Acts 3:1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,* stand up and walk.’ 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.
A few years ago a homeless man began to sleep in our parish courtyard. He arrived long after parish activity was shut down and was always up early enough to be off parish grounds before little ones arrived for pre-school. During the week he would occasionally drop into services on Wednesday or Sunday – always sat in the back, rarely took communion. Smiled but did not really engage with anyone. Like many homeless, he looked a bit scary and distracted but behaviorally, he was calm, quiet and slow-moving. He kept to himself.
When I began serving at the parish I was introduced to “Steve,” by the Priest-in-charge, Fr. J.T., who had welcomed Steve from day one. Apparently Fr. J.T. sort of tripped over Steve one morning having arrived earlier than usual on a weekday. At that first meeting, Fr. J.T. set in motion the healing power of hospitality and love done in Jesus’ name. He made him a cup of coffee and then opened the men’s room to freshen up.
Over time, Fr. J.T. invited Steve into his office just to chat – like he would any friend who happened to be in the neighborhood on any given day. They share a cup of coffee, laugh together at the day’s news.
Steve was given some rules from the start – no smoking on the property and not to leave any of his belongings –most of which he wears or carries in a back pack – at the church. We didn’t have anything but a portico to offer for sleeping and we wouldn’t be giving him money, but he was always welcome.
Fr. J.T. outlined and offered the hospitality and the rules ‘in Jesus’ name.’ Like Peter and John, Fr. J.T. is gifted by the power of the Holy Spirit to heal. His healing ministry was and is hospitality grounded in love – love of God and love of neighbor. Steve, who was otherwise paralyzed by his station in life was lifted up in Jesus’ name and made strong.
Just last Sunday friends of mine came from out of the area to hear me preach. As all were exiting worship, my friend Dan was right behind Steve and heard Steve say to me how much he enjoyed the sermon. The gospel was the story of the Rich Fool. Steve and I shared a few words about its application in our lives. My friend Dan overheard and later commented how Steve’s insights were profound. Steve then put on his backpack over the several layers of clothing he always wears, and exited to the streets into the heat of the summer day. And my friend was amazed. He didn’t know Steve before but guessed that he was homeless by his appearance.
9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Steve has been healed in so many ways, made strong and getting stronger every day. This season of healing for what ailed him – what made him homeless, without a job, and dealing with mental health issues on his own – was initiated by the healing gifts of hospitality and love from Fr. J.T. There is substance behind the welcome he offers each and every soul that graces our parish grounds. He welcomes all in Jesus’ name. There is nothing more healing.
This is the difference between social services that abound in this community for the homeless, the mentally ill, the immigrant, the unemployed, seniors and shut-ins. Secular services that provide counseling, money, a bed, administrative assistance, meals – all good and necessary contributions. But as regards to healing and transformation these services rarely have the hand to pull someone up and make them strong, to move a person from a broken-state to wholeness – holiness. No amount of money can effect that kind of change. Loving and welcoming and including the broken ‘in Jesus’ name’ simply has the power of transformation.
Fr. J.T. like Peter and John, reached down to Steve, picked him up, and said from the start, “We have no money to give you, but how about a cup of coffee and why don’t you come sit down and tell me about your story. And then, why don’t you join us for services this morning. We’d love you to join us. And, by the way, all are welcome to God’s table.”
Steve is now a smiling, engaged member of our parish community. He helps out with handyman jobs, washes dishes, attends as many services as he can, engages in sermon talks, participates in the kiss of peace and takes communion.
It didn’t happen overnight. Fr. J.T. met and welcomed Steve nearly two years ago. Steve still lives on the street, still wears all his earthly possessions, still battles mental illness. But he is no longer homeless. His home is our little parish. And we love him like Jesus does.
Thought of one one my favorite country songs as I was writing this blog post, Like Jesus Does. We love Steve like Jesus does and all because Fr. J.T. shows us day in and day out what loving God and neighbor really looks like. Here’s the track for your enjoyment: