Seeing the Holy in the homeless

Today I worshipped with the homeless. We were indoors because of the rain so the opportunity to speak with someone was readily available. It was also easier to listen in on other conversations and generally assess the people. This was not my first visit to worship with this group of people. Our church does this a couple of times a year and regularly shares Christmas Eve service with them as well. I try to never miss this opportunity because it gives me so much more than I could ever give to them. Normally we are outdoors, sitting on the ground or standing under the trees. People wander in and out as they pass. The service is offered weekly by the Episcopal Diocese for the homeless. Our church, The Well @ Springfield, partners with them to provide lunch for afterwards. We get the privilege of worshipping along with everyone else.

I have never been homeless. Thankfully I have always been blessed with a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and comfortable clothes to wear. Despite these blessings, I complain and carry on sometimes about this or that. I’ve never been so hungry I couldn’t sleep or had to sleep with one eye open to make sure no one ran off with my belongings. I’ve never had to wander from shelter to shelter trying to find a meal or stand in line all day to try and get a bed to sleep in at night. As a woman, I’m especially thankful I’ve never had to figure out how to stay safe and deal with my period without having the products from the store. These are all very real concerns faced by many on a daily basis.

What never fails to amaze me is how the homeless people I’ve met seek out the Sunday service with a hunger that has nothing to do with their stomachs. They seek out the presence of Jesus so they can be reassured that God has not forgotten them and that Jesus died for them too. They listen to the sermon and sing the songs and feel the kinship with other believers and know, even if it’s just for an hour on Sunday  morning, that they are children of God and heirs to the kingdom. “For God so loved the world” isn’t just for folks who work for a living and live in houses. It’s certainly not just for white people or even people of color who think of themselves as righteous or better than the homeless.

Jesus was homeless and probably had more in common with our homeless population than with those of us who have enough. Jesus was born in a cave that was used to keep cattle and livestock. Despite years of seeing this as a clean and holy place, the reality is that it smelled and was dirty. His parents had to take him out of the country when he was two to avoid being murdered. I’m guessing that once he settled in a house it wasn’t grand since his father was a carpenter. He left home at the age of 30 and the next three years of his life he was homeless and depended on the kindness of strangers for meals and a place to lay his head. There was no deodorant back then so I image sitting around with a wandering group of middle eastern men who were also homeless smelled a lot like that room I sat in today. But those men and women who followed Jesus and sat with him and ate with him were privileged to be in his presence.

We are all children of God yet there’s a hesitation of many who claim to be followers of Christ to sit with the homeless because of mental illness and lack of hygiene. Yet Jesus sat with “the least of these” daily and many were healed and set free because of those encounters. What opportunities for healing do we miss out on because the idea of extending ourselves to the homeless is scary or distasteful? It becomes easier to sit in our comfortable chairs and declare that they should just get jobs and that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to ask for help. Jesus never turned away anyone and, as his followers, we should be following his example.  As children of God we are all holy and full of the righteousness of God. But too often we look at the homeless with scorn and disdain which blinds us to the holiness in them. It’s not to late to follow Jesus’ example and touch the untouchable and see the ones no one want to look at and in doing so finally see the holiness that resides in every human being and child of God.

 

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