Well, our friend Aaron showed up in church this morning. As is his custom, he made his way to the sacristy, exited into the choir loft, and came down the three stairs to the chancel where my husband/co-pastor Gregg met him and escorted him to the front pew. He sat with Aaron for a minute, then came back to the chancel, but in his place, one of our deacons sat with him and got him a hymnal in case he wanted to join in on “My Song Is Love Unknown.” As we sang those words “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” I watched Gregg and then Gail sit with Aaron, and make him feel welcomed and maybe even loved.
Sometimes I think that maybe Jesus is showing up with us as Aaron. Every now and then Aaron appears. Sometimes he’s sober, sometimes he’s not. Sometimes he asks for a little help and sometimes he just needs to be with our people. It always feels like a test: will this be the week Aaron does something that simply is not acceptable and we have to ask him to come back when he can observe the community norms? Will this be the week that someone who doesn’t know Aaron’s story with us is mean or harsh to him? Will this be the week when he removes his disguise and we realize that Jesus was testing us with the “Love Your Neighbor/Do This To One of the Least of These” exam?
Two weeks ago I preached about hunger and feeding people as a means of reconciliation. We were writing Bread for the World letters after worship that day, and it all seemed to fit. The statistics about world hunger are pretty depressing, as much because we waste 1/3 of all food produced as because millions of children are nutritionally comprised. Here in Portland, a third of all students in Portland Public Schools face food insecurity on a regular basis. I shared all of that with my well-fed, food -secure congregation.
The next day I get a text from one of the members of the family who is living in their car in our parking lot (with the church and neighborhood’s permission.) They haven’t eaten in two days – could we help out with a gift card to the grocery store? I heard Jesus whispering in my ear, “I was hungry – did you or did you not give me something to eat?”
I came home this afternoon to my lovely house and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I looked around at all our space, and up at the ceiling under the new roof we just got, having driven home with a car full of gas. Who am I, to have so much when others have little or nothing? Who am I to not face the demon of substance abuse or mental illness? Who am I to not be confined by my bad choices?
I don’t know if it’s the luck of the draw, privilege, injustice, prejudice, will, disposition, but lately it feels like Jesus keeps showing up in the guise of those considered by some to be the least of these. Do I greet him with love? Do I offer him grace? Do I ignore him because it’s messy and hard to engage?
I tell myself I do what I can. We help our parking lot guests out with grocery gift cards. We have meals with them, but not as often as I think we ought. We do their laundry, and sometimes that feels like doing ministry more than anything else I do in the week.
They are lovely people, our parking lot guests and Aaron and all of them. I fear they don’t know that about themselves, and I fear they don’t know that God sees them as lovely, if they even think there is a God. What they know is that there is this church with people who treat them with kindness. I hope.
But my relative privilege and my relative wealth – this brand new roof over my head, this ability to buy food whenever I want it – recall another line from the hymn:
“Oh, who am I, that for my sake, my Love should take frail flesh and die?”