Wednesday, September 9, 2009
They picked me up from my hotel while I was breathing out frozen puffs of air like an amused fourth grader. My bible and notes were frozen in my naked hand and my California winter coat did a poor job at shielding me from the east coast chill. The assistant pastor and his wife spoke to me about the event that I would be teaching at and briefed me about what to expect, but I was distracted by the falling snow and frost-breath stick figures I was drawing on the car window. We pulled into the church parking lot before any of the attendees had arrived.
Except for one.
A man wearing an old flannel jacket and wool hat stood against the New England brick wall with a small grin which exposed his toothless smile. Two hours before anyone else had arrived, this man anxiously waited to hear the word of God taught in tattered clothing too thin to keep himself warm. He had a large bible in one hand and a lit cigarette pursed tightly in between the fingers of his other. I greeted him with a soft, Good morning. He exhaled the smoke nervously and began to cough violently. I didn't know what to do, so I offered him a cup of coffee. Before he could answer the assistant pastor angrily told the man to put out his cigarette, quit smoking, and told him to leave the church property if he was going to smoke again. The embarrassed man walked away humiliated and still coughing... and I stood there in complete disbelief.
As we entered into the church building, the pastor spoke of this man in third person plurals; they, them, those. I wanted to die. Didn't Jesus come to save the they, them, and those? Would Jesus care if this guy smoked a cigarette? Would Jesus tell this man to leave if he felt an inclination to repeat the offense? The pastor rambled on about those people while I tried thinking of a response, but I was physically and emotionally numb.
In the sad faces of people we meet, in the vacuous eyes of people we glance at, can you see Jesus? Behind his tailored suit, beyond the baby on her hip, can you see Jesus? If we fail to see Jesus in the people we encounter they will be left untouched like lepers, unreached like the lost, and unloved like the poor. Matthew 10:27, So he answered and said, "'You shall love theLord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and [love] 'your neighbor as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."