My pastor, my father in Christ, is as black as a black man can be. I am as white as a white woman can be. Most of my church family is black. I am not. They do not shut their doors on me because I am different. They do not focus on my color. They welcome me with their hearts. Just like my pastor gave a very special welcome yesterday to the woman in the front row who sat bundled up in layers after layer of clothes – her shelter against the storm of winter cold and life on the streets. She is not only challenged by life on the streets, with an occasional bed in a relative’s home. She is challenged mentally. And this is not all.
My homeless friends told me of the crimes being committed against her on the streets. But she did not hesitate yesterday when the pastor called her to stand so we could welcome her. She felt safe in the refuge of the house of the Lord we call our church – safe and loved enough she did not feel she needed to hide in the back; she sat nearly as close as possible to the altar of the Lord. But it is not our church at all. It is HIS church. And when she stood and it became apparent she needed a belt for her pants, nobody laughed. We are not called to laugh, but to love. We are not called to reject, but to welcome. We are not called to shut our doors, nor our hearts; we are called to love with the love of our Savior, our King, our Lord, our Creator. Our God.
When my pastor welcomed her before the church, he told us sometimes she comes in from the storms of life to merely, and meekly, lay her head down on a table and rest her head, to rest her life, in the church he told her is home for her. Yes, her home. HIS home. The Lord’s house. The house that was not created for manicured hands to shut the doors on the reality of our world, nor created for hearts to judge human beings who are all sinners whether we admit it or not.
This woman is not an anomaly in the church I attend. Homeless people huddle in the pews, sometimes in the back to sleep through the serenity of services. Others move closer to the front to listen, to learn, and ultimately to be transformed. People who live a homosexual lifestyle come because they know they are welcome. My pastor teaches the truth from the Word of God, but he teaches in love and not condemnation. So that each of us caught in our sin like the woman in the Bible caught in her adultery learns that stones are not to be thrown at the one caught in the error of his or her ways. We are to throw mercy, not stones. We are to wrap the broken, the lost, the homeless, the hopeless, the addicted, the suicidal, the burned out, the grieving, the anything and everything not only in the arms of a Jesus hug; we are to wrap them safely, securely, in the arms of the Lord by sharing the love of Jesus Christ, by showing the love of Jesus Christ, by living and loving with His love, with Him alive inside us, Him alive through us, spilling out endlessly into the world around us.
When my pastor gave another special welcome yesterday to a returning friend, a woman who clearly had had a stroke, she did not hesitate to get up out of her seat to stand when he called her to stand. She stood by faith. She so obviously did not have the strength, nor the ability, to stand upright and well on her own. But she stood as the Lord held her hand and lifted her upright through a loved one who sat by her side. And my pastor knew when he called her to speak to the church that he was asking a woman who can no longer speak with clarity because of the stroke what he was doing. He knew he was calling her to show us what only Jesus can do. Not only did the Lord give her the words to speak, but only one sentence she spoke was even remotely clear enough for me to understand. She spoke of how she was blessed to be back in the house of the Lord. The church. Not our church. Not my pastor’s church, nor mine. But HIS. His church. HIS body. The way it was meant to be. Nobody laughed at the woman because most of her words were incomprehensible. Peace and love, peace and Jesus, love and Jesus, yes, Jesus, He filled the room.
I cannot help but think of the mute man who sits so close to the front, week after week, without fail. Only yesterday he did not remain sitting during the special song offered up to the Lord by the choir. As most of the congregation sat for the special song, he stood as tall and proud as a man can stand. And he lifted his arms high into the air and sang to the Lord with all his heart – and not a single audible note. Mute though he is, it was as though he sang with the angels. Nobody needed to hear the words that came so strongly, so beautifully, so passionately, from his mouth. I could tell by how his chest puffed forward, over and again, heaving forward, that his passion was unbound. Unleashed. Uninhibited. Nobody needed to hear his song to the Lord because the only one that truly matters at the end of the day heard. The Lord heard. The Lord was listening. I can’t even imagine how proud the Lord must be to call this mute man his son. The church did not laugh at the mute man standing as so many sat. The church did not kick him out, or make him feel unwelcome, or scoff. No, this is the church of Jesus Christ. HIS church.
I am reminded of another mute man I met yesterday, not more than an hour later. I left the church building, but not His Church, early to be part of a weekly homeless outreach. I had told my pastor recently that I dress the way I do, and leave early, to do a homeless outreach. He did not give me a demerit. He did not give me detention. He did not tell me I need to dress up and stay for the whole service. Because my pastor has the heart of the Lord living inside of him. He blessed me instead. And when I went yesterday to the homeless outreach, and people learned I had a few sleeping bags in the car, a man came to me and brought me to my knees in my heart when I look back in retrospect. Yes, the tears come, even as I write. The man could have wanted anything. The outreach serves hundreds of people on Sundays, offering preaching, a meal, clothes and whatever else the Lord puts in our hands and hearts – most importantly His love. Though I fall exceedingly far short in demonstrating God’s love, still learning how to walk in His love and finding myself repenting so very many times for the times I utter sharp words instead of kind ones, or miss giving a hug because I have become offended when I should have distributed His love instead, I am utterly humbled the Lord still sends me back and then blessed me with opportunity after opportunity to learn to love and serve Him with all my heart, and in so doing to love my neighbor as myself.
The mute man at the outreach in the park just after church, a different mute man than the one in the church, was really no different at all. He could not speak either. So he used his heart, and his hands, to tell me what he wanted, what he needed. And then I saw it. Though perhaps I might not have understood his need at first, it became undeniably clear. He folded his hands together, lay them on one side of his head, and pressed his head downward to speak to me. To speak his need in his muteness. I saw it then. He needed. Rest. He needed sleep. He needed peace. And he needed a sleeping bag to lay his body down on the streets, or wherever he slept outside in the dead of winter. I heard in his silence his need. And I gave him a sleeping bag from the Lord in reply. I didn’t need to say any words, though I undoubtedly spoke a few. I needed only to hand him the little gift of a sleeping bag from the Lord.
I go to a church where there is no division between what lies inside the walls and what lies outside. I go to a church that does not belong to my pastor, nor to the congregation, nor to myself. There are no people really on the outside, nor people on the inside. There are truly no walls but the physical walls around the building. Jesus Christ walks through the brick walls that merely serve to show where a physical building ends and begins. But His love is not contained inside only, nor is it only outside. It is everywhere. And whether a woman comes in with high heels or in pants that fall off her body because she is homeless and lacks a belt, it does not matter. Whether a man is dressed as a woman, or a woman grieves in the anguish of the aftermath of sexual abuse, whether a child cries in the service, whether four or five tough looking guys visit the church after their 18-year-old friend was shot dead just weeks ago, it does not matter. We are all welcome, and we know it. Because this church belongs to Jesus Christ.
And when we leave the church building, we do not leave the church at all. Church does not begin or end on Sundays. The loves inside is not reserved for members only. The people dying on the streets outside do not hesitate to come inside a church like this one.
Because the church belongs to Jesus.
Mat 25:34 “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Mat 25:35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Mat 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Mat 25:37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
Mat 25:38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Mat 25:39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
Mat 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” KJV Bible
I ENCOURAGE YOU to pray about the church you attend, to pray for the church you attend, and to humble yourself before the Lord in repentance.