I often feel frustrated with those who seem to assume we all have interactions with those we would call the least of these, those who are not fine upstanding middle class white people. I often wonder whether they would even feel welcome in our church. These are, after all, the people that Jesus hung around with the most. He healed their diseases, forgave their sins, fed them, preached to them, called some as disciples, advocated for them. Most of our denominations began by welcoming them. And yet somehow, after several generations, we seem to forget that we were once the unacceptable.
Sitting at my computer, or behind the wheel waiting to pick up my kids after school, I seldom meet these people. Some say they wouldn’t be comfortable in our mostly middle class church. But a few come and sometimes even return, like Robert, who appears homeless when he appears with a shopping cart or bags of belongings, but he really isn’t homeless, though I’m sure he’s poor.
Yesterday, I met someone new. I came into the fellowship hall and found a man, with sun-darkened skin, sleeping at our usual table. I didn’t get his name, but I did talk with him a bit when he woke up. I imagine he came in to escape the unseasonably cold weather we have been having. Being an introvert, I really couldn’t figure out what to say, beyond good morning. But he began talking, admitting that he got very messed up on drugs, but now he loves reading the bible. He was concerned that a wall hanging nearby skipped parts of the relevant verses. He was right, and quite obviously has read his bible a lot.
I was just a bit on guard when he brought up reading the bible. We have had people visit us who had very strange ideas about the bible, so such conversations can be awkward. But he at least listened when I gave a quick explanation of why I don’t think all parts of the bible can be taken literally. I was aiming at historic, cultural and literary context, but was not at all sure I got my point across.
It was actually just a small conversation, as I had to run off to my class after just a few minutes. My aim though, was to somehow communicate to him that he had as much right to be there as anyone and to put him at ease. I suppose some would have gone farther, inviting him to class or something, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I just didn’t want him to say that he came to church and everyone avoided him and no one would talk to him.
We often say that we are a hospital for sinners, not a refuge for saints. But I hear from those on some of the boards that some of those running things really wouldn’t want us to be overrun with those people. I think Jesus wants us constantly welcoming people that the world would reject, don’t you?