This Sunday we will turn our church inside out, head toward downtown Atlanta, and let the people who live on its streets teach us the Gospel. We do it once a quarter, and we call it something along the lines of “hygiene kits ministry” or “homeless ministry”.
But the real ministry is happening in reverse. Every time we’ve done this for the last five years, we get schooled. Some examples:
- Peanut butter sandwiches aren’t as big a hit as you might expect
- In sandwich-making, keep condiments separate
- Soft fruits are friendlier for folks who have dental challenges
- Food insecurity isn’t as big a challenge as you might think
- The Word isn’t that hard to locate, but an actual bible is a bit clunky to lug around
- Personal hygiene, a basic dignity we take for granted, is a real challenge on the streets
- Clean washcloths or socks are rare luxuries
- Female hygiene is expensive and overlooked
- Dark clothing is better at concealing the grime of the streets
In other words: Open your eyes and ears, close your mouth, check your ego, and listen to the real needs. Often they’re connected to basic personal dignity and a kind of pragmatism we almost can’t relate to anymore.
The Gospel tells us that when we do that, we’re in the presence of none other than Jesus. It’s a real blessing, and it certainly feels that way, every time. So, what if the pure gratitude that gets expressed toward us is bigger than just giver-and-receiver? What if it’s God’s gratitude that we’re back and listening again for the real ways we can be our brother’s keeper? And what if the things the homeless tell us this Sunday are, for us, the spiritual equivalent of whatever the father whispers into the prodigal son’s ear when they’re first reunited?
In other words: Even though we are commanded to do it more often, at least once a quarter we truly get out of our own heads, change our focus, and come back home.