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12 Jul '13

A homeless man, street walker, con guy and Mary Ann's former students

Posted by T.J. Addington in grace, holistic ministry, love, poor
Thirty three years ago November was the first Thanksgiving that Mary Ann and I celebrated as a married couple. We had almost no furniture (although a bunch of books) and a little apartment that we paid $90 dollars a month rent for. We wanted to so something special so a few days before Thanksgiving we went down to Micky's Diner, a fixture in downtown St. Paul and told the waitress that we would be there at noon on Thanksgiving and would take anyone who showed up to our house for a Thanksgiving feast.

We will never forget that dinner. First, it was amazing how much these folks ate! Then there was the transparency about their lives. One of the woman was a streetwalker, another guy lived in a building basement downtown where he would warm his food on a radiator. One guy was obviously casing our house and the others warned us about him (there was nothing to take and I didn't think he would want our books). When we had a short devotional after dinner, the tears rolled down faces as they sang songs they remembered from church as kids.

And then there was the con-man. His mother was in critical condition in Duluth, Minnesota and he had no money to get there. So I offered to buy him a Greyhound ticket. Thinking I was pretty smart, I took him to the station, bought the ticket and decided to wait till he got on the bus (If I was getting conned, he was at least going to Duluth). But I made the mistake of giving him the ticket and when I turned around he was gone! Oh well.

We will never forget that dinner. Or the individuals who joined us. Or the stories they told us. Or the sad circumstances that led to their situations.

Fast forward. Until a few years ago my wife worked as a school nurse in a middle class suburb of St. Paul with a student population of over 2,000 students. Every day she would come home with another story of kids in pain. Unplanned pregnancies, kids who had not eaten in days because their parents were on meth and all the money had gone to feed the addiction, kids who were shuttled from parent to parent, relative to relative, no one wanting them. Kids who were abused. No soap opera can compete with the stories Mary Ann heard.

Once Mary Ann threw a birthday party for a sixteen year old girl. She didn't know what to do. She had never had a birthday party in her life!

The kids called her their second mom! She always had food in her office for kids that were hungry. She would always listen and always tell them the truth. She loved them unconditionally and they know she was in their corner. She took parents to court to resolve issues and negotiated numerous "special plans" to help kids graduate. They loved their second mom!

Here is my point. We do not need to go to Mickey's diner to find hurting people. They are in our neighborhoods, our schools and our communities. Pain has no boundaries except those we erect because we "wall ourselves off" from the realities of our world, feeling much more comfortable in our Christian ghetto - commonly called the church!

Now that I think about it, the homeless guy, streetwalker, con-man and Mary Ann's hurting students sound like the folks Jesus intentionally went out of his way to meet and love. If we open our eyes, they are all around us, hopeless, hurting, alone, sad, and not knowing that there is One who loves them. When we choose to love the hurting - and the unlovable - they experience Christ's love. Messy work that will never leave us unchanged. That is the cool part. When we share the love of Jesus in tangible ways we become changed, we become a little bit more like Jesus. How cool.

Remember it was the pharisees who didn't want to engage the "sinners" of the world. Jesus engaged them all the time. He was hard on the pharisees because they were hypocrites. He was never hard on sinners, wooing them with his love, acceptance, grace and mercy. How are we doing? How is our church doing?

This is how Isaiah put it:
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard."