So a homeless man barges into your church after hours and starts talking in circles and making demands. What do you do?
On most days I would say that I would invite him in and offer him a seat and a coffee and see how I can help.
But the day this gentleman walked in, was not most days. It was a crazy day, a very intense day. I was in the middle of a confidential meeting with a family. The Church door was suppose to be locked. We were at a crucial point in the meeting. The homeless man’s requests were not ones that I could address easily or quickly. It was late in the day and this was not a good time.
I know this guy. He’s verbose, incoherent, relentless in his demands. But I also know that he is not mean spirited or rude or harmful in any way. At times he can be a great conversationalist (as long as you’re not in a hurry). So I tried explaining the situation and why I couldn’t help and why he had to go, but as I got to the end of my explaining, I got angry and frustrated. I didn’t want to deal with him. I told him to leave. I kicked him out.
As I held the door open for him to go, he told me off. He called me a few names that I won’t repeat (because my parents read this blog) and said that I was rude. He took a few steps then turned back and told me again that I was rude and mean and that I needed to hear the truth. And then he was gone down the street. Some of the family members who had witnessed this scene, gave me knowing looks and smiles as if to say “what would you expect from a guy like that”.
But he was right: I was rude. I pushed him into a lower level of importance than the family I was with at the moment. I decided not to help him, not to seek out a solution that may have worked. I devalued him.
Half an hour later he was still in the neighbourhood, so I went to apologize. He was gracious, pretended nothing really happened. And as it began to rain, I decided to stay and listen. He told me his latest struggles at the shelter, complained of people, then went into a series of reflections and Bible quotes on the Church and Christianity that were quite deep and relevant.
I felt God telling me to pay attention.
So when he said that many Christians do good things for other people, not for God, but so that they can feel good about themselves, I knew that it was meant for me.
Doing good for others doesn’t necessarily always feel good at the time, but it gives us a sense of purpose and, upon later reflection, we can say to ourselves “Nice work!”. Sometimes other people notice what we do and they also say “Nice work!”. And that feels good.
But if we are doing things so that we can say “Nice work!” to ourselves and perhaps have others say “Nice Work!” to us as well, then we may feel that we can cut some corners. Sometimes it is really hard to help others. Most of the time it is a huge inconvenience. It almost always distracts from that other really important thing we were about to do.
But if we are conscious that we are doing these things for God then we tend to step up our game. We also tend to think less of ourselves, our situations, our inconveniences, as we do what we can to build bridges and connections. And incredible as it may seem to some of us long-suffering servants, we end up feeling joy and freedom in what we do.
So Jesus barges into your church after hours and starts talking in circles and making demands. What do you do?