At four in the afternoon, the shelter and drop-in closed for us to give it a good scrub down and as usual there were several of the regulars who use the facility who settled in the smoking area outside to wait for the center to reopen and for dinner to be served. This time, however, there was a big difference. One of the homeless men knocked on the door and asked if they could have some brooms and garbage bags so that he and his buddies could clean the smoking area and the outside of the facility. Soon there were over 20 people sweeping, picking up cigarette butts and garbage outside as we cleaned on the inside. By 5:30, the entire center was clean as a whistle. When we asked the men and women who spontaneously decided to help us with the clean up why they did it. One of them said, "This place is like a little piece of heaven for us. It is the home that most of us never had. Here, we are not judged, no one looks at us and considers us bums. We feel loved and valued here and most of all we feel safe. Every week we see you coming to make this place a better place for us and we decided that we needed to pitch in as well. We see Jesus in you and we wanted you to see a little bit of Jesus in us too."
The doors of the center opened at 6 and we had a hot meal of pork chops, steamed vegetables, fresh rolls, and ice cold water ready. By this time, there were over 70 people waiting to be fed. As the people streamed in and lined up, Spunky, an elderly homeless man motioned for me to come over. "I wanna give you something," he said. With that he pressed a handful of crumpled money into my hand and said, "To help you people pay for the food." I knew that the thirty or so dollars he gave me, represented a significant part of his "income" which he makes by pushing a shopping cart around the city collecting empty cans and bottles and I was about to refuse it when he clamped my hands tightly over the money and said, "Please take it, I had a good week and it will make me feel good." Several of my helpers saw this and I could see their eyes moisten with tears. Deep inside, I knew that I had to accept the money, to us it was insignificant but to him it represented what little dignity he had.
The atmosphere tonight was distinctly different. People were laughing and smiling. There was no pushing and shoving in the line-up. When I said grace over the food, there was a chorus of amen then filled the center. As people finished their meal, dishes were scrapped off and neatly piled on the counter. As we have done every week for the last 11 years, after the meal, as some of us washed dishes, a few of us would take up our musical instruments and sing hymns and praise choruses. Usually the place would begin emptying, while others would start games of pool or cards, but not this evening. People were staying, sitting, and listening, some were even singing along. Towards the end, Spunky called out, "Pastor, will you give us a word before you leave?" I was taken by surprise and totally unprepared because I had never preached on a Wednesday night at the Center before because we had long ago determined that our Wednesday night mission would be a mission of help. We did not want any to feel that listening to a sermon was the price they paid for food. It had always been a mission of one-on-one evangelism through building relationship, praying for people when asked, lending a listening ear, and sharing when the occasion arises. This was our version of a "non-threatening Gospel".
I read the beatitudes from the Sermon on the mount and shared how God looks upon and loves the lowly of this world. Not much of a sermon but there were tears, and smiles, and nods everywhere. I closed with a reading from Psalm 23. There was a sense of the Holy as we departed tonight and everyone of us knew that God was there. We also knew that Wednesday nights will never be the same again. I resolved in my heart that I will always have a word prepared from now on.
We went to the center tonight to serve. Instead we were served. After 11 years serving at the center, for many of us, it had become routine, some of us have even begun to question if we were getting through. Tonight, God reminded us that faithful service always bears fruit. Tonight, God reminded us that all people need to feel loved and significance, that the best witness we can give is ourselves and all it takes is to love as He loved us. Tonight, God taught us that every one needs dignity and everyone one of us need to feel as though we matter. Tonight, God reminded us that prayer avails much and that His hope is everlasting. Tonight, God reminded us that gentle acceptance without condemnation and judgment penetrates more deeply and significantly than any of us can imagine. Tonight, God taught us what He truly means when His Son declared:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Tonight, we were blessed for we saw the kingdom of heaven. We were comforted and saw our true inheritance. We were filled and obtained mercy. Tonight, we saw God and we saw truly that we are the sons and daughters of God and we know that ours is truly the kingdom of heaven!
May we all read this testimony and desire to serve, knowing that it is not our service that earns our salvation, but it is service that fulfills our joy so that we may all see God and His Kingdom even now.
In His Name and unsurpassing Love,