Did you ever hear the sermon about the pastor who dressed up as a homeless man?
Yeah. You know the one. It’s been a while, but it is an old fav. Pastor shows up for worship dressed like a homeless man and no one recognizes him. He discovers that his own congregation functionally shuns him with contempt until he rises to the podium and reveals his true identity.
I’ll let you in on a little secret.
That sermon did not change a thing. Here is what it did: It gave parishioners who heard it a feeling of conviction – a warm and fuzzy feeling of conviction that seemed like what church should/oughta do. And everyone left that sermon (no one ever actually experienced this, but they all heard the sermon ABOUT it), went home, watched the ball game, and once in a while, they blogged about the pastor’s sermon.
Meanwhile, the homeless still begged on the corner. Parishioners drove past them on their way to church. They rolled up the windows and locked the doors, and then the next thing you know, they bought a book called When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert and then justified their inactions to suit their consciences.
Fat Beggars Mission Assignment #1
Today is Thursday. Many of you who MIGHT read this message will go to work today, and tomorrow, but not Saturday or Sunday. I will do my best to help you engage in a prophetic act this weekend that won’t affect your professional life (an accommodation even Jesus would not make for you, and yet, I bet NONE of you do it. (But fortunately for you and me, I am not actually a betting man.))
Come Friday night, when you get off work, skip your shower before going out with friends. You had one in the morning, so just let that hold you all day. You wont stink that bad, not really. But come Saturday morning, continue skipping the shower. Go work in the yard, in the shop, on the truck or even go get a hard workout. But skip the shower after. You are going to stink.
Come Saturday night, you are not fit to sleep in your own bed. You stink too bad. You offend yourself with the very stink God gave you. Endure it, but if you must, get a sleeping bag and sleep in that. And if you are really daring, sleep out back of the house. No. Not in the yard, but out back of the fence by the dumpster. Go there after dark so the neighbors wont see (after all, you probably can’t handle this level of shame).
Okay… Sunday morning. Dig out those gardening shoes you keep by the back porch. Get your worst laundry day shirt – preferably from the bottom of your laundry pile. Sniff it. Actually, by now you smell worse than it. Get some old pants and smear some mustard, ketchup, and some garden soil on them. Put them on.
Now. Load up and go to church. Sing like no one is listening, and dance like no one is watching. Actually, Jesus is listening and watching.
Now. Imagine with me a new sermon illustration. Imagine this little exercise catching on and more Christians doing it next Sunday. And after that even more on the next. Imagine churches a month from now all over America stinking to high heaven as their pastors take the podium and wonder what is happening as they find out their flock is actually taking action and identifying with the homeless as a witness to him!
Nowhere in any of this exercise did I ask you for a single dime!
Nowhere in this exercise did you experience any danger from homeless strangers and street thugs.
Nowhere in this exercise did you give any money to a drunk or addict, thus violating your delicate conscience about parting with money.
The only risk in any of this is to your pride. You must humble yourself before the LORD! Imagine that!!!
You maybe wondering what this will achieve, and I think that until you do it, you will be stuck wondering that even if I tell you. Before I offer an answer, consider this: What did Ezekiel achieve by laying siege to a brick? What did Hosea achieve by marrying a whore? Still wondering? I bet you are. But here goes my answer: You will open the prophetic imagination. Your own, that of your pastor, and that of your church. You will humble yourself – something American Christians actually almost never do. And you will be the main person a homeless guest would want to sit with during worship IF one ever felt compelled to enter the doors where you do that.
Think that’s nothing?
Talk to Jesus about that.
Oh.. and… PS… Congratulations. You are now taking the role of a Christian prophet of God. You are helping the homeless who see (and smell) you imagine their place in church. You are helping your church imagine “the least of these” coming to worship with you.