Holy Interruption

This afternoon my pastoral colleague Julie and I were standing on Cabot Street by the main entrance to the church. We were discussing an idea for some ‘garden art’ that would relay to the wider community that the church we serve is an inviting and welcoming place.

As we talked a man whom I will call Burt interrupted our conversation. With rapid bursts of speech he told us that he was arrested the previous night for public intoxication, that his girlfriend had thrown his possessions into an undisclosed dumpster and that he hadn’t eaten in several days. We smelled the beer on his breath and the sweat in his clothing. He told us he needed food and a place to stay. What to do?

It was agreed that Burt and I would sit down and have a conversation. As a result we prayed together and then I walked with him to a local restaurant for lunch and provided a way to get to a nearby town where he had family. With Burt it was hard to determine fact from fiction. What was clear was that here was a fellow wounded soul in need of a good meal and a little hope.

As Julie and I talked with Burt on the sidewalk of Cabot Street we both sensed that Burt’s interruption carried an invitation. An invitation for us as pastors to move from talking about welcoming, to putting that welcome into practice. We recognized that the church of Jesus Christ was not confined to what happened within the walls but more powerfully what was happening outside the walls.

Today, Burt with beer on his breath and sweat on his clothes reminded us that we were standing on Holy Ground. More than that we were standing in the very presence of Jesus. How so? Jesus says, ‘whatever kindness you do unto the most vulnerable of my children you do so unto me’.

We want to thank Burt for reminding us of this truth. The least we could do is buy him a sandwich and provide a way home.

Meeting Jesus on Cabot Street

I met Jesus on Cabot Street. It was Christmas Eve and I saw him nodding off sitting by the dumpster of the church I serve. He had been drinking and was missing one shoe. I asked if I could help and he said he needed a cup of hot coffee and a muffin.

So, Jesus and I walked to a local coffee shop and ordered. I learned that he likes a lot of sugar in his coffee and a lot of milk. He said that he likes lots of sugar ‘because my ex-wife says it makes me sweeter’.

photo of homelss man with coffee

Jesus has a sense of humor and a tenacity for living that he needs as he has nowhere to call home. I asked where he would spend Christmas and he said: ‘I have a camp hidden away where authorities won’t roust me. I know a church that is serving a free meal and I will go there on Christmas day’.

After his coffee and muffin he thanked me for ‘my kindness’, and we said good-bye. In the Bible, in Matthew 25:40 Jesus says to his followers: “Whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me.”

A great mystery of our Christian faith is that God’s own child so identifies with the poorest and most vulnerable of us, that he refers to us as ‘my sisters and brothers’. Jesus so identifies with us in our vulnerability that today when I met the man leaning against the dumpster, missing one shoe, I knew that I was looking into the very face of Christ.

Some might call this a scandal and I agree. Jesus’ life and words were scandalous then and scandalous today.

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty there is a movement across our country for cities to criminalize being homeless. Some cities make it illegal to feed the poor on public property such as parks. A church I know in Oregon is at odds with their city because they allow homeless neighbors to camp on their property. Here in the city I live the city council with support from the mayor recently made camping or storing of possessions on public property a crime. Of such legal actions, Jesus asks this question: ‘Where do I sleep when I have nowhere to go?’

On this eve of Christmas I choose to live according to the wisdom of Jesus who tells us that when we visit someone in prison we are visiting him and when we advocate for the homeless we are advocating for him and when we buy a cup of coffee with extra sugar we are buying that cup of coffee for him.

It remains a scandal that Jesus, God’s own child was born homeless. He was wrapped in rags and placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. It stretches our comfort zone and our sense of propriety that Jesus identifies so deeply with the poorest of the poor.

But as we live into this scandal we are reminded that there is a place for us too, in God’s heart. Merry Christmas.