Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Several years ago I was invited to be the United Methodist Youth Ministry representative at a meeting in Washington D.C. sponsored by Tobacco Free Kids to write curriculum for Youth groups. I was honored to be asked to participate in this group that had representatives from almost every denomination and group I could think of. About 40 people in all.
After a very long day of meeting, we disbanded for the evening. It was late at night, winter-time, cold, and I was hungry. I was also about 6 blocks from the White House. So, I thought, I can't stay in my hotel room. I bundled up and headed out (Please don't ever share this story with my Mom!).
I walked down to the White House walked around a little, I noticed many people sleeping on some steps to a local church. It was pretty cold. Too cold to sleep outside. Too cold for a guy from Texas to be walking around so late at night! And I was even more hungry.
I noticed that if I went down into the subway, there were some fast food places. So I went down, found some warmth and was glad to find several places open. I decide on some tacos, got my food and drink and sat down to eat.
As I took my first bite I heard "MMMMMM, that looks pretty good." I carefully glanced around and noticed several men wearing a few too many mis-matched clothes. They looked tired, dirty, and I caught on pretty quickly they were hungry. Soon I heard "I wish I had a taco" and "I am as hungry as I am cold" so I knew this was an opportunity to be Good News. But I'll be honest, even though I know the Scripture passage that talks about "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat" I really didn't see Jesus in any of these men.
Out of a sense of comfort more than guilt I turned and asked "Would you all like some tacos too?" My new friends seemed shocked. I had responded to their words. I guessed it didn't happen too often. So I asked again "Would you all like some tacos? Tell me what you want and I'll buy it." The response was sort of a muffled "Whatever man, thanks."
So I got up, bought several tacos for each person and drinks, brought them over, set the tray down and then moved my tray to sit with them. (OK, in my head was my Mom's voice saying do not talk to strangers, and I could just imagine she would mean ESPECIALLY homeless strangers, especially in Washington D.C., especially in the subway, especially close to mid-night!)
As we all ate, I asked their names and told them mine. We talked about the cold. They could tell I wasn't from there and when I told them I was from Texas they called me "cowboy" and laughed. They wanted to know why I was in town, I told them about writing anti-tobacco curriculum. They said how important it was to tell kids not to smoke, even as they puffed on their cigarettes. They told me it was bad for health and very expensive and very hard to quit.
As we started to finish up, finally one man said very loudly "Dammit!" Then he looked at me with his one good eye and said: "Don't you know not to talk to strangers?!?!" (In this moment I had a brief panic attack that my Mom had set this whole thing up just to prove a point.) I responded that I believed that it was important to show hospitality to strangers because often we are entertaining angels unaware of their identity. They all laughed and said "I hope you can see there are no angels here." Again I was asked "Don't you know you are not supposed to talk with us?" I simply responded that I didn't know the rules and even when I know the rules, I don't follow them very well.
They went on to explain: People ignore them because they are homeless. Occasionally someone gives them a dollar or two. Nobody goes and buys the food and hands it to them. And nobody ever sits down and talks with them. And nobody ever ever ever looks them in the eyes when they are talking.
I had done everything all wrong. Then they said "Hey cowboy preacher, could you be praying for us?" And I felt that maybe by breaking the rules, I had done some small thing right.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had 3 rules for his people. The second rule was to "Do Good." In every way and every time do all the good you can. As much good as you can do, do good.
I didn't cure cancer, pull a baby out of a burning building, or invite anybody into a personal relationship with Jesus. I was even somewhat reluctant to do anything. Certainly the Spirit moved me to do what little I did do. Buy tacos and talk. Not much.
What does it really mean to share good news?
Copyright 2008, Charles W. harrison, The Center for Wesleyan Renewal