October 31, 2016
I used to work at a Drop-In Center downtown in my little city. I spent my evenings there with a vastly diverse group of people who have become dear friends. Some are homeless, some struggle with addiction or health issues, many struggle to make ends meet, but each of them has something profound and beautiful to teach me if I am willing to listen. And so often people who are curious about the ministry ask me, are the folks downtown in our little drop in centre, are they receptive to the gospel?
I never quite know how to answer this question. All I have are "yes, but..." sentences.
Yes, but also they cause me to become more receptive to the gospel. The gospel isn't something you respond to once, it is something we respond to repeatedly, in our daily life. The gospel, the good news contained in scripture, is that God has another way, that He is writing a redemption story throughout history through the work of his Son on the cross, and we are not hopelessly stuck in our sin. That he reigns, not just over sin and death but over loneliness, poverty, politics, and pain. I believe this more everyday that I walk among the poor in my city.
Yes, some respond to the gospel. But so many of them already know. My friends downtown teach me about God every day. Some of them have a faith despite their circumstances that puts mine to shame over and over again. My friend downtown are teaching me to pray and love in ways I have not known. Why do we assume that people living in poverty are distant from God? Friends, God is not a middle class commodity.
Yes, I find they respond to the gospel, but sometimes that response is soaked in years of rejection and judgment at the hands of the church. Or shame and a disbelief that they could be of eternal value to anyone, let alone a mighty God. Faith is a journey, and sometimes we can't see the transformation that is happening slowly inside someone.
Yes, but even if they never responded, we must still be faithful. Let's not ruin this with pragmatism. We don't care for those on the margins because it "works" to accomplish our churches agenda, but because the bible instructs us to. Because people are of deep intrinsic value and shouldn't have to choose between having food to eat or a safe place to sleep. Because the maker of the universe told us that He is present in a unique way in people at the margins. Because poverty and social justice are mentioned more than two thousand times in the bible and this is something close to our Lords heart. Does it "work"? Yes, but I feel that's the wrong question.
Do my friends downtown respond to the gospel? Of course they do. But that's not why we must go. We go because the Lord has sent us. Losing sight of this can only bring discouragement.
Friends, caring for those in need is not just a means to get people to respond to the gospel, it is the church's response to the gospel. We go not because the need is great, although it is, but because our God is great and He sends us. And in the going, we are being changed.