I spent some time with a member of our church a few days ago. I’ll call him Joe. Joe is roughly in his fifties and lives pretty much everywhere and anywhere. Joe is homeless. When I arrived to the office on Monday, Joe had left several messages wanting me to call him back. I had to track him down at the hospital he was at, because I didn’t have an accurate spelling of his last name. I would eventually find him. You see Joe just wanted someone to know that he was in the hospital.
When we finally connected over the phone he had requested a few things. “I need some visitors” and can you bring me a King James Bible?” The first I didn’t have a problem with and the second request I did some digging and found an old NKJV Bible in a box at church.
When I finally had a chance to go see Joe, he was about to be released when I arrived at the hospital, because there’s a 5 day limit for folks who don’t have affordable health care. After spending about five minutes together, I pieced the puzzle together that the hospital had thrown Joe’s shoes away and couldn’t find a shoe that fit him because the dude wore a size 18 shoe. Joe is a very independent kind of guy and wasn’t thrilled about his stay in the hospital and was ready to leave whether or not they would keep him.
We agreed that he would sit and wait until he was released until I found him some shoes. I told him that I’d be right back and that he had to be as patient as he was able to be with the staff trying to help him with his release. I made a quick trip to about five different shoe stores, and after five smiles of “you got to be kidding,” a few phone calls to some church folks for ideas, I ended up at a place called Grace Resource. The biggest shoe I could find was a size 14.
When I arrived back to the hospital his nurse said, “he left.” I found a security guard and asked him if he’d seen a big homeless guy wondering around the place. He said, “yeah, he’s sleeping on a bench near the ER.” I wondered around the hospital and found him sound a sleep as the guard had said outside on a bench near the ER. I woke him up and he looked up at me and said, “you’re back.” I said, “found some shoes Joe, let’s get them on.” And with a whole lot of wiggling of feet and pushing, we some how fit Joe and his boats into a pair of size 14 shoes. Don’t ask me how we did it.
After a quick trip to Carl’s Jr, a double six dollar burger combo for Joe’s dinner, and a ride to where his shopping cart was, I learned more about Joe as he shared his life with me, where he was from, and that he grew up a Methodist. What struck me about this experience was that Joe is a bright individual, smart, intuitive, and loves to talk. He knows Jesus and even shared with me that he considered himself a street minister. What really struck me most about this experience was that this is why I’m doing what I’m doing as a pastor. It’s about meeting the people, face to face, right where they are at in life. Rich, poor, and the in-between. The poor in spirit. Nothing to do with numbers, how small or big a church is, or the kinds of programs the church offers to its people. It has everything to do with coming right down to where the people are at in the midst of their joys and the chaos of life. Eye to eye. Sitting with them in their pain.
Whether it’s dropping Big Joe off at his cart, making a hospital visit, or praying with someone about their health, its about the people; it’s the place where Jesus meets us, and settles in, and sets up shop. It’s where he works and reshapes us as people of God. And our only requirement as pastors? Is to act when the Spirit of God nudges us and reminds us of why we do what we do in loving his people into the kingdom of God. It means making our churches people centered. It’s our mission and it’s the mission of God; to love them as Jesus loved them, in-spite of who they are and what they’re going through in life. Thank God for the Joe’s of ministry and thank God for opportunities where we pastors need to be reminded of why we do what we do on a daily basis and to become pastors focused on “kingdom work,” and to borrow a phrase from a show I watched on television last night the “right now” stuff of today. May it be so.