Go! for Lent: Luke 4:18-19
I was born and raised an Episcopalian. I never imagined I would choose the streets of an inner-city as a place to proclaim Christ. I never thought I’d regularly enter a jail to teach and worship, or mingle with patrons of Our Daily Bread Food Pantry or those who work at our local tiendas. But it is here where I have discovered the richest encounters of the living Christ. Over the years I’ve experienced worship in a variety of churches and liturgical styles. And yet my spirit is consistently drawn to the spirit filled worship that happens behind bars, among those in jumpsuits. I am drawn to the worship, witness, and song that spontaneously break forth from folks waiting to receive food from our food pantry, eager to share God’s abundance in their lives. Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to boarded up apartment complexes where neighbors sit outside sharing testimonies that spring up like water from parched earth. The streets have become my altar. God has called me here and there is no place I’d rather be.
One day I encountered a grandmother on a sidewalk in her neighborhood. She shared with me that, thanks to God, she had beaten her addiction to crack. She selflessly gave all the glory to God. It was God’s strength that allowed her to stay clean and sober day after day, and to be present to her daughter and granddaughter, who were there to attest to her claim. With bright, dark, shining eyes and a huge smile, she proclaimed that it was God who “saved her again, and again, and again.” Her testimony was a Hymn of Praise as beautiful as any I’d ever heard among well-rehearsed choirs. Her Gloria stays with me, and like a well-known hymn, my heart recalls her song again and again. When one faces difficulty, whether due to incarceration, food insecurity, addiction, poverty, fear, or any means of suffering, one has the potential to finally surrender to God. When the ego is shattered and one hits rock bottom, it is there that one can proclaim, “I need God to live.” When faith is not an option, but a necessity, worship isn’t something you just “go to” or “attend”. It is a manner of being and wherever you are becomes holy ground.
Here is my confession: Some would say that I go to bring others encouragement and good news. But that is only partly true. I go out, not to bring my version of Christ to the poor, but to encounter Christ with them and among them. Over time I have discovered that those I encounter have brought good news to my spiritual poverty. They have given me sight when I was blind. They have liberated my soul from the notion of ministry being mostly within the walls of a church building. They have expanded my view of church and holiness. I now see that life’s greatest difficulties can open the way to spiritual blessedness. I go out because, like them, I need God to live too. And there is no place I’d rather be.