemplating the meaning of today’s saint when an email from Starbucks caught my eye.


I get emails from Starbucks all the time.  Priests are, after all, mostly addicted to coffee, and I like many of my colleagues, happily add gold stars to my iPhone Starbucks app with each successive visit to the king of java.  Emails  from caffeine central arrive to my inbox almost every day.


But this one was different; the subject “Pay it forward” caught my eye.  The words of the message were interesting, to say the least:


“In times like these, a small act of generosity and civility can make a big difference.  Come into any Starbucks between Wednesday, October 9th and Friday the 11th, buy someone else their favorite beverage – we’ll give you a free tall brewed coffee.  Let’s see what can happen. “


And of course, for twitter enthusiasts such as me, the hashtag, #payitfoward closed out the email.  Tweet. Tweet. 


Just in case the message wasn’t clear enough, there they were…..the added featured of red, white, and blue stars.  Yep.  Red, white, and blue stars.  In October.  Not July.  “In times like these.”


Wow.  Double shot wow.  Make that a bold.  Extra foam.


As a priest of the Church, the Starbucks homily got to me.  It indicted me.  Here was my favorite purveyor of coffee making a clear, yet subtle statement about responsibility.  Sure, you can trump it up to corporate profits.  After all, I bet the corporate office thought it might just increase sales. 


But a long ad campaign with months of advance prep this was not.  It was a message delivered in a moment, in a particular moment, for a particular purpose.  And it worked. 


Why was I indicted?  Because I have to ask myself: what is the church saying today?  Where are we in the moral and ethical disagreements of our day?  Just in a chaplain on Capitol Hill?  Where is our ad to #payitforward, to be generous and civil in all things?  Where is our willingness to speak courageously “in times like these?”


It’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, and get to work for the good of God’s kingdom.  The world needs us. The world needs us for who we were creaed to be, a tall order (pun intended), but one that needs paying forward.


We were made for goodness.  Let’s get to it.

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