When I was serving in Hawaii, 100% of my focus was on growing and nurturing the church I was entrusted with. Reaching out to the community was never on our radar.
I was knee-deep in the midst of preparing for a Bible study for that church on the text where Jesus says, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), when I hit one of the hardest writing blocks I can ever remember stumbling upon.
The line “but the Human One has no place to lay his head” kept ringing in my head.
Jesus said he was homeless.
I thought about all the homeless people I ignored on my way to church to worship a homeless God. That didn’t feel right.
I mean, sure, our youth ministry went and ministered to the poor. We made sandwiches once a month and handed them out to the homeless. But that felt more like a transaction than an act of compassion.
Here’s a sandwich. K thanks bye.
And then we went on with the rest of our day, a bit proud of the “good” we did in the morning. Yet no names were exchanged. No stories were shared.
Since our passion and purpose was to strengthen the ministries within the walls of our church, these service projects felt just like that — projects. Something to do to make us feel good about serving our community.
We really felt that Jesus will take care of “them” so we can take care of ourselves.
In the midst of trying to break through the writer’s block, I heard a question: who outside of your church knows you follow Christ?
I became very defensive with myself but I kept coming up empty on an answer.
And I knew that we, as a church, misrepresented our existence by focusing wholly on our very own welfare.
Something had to change. And it had to begin with me…Which led me to an impromptu journey through Chinatown late at night — where many of Hawaii’s houseless folks reside.
I’d been there plenty of times. But always during the morning, with sandwiches and a handful of youth.
Chinatown looked different at night.
I kept wandering aimlessly because I had no idea why I was there. But I knew that I should be there.
I broke out of my trance of fear and confusion when someone asked me for 90 cents. I offered him all the money in my wallet (....$3.00) if I could just sit and hang out for a moment. He was more than happy to accept. So we sat. And then we talked. His name was Reid. He told me his story and then asked why I was here. I explained that I honestly had no idea but was glad to have met him.
Our conversation soon shifted to faith and God and how his faith never wavered, even when he was living in the streets. And then, to my surprise and embarrassment (since he knew I was a pastor) he offered to pray for me.
For the rest of my time in Hawaii, every Thursday evening, I went to visit with Reid. Reid ultimately taught me my misguided view of ministry. I thought I was called to solely take care of my parish; of my charge; of my flock. That as a church, what we had to do was make sure that our faith was strong and that we were fervent and on fire for God.
We had a pretty good grasp on the first part of the Greatest Commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart. We did love God with all that we were and had. But we severely lacked part B of the Great Commandment: love our neighbors as ourselves.
Faith is incomplete if we don’t love our neighbors.
Our faith isn’t about just taking care of ourselves. Our faith is caring for the body of Christ — and we all are part of Christ’s body.
The sacraments of baptism and Eucharist open our hearts and eyes to see that it’s not simply about us — nor is it ever just about us. When we are baptized, we are baptized into the community of all those who believe in Jesus. It’s not just me and Jesus — it’s me and Jesus and them and you and all my neighbors.
We take Eucharist—or communion--not by ourselves, but with one another AND with all our neighbors because we all are invited to Christ’s table. Jesus always seems to draw out hospitality from others.
Too much of our rhetoric has been self-centered (or tribal-centered). America First isn’t a Christ value, it’s a patriotic value that we replace with the part B of the Greatest Commandment: love your neighbor.
Christ’s Spirit compels us to look beyond ourselves. Christ compels us to be love in the places where love may be difficult to find. The love of Christ leads us to places that we purposely avoid. The words of Christ remind us that we are not entitled to anything but that we are entrusted with everything — so we need to be faithful stewards with all that God has entrusted us with, including Earth, God’s creation.
John 3:16 tells us that God so loved this world that God intervened. We are to follow God’s lead and love this world — all of God’s creation — and intervene as the incarnational presence of Jesus Christ.
It took a journey of wandering aimlessly in Chinatown and an encounter with a houseless man named Reid for Jesus to show me a world in need of Christ beyond my tribe and my comfort zone.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.
[Posted September 17, 2019]