This morning Greg and I managed to get to church early despite the snowy roads. We don’t get there early often but it’s always a treat to be able to visit with friends and grab a cup of tea before the service. While chatting with a leader in the coffee area I saw an elderly man trying to get around us to grab a little snack of fruit that had been put on platters for the taking. As this gentleman got closer I tapped on my husbands arm to alert him not to back up on this gentleman who was standing so close by.
From the corner of my eye I observed him; he looked a little out of place, a little awkward, and just a little disheveled perhaps. I wondered about him as I had not seen him there before. I wondered if he was alone, maybe homeless and I found myself putting him in a “category” based on my first impression.
Imagine my surprise when he walked right over to our conversation, stood there and said, “ I wanted to introduce myself; this is my first time attending Westside Church.” He then went on to share (in his European accent) that he was visiting from Silicon Valley; has two successful daughters who live in Bend. We continued chatting and it became evident that he was a brilliant professional, well spoken, and kind. In fact, he was involved with a hefty robotics contract with Google in California.
As we all made our way into the service I was struck by my ability to make such hasty judgments about people! I was disappointed that I had made assumptions, incorrect assumptions about this dear man. Sad to confess but I don’t really know if we would have had such an engaging conversation if he hadn’t initiated it.
As I listened to the speaker share a powerful message from the stage of the power of loving people in “the way of Jesus” knowing that left to my own human nature I fall prey to internal judgments and assumptions that keep me from being “Jesus with skin on”.
I was reminded of a story I heard a long time ago:
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek ( pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”
He then dismissed service until next week.
Lord, may my biases and assumptions cease as I am filled more and more with Jesus. Amen.