I met several of the church's neighbors yesterday morning. I did not meet them at a holiday open house or a neighborhood association meeting. I met them instead when I walked around the church with a friend who was visiting for the first time.
I was giving my friend a tour, and we made our way around the massive building. It was not the architecture or the church's future plans that caught our attention, however. My attention was caught by how many people the church had apparently hosted on the night before. There were boxes, blankets, and plastic tarps everywhere. Temporary homes could be found in the bushes, while grocery carts held the entirety of one individual's possessions.
I then climbed the steps to go inside the church and met three individuals at the top of the stairs. One woman introduced herself as "one of the people who slept here last night."
But as we walked around, I realized that a dozen or so people slept on the lawn of the church on Friday night. There was stuff everywhere.
The woman was still at the church this morning when I arrived. I went out to say "good morning" and asked her how she was. She quickly said, "I am cold."
I was cold, too -- not because I had to sleep outside last night but because I had just made my way from my car to the office, spending a total of three minutes outside.
The woman was wet, along with her belongings.
I was wet, too -- not because I had to sleep outside last night but because my umbrella was not large enough to completely shelter me from the wind and rain.
One of the hardest parts of living in the city is seeing the gross gap that separates the rich from the poor. The church is sandwiched between the two. We face a building on one side where attorneys bill for $500 an hour and couples drop over $100 for dinner. We see thousands of people flock to the city each year, making their way across the street to a myriad of conventions. And we see people sleeping all around us -- not at the hotel next door or the one behind the church -- but on the lawn and the porch.
And, I hate it.
I hate it because I realize that I, too, am part of the problem.
I hate it because I realize that I have more than I could possibly use.
I hate it because I do little to alleviate the pain or ask the difficult questions about why there are so many hungry men, women and children in the world's wealthiest nation.
But my life in this city will not allow me to say "I hate it," and do nothing about it, forgetting how many homeless children of God there are living all around me. I have to see and smell the poor when I leave my home and when I walk to the church. I have to see their boxes, their tarps, and their carts while I smell their urine in the nearby alley. The poor are here -- all around me.
Jesus makes it very clear that those who follow him have a responsibility to the poor. In fact, Jesus says "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." He then casts people into the outer darkness saying, "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me....for just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me" (Matthew 25:41-45).
We warmly welcomed the stranger who came to church today, taking a break from the convention she was attending. We loved having her with us. We bent over backwards to make her feel at home.
I also invited our neighbor who slept outside to worship, but I did not offer her something to drink or something to eat. And, I wondered what would happen if she really came to worship.
Why, Lord, does following you have to be so hard?
Grant me courage. Give me compassion. Loosen the hold I have on my pride and my possessions. And Lord, please be with all who sleep outside on this cold, rainy, windy night. Do not allow me to forget them when I put my head on my pillow and cover my body with as many blankets as I would like.