Like most churches, my congregation has potlucks. Almost every event we organize is intertwined with a potluck. We’re lucky we have a number of members who like to cook and as one of the resident bachelors in the crowd, I get to reap the benefits of some awesome home cooked meals when this happens.
So a few weeks ago we had one. There were quite few people there and a bunch of little kids running around like little maniacs… you know, doing their job as kids. We had music going, good conversation, good food and good fellowship.
Well being a small congregation, you know immediately when someone walks in and is a stranger. Alex, had been riding his bike around in our parking lot for several minutes as he scoped us out to see if we were friend or foe, while a couple of the fellas burned up burgers and dogs on a little hibachi.
He timidly and somewhat ashamedly accepted an invitation to come inside and eat with us. You see Alex is homeless. He looks to be in his late 20s and he has apparently made some bad choices that have him in his current situation. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Sometimes when you’re eating a shit sandwich it’s because you ordered it.”
I sat with him and so did one of the other guys and we just talked with him. He said he’d been living on the street for about five weeks and the reason he was scoping us out was because he didn’t know if we’d call the cops on him or not. He said he really appreciated the food but even more just the human contact. Just being able to sit and talk with other people meant a lot to him because, as he put it, “it can get really easy to keep yourself from people when you think they’ll call the cops on you or take your stuff.”
I’ve been torn about how we treated Al. Except for me and a few of the guys, no one else would talk to him. They ignored him and turned their eyes from him… excluded him. On one hand I can’t blame them… i mean, he looked a little shifty. He smelled. He looked of ill character and with what happened in Knoxville a couple of weeks prior I can see how some might be suspicious.
But for those who did extend some dignity to him I am so proud to be able to say I associate with them. One guy came up to him, put his hand on his shoulder gently and asked, “did you get enough to eat?” Another said as he was leaving, “be safe out there Al. Hope we see you again.” And I and another friend sat and shared a meal with him, talking to him about things in the news, about his life on the street, about the weather… just about stuff.
He didn’t talk much at first. He was very quiet and untrusting but about 20 minutes later he was talking a little. Giving short answers and a little commentary on his situation.
Al wandered around our little congregation after he ate, taking in some of our decorations and reading quotes hanging on our walls from a few famous people. I gave him a little tour of our place and told him our faith is a little different from what most people in the U.S. grow up learning about church.
I told him, “we believe there is some Truth in all the world’s great religions so we try to learn from all of them and live our lives as best we can from those teachings.”
“wow… right on, man. That’s good stuff.”
A few moments later Al got on his bike and rode away.
Matthew 25:35-47 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Shalom, Amen, Salam Alaikum, Blessed Be, Namasté