Helping the Church Help the Homeless

In contrast to my BS Lesson #1 (and any future BS 101 lessons), I am not being facetious or passive/aggressive, but straight-forward and serious.

I have been re-reading some books in recent days.  Books by men I trust as teachers in the faith.  And while there are a LOT of things I could regurgitate, like Tim (The Tool Man) Taylor regurgitating for his wife a conversation he had with Wilson, his neighbor, over the fence, I will focus on just two eye-opening notions – which I believe belong together anyway.  And I want to lay down for myself, and any thoughtful readers here, some parameters for my goal in helping the church to help the homeless. (okay… a little humor…)

In his book, The Cruciform Church, C. Leonard Allen tells us that the American church needs to face up to the fact that the neo-constantinian gravy-train has run its course.  This is a painful realization, but the sooner we deal with it the better.  He says, “Christians have been forced into a situation where they again must lean by faith on God’s governance of history rather than America’s governance of it, and where Christian community must reinvigorate the vision and practices that can maintain such faith in a hostile environment.  That means… [a] recovery of the New Testament’s apocalyptic vision… [so that it can] flourish in faith in the midst of pagan religion and state persecution.”

That is a mouthful.  But it comes from Leonard Allen, a respected teacher in the church.  Rather than listening to a kook like me, hear it from him!  We need a new worldview (and a reinvigorated faith to match it).

I think that is the rub.  The church desperately does not want to admit the frightening fact that she is now becoming (and has been becoming for many years now) a dreaded minority in our society.  Those walls our politicians want to put up to keep out the undesirables (which sadly so many in the church hold onto as necessary to maintain world order) are the very walls that soon will keep us out (like Haman hung on his own gallows (Esther 7:10)).  The irony is divine.  But I really do not want to see God’s people on the wrong side of it.

The apocalyptic vision was given to the church in a time of persecution (see the whole book of Revelation).  It forced the church to lean on God.  Funny.  That is undeniably fundamental to the whole enterprise anyway.  The surprise is that it got lost.  But I am reading all over the internet where the church is turning over her ministry for the homeless to 501c3’s, trying to raise money in order to help, closing down ministries when the challenge is deemed too expensive, and making every financial excuse possible at every turn rather than leaning on God with her God-given prerogative to LIVE but not by the rules of “the world.”

Where does a RISEN Savior fit into a ministry that closes its doors to the homeless?

He doesn’t fit into a hole that small.  The church needs a bigger vision of the world, a bigger imagination for God, and a bigger faith for God’s healing touch.  In short, the church needs to recover her “apocalyptic vision!”

But as Allen suggests, we are the new outsiders.  We really cannot cling to the old vision where the church was dominant in our culture.  We cannot lean on our own moral teachings, our cultural influence as “Moral Majority,” our status as rich and worshipping in fine cathedrals that empress presidents and emperors.  No, we are sojourners and exiles in that world now.  And that is the metaphor I find in Walter Brueggemann in his essays which I find in the book Exilic Preaching: Testimony for Christian Exiles in an Increasingly Hostile Culture.  This is the second eye-opening notion I want to embrace.

Without repeating several pages of theological insight here, allow me just to list off his points.  You can research his work for yourself, if you find this list helpful.  Brueggemann instructs us to recover the faith-deepening worldview of exile that Israel discovered when the Temple was leveled to the ground and the people were hauled off into strange lands amid strange customs, languages, and gods.  This is the fertile ground from which apocalyptic vision is sown.  But Brueggemann lists a handful of insights that appear indispensable in my view, and I want to pass them on here.

Brueggemann says exiles grieve deeply.  Exiles use terms like “forgotten” and “forsaken” when they lament.  Exiles face the very real threat of despair.  Exiles experience “profaned absence” when the Glory of God leaves the Temple.  Exiles live in the paradox of moral incongruity with the problem of evil.  And finally, Brueggemann warns against exiles becoming preoccupied with self-perception – after all, the problems of exile are TOO BIG for you to fix!  You really must look outside yourself and find your faith in God just to get through a day as an exile.

Brueggemann’s list helps me to accept that my situation is somehow “OKAY” as it finds deep roots in God’s deep plans for his creation rather than shallow roots in my shallow plans for self-preservation.

The reason I post these two long-winded theological notions on to the Fat Beggars blog is likewise two-fold.  1) At some point along the way, this prophetic ministry is going to rattle some cages.  Prophetic ministry is upsetting almost by definition.  Prophets don’t settle for status quo – that is almost a sure sign of false prophecy.  Prophets who whisper in the king’s ear the things the king wants to hear are merely feathering their own nests.  Prophets who dare to call the king out for his misguided deeds, pretty much put their lives on the line – and usually get shunned, disrespected, and/or executed for their truth-telling.  Thus after the cages are rattled and the dust begins to settle, if someone were to come here and find this outline, they would determine that the truth had been spoken IN LOVE after all!

2) I post these theological notions as a way of laying down parameters, as I said above.  I want this ministry to be pointed in the right direction.  I need to exercise these thoughts publically to keep myself in check too.  In rattling cages, there is a lot of dust in the air!  It can get a bit disorienting.  My own feelings of rejection and fear can get in the way.  So, therefore, I too am an exile opening my eyes to the apocalyptic vision as I call others to it too.

Hey, it is freezing tonight in Lubbock, Texas.  My friends, my brothers and sisters from the streets, will be sleeping outside in the cold.  My church family will be sleeping in warm beds all over town – many of them in fine homes with guest bedrooms going empty tonight.  Meanwhile the church buildings that God has blessed the church with will sit empty too – many of them with LOTS of floor space, shower facilities, toilets, kitchens, and other assets – languishing like fruit rotting on the vine.  My church family will not be able to “see the picture” I see or “know the needs” I tell them about largely because they do not believe they can effectively make a difference.  That is microscopic faith, if it is faith at all.  I think we can do better.

Behold! I stand at the door and knock.  If you open up, I will come in and eat with you (Rev. 3:20).

Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand! (Mark 1:15).

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