A weird kind of guy showed up at our brand new church last week. And that was good since we are trying to reach out to others who are different than ourselves.
Our new church, inside a hotel lobby, looks more like a business conference with pastries and coffee than it does an ecclesiastical assembly. Its big screen TV projects the pastor’s message giving the slight air of a sports bar.
We were making a great start except most of the people who came looked a great deal like us – with the exception of this one man.
Our church is mostly young, but he was old.
Most of the young men in our church sport goatees. This man had a scraggly white beard.
Many of our parishioners wear designer jeans, but this old man was wearing something very different. He was wearing a sandwich board advertisement, which read – “Home for sale by owner – Assume my VA loan.”
Apparently, he’d been walking a nearby intersection when he came into our church seeking a break from the heat.
That’s when the “problem” began. As he walked toward our welcome table, he was actually, well, how can I put it? – Welcomed.
Without hesitation, a young lady asked his name. She wrote “John” on the nametag and immediately, John removed his placard and replaced it with his new nametag.
Then the young lady did with him what we do to everyone — sent him toward the coffee. Somewhere near the coffee table, he met Todd, one of our ushers. That’s when Todd did the unthinkable – he invited John to sit drink coffee with him.
I settled back to watch what Todd would do because I guess I was wondering what I would do. Surely Todd would try to help this man “out” and get him on his way so as not distract our diverse target audience.
But Todd simply engaged him in conversation asking about his sign and listening as John explained his plight and how he was being forced to sell his home.
Then, hoping he might make a sale, John suggested that Todd should be interested in buying the home. And very gently, Todd explained that he was not in the position to yet afford a home.
Still the man persisted and Todd listened some more. Finally, Todd asked John if he’d ever considered becoming part of a faith community.
“No,” John said, “Churches just want your money.”
Funny, I thought, looking at the price tag on his sign, he’d come to church looking for money himself.
“Yes,” Todd noted, “I can see why you’d say that. But you have to admit, churches have bills too.”
“But Jesus threw all the money changers out of the temple,” John countered.
This is where I wanted to jump in to explain that Jesus wasn’t throwing out the people who had money; he was throwing out the people who were charging money for the items needed in liturgy. The modern equivalent would be if Todd had charged John a dollar for the bulletin, nametag and coffee.
Though it appeared as though Todd was sinking, he was actually listening. Tricky guy, that Todd.
“True,” Todd noted, “but the followers of Jesus based the church on sharing what they had with those that didn’t have anything.
“What is it that you need, John?”
Gee, why didn’t I think of asking that? Go, Todd, go.
It was about that moment that my fellow usher noticed my eavesdropping and told me it was my turn to serve the coffee.
Our church began this new work by making a commitment to welcome everyone who came – different or not. And John was really different. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure he was the only one wearing a billboard.
But John found someone in Todd who was really different too. Todd listened, allowed John to be himself, and gave him a place to lay down the burden of a heavy sandwich board. He treated John like an equal – as a fellow traveler with the same kind of needs that Todd had – to be heard and helped.
A church that welcomes people with sandwich board signs – now that really is different!