Easter began with an explosion of beautiful, spring weather in central New York. I can understand how someone might want to come back from the dead for this. Needless to say, these meteorological phenomena have me itching to spend more time with my friends on the street.
As always, our ministry at St. James Mission is bizarre enough to evade all attempts at codification and programming. The streets have become my school of the Spirit as I try to listen for what God is doing in the marginal spaces of our community.
As always, God is doing some strange and funny new things.
As I was going to bed on Palm Sunday, I had one of those moments where the Holy Spirit walks up and smacks you in the face with a sack full of reality. The gospel text from the Daily Lectionary was Luke 19:41-48. Jesus stood weeping over the city of Jerusalem, prophesying that they would be crushed by enemies “because [they] did not recognize the time of [their] visitation from God.”
Even though this sounds pretty harsh (and it is), it got me thinking about the “unrecognized” ways that God might be “visiting” me. I prayed that my eyes would be opened so that I might “recognize on this day the things that make for shalom“, as Jesus said.
Immediately, I thought of this one guy who has been annoying me for months. Somehow, he obtained my home phone number and would call several times a day to talk my ear off about nothing-in-particular for as long as I would let him. It had reached the point that I would groan anytime his number came up on Caller ID. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even pick up the phone. How hypocritical of me to prattle on like I do about solidarity with the poor and relational ministry while simultaneously refusing to engage with the one guy from the street who wants nothing more than to establish a relationship!
Even though this guy has no interest in coming to church (he says it cuts into his “prime beer-drinking time”), he goes out of his way to introduce me to his friends who could use a pastor. Even though he doesn’t like to talk about God or spirituality, he listens intently whenever his schizophrenic roommate corners me with this week’s pressing questions regarding theological minutiae. Even though he doesn’t approve of the fact that I hang around with “scumbags”, he took me to a crack house to meet his friend who needed help getting a cat neutered.
When his dog Teddy underwent a serious medical procedure last month, he asked me to lay hands on the dog and pray for healing.
I was invited to a barbeque at his house on Good Friday. I got to meet his neo-Nazi friend, who has swastika tattoos on his arms. We shared pictures of our kids, who are about the same age.
This guy is one of those relational magnets who turns his home into a house of hospitality for the very “scumbags” he claims to despise. He claims no interest in God, yet asks his friend the priest to stop by as much as I can during the week. When I do, he feeds me chicken wings and cheeseburgers.
It’s amazing just how much my perspective on this relationship has changed during Holy Week. The Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to see this same relationship in a new light. As I continue to build relationships on the street this year, I have a sense that this guy will be one of those nexus points where God chooses to gather people. It makes me think of Levi the tax collector. His house was full of friends when Jesus showed up to party. This guy’s house is the same.
Whenever I’m on the street now, I make sure to stop by his house. When the phone rings and I see that it’s his number, I’m glad to pick up. In fact, he just called as I was writing this post…
“Recognize on this day the things that make for shalom.”
“Recognize the time of your visitation from God.”