Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Blind Shall See



It was a typical Sunday morning, sun streaming through the stained-glass window, the microphone making its rounds through the sanctuary for sharing time, when Brian raised his hand to speak. I’m part of a local coalition against homelessness,” he began. “In December we started talking about what could be done to help homeless people this winter. A few weeks later, an overnight warming shelter was opened. It’s unbelievable that this came together so fast. That says something about our community. The mayor, non-profit agencies, even some churches helped meet these needs. I’m grateful.” 

I’ve learned to perk up when Brian speaks. He’s a man of measured words, well-studied and direct, with a teddy-bearish demeanor and the sort of quick wit that makes him everyone’s buddy. Having experienced homelessness himself, his perspective has opened my eyes to the complex rules of survival on the streets, and the rigors of compassionately walking someone in from the cold. 

I still can’t shake his words, “Even some churches helped.”
 
I’d read about the need for a shelter from the comfort of my kitchen over several lunches of reheated left-overs. The newspaper picked up the story of a local couple trying to provide refuge to homeless men when temps dip below twenty degrees. “We don’t want [these men] to freeze to death,” Julie Kramer explained. “We want them to survive. That is our mission.”

The fuse was lit on this conversation. How many homeless men exist within city limits? Is an emergency shelter really needed? If so, whose responsibility is it? Powerful people asked important questions while Mother Nature drummed her fingers, holding temps steady at an unseasonably warm twenty-five degrees. I followed the updates, my mind drifting to the estimated 80 congregations in our small city, comfortably vacant overnight. 

Driving out of town one evening in the dusky, December half-light, I passed a church sign with a familiar message, “Remember Jesus this Christmas.”  

Our problem is not that we don't remember Jesus. Our problem is that we do not recognize him.

He is the woman up the street, exhausted from the grind of relapse and recovery. 

He is the child who recently chirped, smiling, “I love myself even though I’m brown!” 

He is the man doubling up on socks, huddled in the “tent cities” we try to ignore, half-hidden in the overgrowth. 

We remember him, of course we do. But do we see him? Do we want to?

~

It was still December, right in the middle of the brainstorming sessions, courthouse rallies, and newspaper articles when a long-lost friend showed up at the front door after having disappeared for a while. He emerged from the shadows in a mishmash of layers, collapsing onto me and Cory in a despairing, moonlit group hug.  Sobbing into our necks, he rattled off a discouraging state of affairs, pausing only to rake in jagged gulps of air. Tears of regret and weariness dripped from his blue eyes to his scruffy beard. 

I couldn’t help but grin in the dark. He’s back!

That dimly-lit stoop was a hospital waiting room. An airport terminal. A sanctuary. Only after my eyes had fully adjusted to the darkness, was I able to really see him. Jesus

Only Jesus could turn us away from ourselves and toward our wounded brother. Only He could abolish the murky past, the missing pieces, the gaps in our understanding. Only He could elevate an ordinary weeknight to a bittersweet homecoming. 

When we train our eyes to seek God’s face in our ordinary midst, we receive Christ, moment by moment. He came as a baby, but he didn't stay that way. Until we pluck Jesus from the manger and track his audacity to the margins, our relationship with him will languish in the caverns of our memory when we could be hugging him on the porch.

It’s now last sweep of January and our city is being slammed with the lowest wind chills on record, plunging to fifty degrees below zero. We didn’t know this was coming, those weeks we delighted in trading our down coats for fall jackets and allowing government officials to find shelter for the poor. 

I'm comforted that there's a warm bed for anyone in need, thanks to the local non-profit that opened its heart and its building for overnight use. Yes, a few churches came together in support of this solution, but I have to wonder what we miss when we hesitate to tear our own doors off the hinges in welcome, our vision clouded by the empty promises of hyper-vigilance and self-protection. 

God moved his kingdom into every heartbroken neighborhood and hides in plain sight. Should we choose to live as if it’s true, eyes open and hopeful at street level, exposed to the elements as we wave Him into warmth, our churches will be shaken, our lives will be complicated, and our cities will flourish. 

We will see his glory in our midst and it will set us free.




“I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Matthew 25:45

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory…” John 1:14



13 comments:

  1. YES, to all of this.....our church was invited to help house those experiencing homelessness in our community six winters ago because the local shelter was literally running out of floor space to house everyone. As our church said, "Yes!" to this invitation we met with the local shelter director. She looked at us and said, "You know, what you are doing is radical." Our hearts sank as we let the gravity of what she meant sink in. She said, "No one wants to open their doors to twelve homeless men." We knew that it should not be perceived as "radical" for the church to open their doors to twelve homeless men. It should be the most natural thing in the world and to our great benefit and hopefully God's glory, six seasons later is has become the most natural thing in the world to our church family. What a great privilege it is. We have experienced God's presence as we have enjoyed fellowship with our guests. It has brought us a new experience of the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18. I have followed you for many years and have never reached out to let you know what a difference your words have made in my life. Thank you for sharing our heart with us all.

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  5. Always challenged. Our church also gets to be a cold weather shelter on Friday nights during the winter. My understanding is that churches rotate nights of the week. One time I saw one of my students there (from all the way across town). All I could think was, who else needs a home? And how often I marginalize the homeless when they are families trying to make it, just like me.

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