Saints, Sinners, Strangers and a Savior
“God is in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us when we are with them.” ~ Bono
It was just like any other Saturday. Meet with a few buddies first thing in the morning and then get on with my day. More often than not I wind up driving to the office, and then to the “homeless hangout.” The owner of a pest control company noticed my car in that area so often that he offered me my own parking space in his lot right next to this unique “community.” It’s the only place I’ve ever “worked” where I get my own parking spot. I spot an open seat. Pat, a colorful character, brilliant and street savvy, perhaps more familiar with this homeless family than anyone there, drops the heavy sack off his shoulders, plops down in the plastic chair, looks up and smiles. “Hey Stefan, I’m going for seconds, can I get you something?” He returns with a Styrofoam cup I’m convinced may have been more “Living water,” than just plain H2O. (Man, that’s supposed to be part of my mission.) A Google search for the term “Homeless Community” turns up more hits than Catholic Community, Baptist Community, Methodist Community, Hispanic Community, Missional Community… and the list goes on. Who in the world decided “homeless” and “community” belong together? Well, maybe God.
My friend Hugh Holowell, Director of Love Wins, and a strong advocate for the poor and marginalized told me today how a homeless man actually taught him to pray. He says, “I offered to pray for this guy at the end of his rope, but he insisted on praying for me! He said, “Hugh, you go to the refrigerator or restaurants for every meal, but I have to pray every morning, not sure where the next meal is coming from.” Hugh powerfully explains how transformational these relationships can be.
Real community dismantles the walls of “us and them” creating an environment of simply…us. I felt this last week stepping through the door of the soup kitchen around the corner from my office. I was handed a ticket at the door. My meal ticket. Hey, cool…but wait. Do I “look” homeless? Oh, who cares? I was actually looking for a friend that day, not lunch, but I noticed the beauty of the conversations around the table, relationships forged, guys giving thanks for their food and even someone pounding out a few songs on the piano.
It hit me! I’m witnessing “God’s Missional Community.” We think we’re going downtown to serve a stranger soup, but God uses them to serve us Jesus. We “reach out” and offer them a few bucks but God uses them to “reach in” offering us faith of gold. Who’s teaching whom? Who’s feeding whom? Well, God knows. But I’m sure of this: Our homeless brothers and sisters, the poor and the outcast, often mistaken for the takers, are often the givers. In God’s divine economy we may be on their mission field.
Jesus never once wandered into a building or a synagogue with the religious people of His day yelling out, “Hey ya’ll, I’m in here!” He DID say, in essence, “I’m over here.” “When you feed the hungry, visit the sick and the prisoner, cloth the naked, and open your door to the stranger, well…Surprise!!! That Was Me.” (OK, He didn’t say “Surprise” but you get the point)
Life is about community. Community about belonging. Belonging about acceptance. Acceptance starts with “For God so loved the whole world that He gave His only Son…” Don’t wait till the holiday season to give. There’s no place like HOPE, Stefan