Monthly Archives: October 2013

“Homeless Jesus”

Scan_Pic0003“Homeless Jesus”, that’s the name of the scultpture created by Artist Timothy Schmalz.   The sculpture shows a figure lying on a park bench, with a blanket wrapped around his head and body…except for his feet.  Only when you look crefully do you see the gaping wounds made by nails in his feet.

The sculpture reminds us of the way Jesus identified with the poor and homeless such as lepers, the blind, etc.   It also reminds us of the words in Luke 9;57-58 that read:  “As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”   And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

I was saddened, but not surprised, to read that two large and prominent North American churches—one in Toronto and one in New York City, refused to accept the “homeless Jesus” sculpture offered them by the artist.    It is now displayed outside a Jesuit seminary in Toronto.   As the artist says: ” Homeless Jesus had no home!   How ironic!”

How many churches in your city and mine would resist displaying such a sculpture?    We like to say that Jesus loved the poor and the homeless, and we like to say that as his disciples we also love them.

But would we get close enough to a blanket covered “Homeless Jesus” to see the nailprints in his feet?   Would we??

What I learned about God from a homeless man…

They came alone, by two’s and three’s, families with young children, from elderly to babies and everyone in between—380 of the homeless and needy of Wichita came to be fed at the Lord’s Diner last Friday evening.     And those who serve there permanently said it was a slow night!

The Lord’s Diner is a bright, cheerful, spotlessly clean facility founded by the Cahtolic Diocese of Wichita and supported with volunteer labor from many churches, both Protestant and Catholic.   Riverside Christian Church where my wife and I attend is one of the churches that sends volunteers and my wife and I were two of the volunteers.

As my wife and I checked  in all of these people  and greeted them, we realized how much we missed our work with the Bread and Cup Ministry to the homeless in Hutchinson that we had instituted during my pastorate at First Christian Church there.  These folks are a special group of God’s children—the group that Jesus worked with the most in his ministry.  And yet, while I enjoyed our time with them, I also was filled with a deep sadness about the large numbers of the homeless and needy, and especially the large numbers of children.   I wondered to myself as they approached me about the untold stories of hardship, of loss of hope, of discouragement and of sadness that were written on many of their faces.  However, we were verbally blessed by many of them as they signed in and we ireturned God’s blessings to them.

One man stands out that I observed while  eating my own dinner.   I was at a table  where I could watch my wife who was alone checking in the last few people, I saw this very tall, lean man, with a kerchief over his long hair enter and sign in, and I remember thinking to myself “that is one mean-looking dude.!   That man soon joined me at the table and taught me a lesson I will never forget.   The first thing the “mean-looking dude” did was to bow his head, close his eyes and give thanks for his food—lips moving but inaudible.  Then we struck up a conversation.   He told me about a friend of his who had died and how he would miss him.   Then he told me how he, himself, was blessed because he had found a place to live—a garage.   He then told me how he felt that God had led him many times in the past to people on the brink of suicide and how he felt he was able to prevent them taking their lives by talking to them and taking them in for a time at  his place of shelter.   He felt it was his God-given mission and I assured him that was very true.

What a lesson that man was to me!    Besides a reminder not to judge by appearances, the major lesson this man gave me was:   God uses all  kinds of people to fulfill and work his purposes of love for God’s children.  This “mean-looking dude” was God’s Exhibit #1 for that lesson. 

I pray God’s continued strengthening and protection for this man and I hope to see him again and tell him what a blessing he was to me!

We all are going to die!

Socrates said:   “All men are mortal.   I am a man.  Therefore I am mortal.”    What that means to you and I is that we are all going to die someday.   No exceptions!

I look at obituaries in the newspaper  every day to make sure some of the people from   churches I’ve served are not listed there.   One of the things I notice in the obituaries is that my age shows up often (mid-70’s to mid-80’s).   My concern about my mortality was preying on my thoughts last week, probably because I attended my 60th high school reunion the weekend before and remembered the lengthy list of classmates that have passed from this life—almost half of the class of 1953!

This past week, not knowing of my concern about my mortality, my wife printed the words below, source unknown, and left the print-out  on the computer desk as she was going to send it to someone.    God has wondrous ways of communicating just what we need to hear!   These words were what I needed to hear and I’d like to share ithem with all of you….

“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow.  The same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.   Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace then.  Put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually, ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield.  My heart has trusted in Him and I am helped.  He is not only with me, but in me and I in Him.’  Lord I need you today.

Let’s live today in God’s love and grace that He shows us today.   Trusting in God removes the worry about tomorrow for God is always there for us, whether tomorrow is the next day or eternity. 

Homeless Heartbreakers!

Caring about and loving homeless people can lead to heartbreak.   Let me share several reasons by telling you about “Joe” (not his real name), one of my homeless friends.

I first met Joe at the dinner called Bread and Cup held for the needy and homeless every Friday  at the church I was then pastoring.   He and his brother showed up the first time we opened the program,  almost two years ago now.   Joe was living in a shelter apartment provided by a program called New Beginnings.   He felt the program was too restrictive, required to much of his time, etc. etc.,  but he was progresssing toward getting his  life back together.   Joe was a graphic artist, and a talented and well educated man.   He’d made some terrible business and personal decisions and lost his shop he worked out of and ended up on the streets.  He almost made it—and then he fell back into the pattern that I now know he has followed for several years—-live on the streets—get into a program and almost make it—–get a job and make some money—-get drunk and thrown in jail—-back on the streets again.   I watched him follow this pattern three times while I pastored that church and it broke my heart each time!

My wife and I  tried to break the cycle.   Joe needed psychiatric counseling as well as rehabilitation for alcoholism.   We found a great program in the midwestern town he was in—but they did not accept Medicaid and only accepted private insurance or payment up front in cash which we could not afford.   We finally found a program that sounded good , sponsored by the state.   We packed up Joe and took him  60 miles to another city.  He was really excited to try and start a new life with some real help!    They kept him one day and released him.   He was so disappointed, but he had lied to them and told them he hadn’t been drunk for a week and he had been drunk the day before we took him!   They said they had to, by their rules, believe what the patient told them and not what their sponsors told them..   It breaks my heart that help is not available for folks like Joe.

We tried to get Joe on Medicaid before we left that pastorate.   We helped with the paperwork and took him to SRS numerous times.   There was always one more form or one more interview or one more doctor’s exam that was needed.   I’m afraid he finally gave up.   That breaks my heart, because he needed medical attention.

The last time I saw Joe he was back on the streets.   Since them I’ve left that pastorate and moved to another city.   It breaks my heart to see people like Joe, children of God,  waste their lives  and talents because they  can’t get the help they really need to break the vicious cycle of life they are caught in.

When will this society begin to “love their neighbors as they love themselves?”   Joe is your neighbor.   You may not see him, because to remain invisible to society is one of his well developed ways of self protection.   But he is there.   He’s on the streets of our towns and our cities.   There are so many Joe’s and Janes, including children who are on the streets.   It breaks my heart!!   Is your heart broken?   Do you care?   If all the people who say they are followers of the one who said—“Love your Neighbor as Yourself”—really cared, then steps would be made to solve this problem.   God’s heart is broken, I’m sure, because of  our LACK OF HEARTBREAK!!!

“Fake It Til You Make It!”

“The deepest and most important spiritual lessons I ever learned came from a circle of drunks, fighting desperately not to drink today, whom I initially viewed as “low-life losers”, and who ultimately came to be for me the “oracles of God”.

This is a statement from a graduate of an evangelical college and seminary, who feels he never really understood the Christian faith until he went through the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.   He writes:

“I experienced the gospel of Jesus Christ in dramatic ways.   I learned that God is wildly at work in healing, redemptive, saving ways that were way outside the confines of the evangelical church.”

He continued:   “The 12 Steps in no way diminished my appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ—quite the contrary—I am more convinced than ever of the reality of the gospel story.

The AA practices of self-awareness, honesty, forgiveness, and reconciliation led this person to find a new life in Christ.   In other words, practices transformed him.

Diana Butler Bass, who recounts the above story of a college classmate of hers in her book A People’s History of Christianity, remarks:   “Alcoholics Anonymous  teaches addicts to “fake it until you make it.”   “Translating this insight,” Bass says, “into Christian spirituality,  if you act like a Christian you might just become one.”    (p. 297, A People’s History of Christianity)

Long ago, in the 16th century, a man by the name of Menno-Simons, the founder of the Mennonite and Amish forms of Christianity, wrote:

True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.

It clothes the naked.

It feeds the hungry.

It comforts the sorrowful.

It shelters the destitute.

It serves those that harm it.

It binds up that which is wounded.

It has become all things to all people.