As I have walked the streets of urban centers in New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Rockford, Washington, D. C., and other communities, my journey has taken me to the core of homelessness, poverty, addiction and emotional/mental distress. I’ve visited many food pantries, “clothes closets”, soup kitchens, and a few homeless camps. It never ceases to amaze me at how so few followers of Jesus do so much. Often, I’ve observed two or three people trying to feed a long, ‘out the door’ line of hungry people. I have wondered often, “Where is the Church?” Of course through the seasons of the year, the Church finds its way to the door steps of urban outposts — only to drop off a bag of food, discarded clothing or furniture, some blankets, or a dollar or two in the hand of a street beggar. We have become totally ‘righteous’ about our efforts. Often our ‘evangelism committee’, our ‘social action’ board, our ‘community outreach’ board, and our church council have encouraged the creation of a ‘pilgrim bucket list’. “Feed the Hungry” …..oh……okay. ‘Here’s a couple cans of soup’. The voice of our thundering soul says, “check that off”. We send our young people off to a devastating tragedy — often years aver an earthquake has struck, a hurricane has swept away a part of our national soul. So swing a hammer, pick up the broken pieces of someone’s life, and after a week, we’re back home — feeling ‘good’. The thunder continues, “check that off”. We’ve visited the sick, the imprisoned of those tragedies. We spend thousands of dollars to visit an impoverished nation on some sort of a “mission” excursion. We stay a week, manage to learn how to say, “God Bless You’ in the native tongue, and return home. The thunder rings out again. We’ve gone into ‘all the world’. It never dawns on us that we can find that same level of poverty in our own neighborhoods, at our front doors. Am I too harsh a critic?? Current events tell me, ‘not really’.
In 1969 I was a young school teacher in a ‘middle school’. Half my kids were from the projects, half from the wealthy river-front of our town. It was the peak of the Civil Rights Movement — sort of. I brought about 8 of my African American boys to my brand new home to help me build a bench. Not one knew what a screw driver was. Guess which kids had at-home fathers? Flash forward. Yesterday President O’Bama revealed to some young African-American students that he didn’t know his father — just like them. It was front-page news!
Our community is the 4th ‘most miserable’ city in the U. S. We have the 3rd highest crime rate in the State of Illinois. We’ve had more study groups, catchy slogans all of them crying out for reform than I care to count. Translation? What does it mean for you & me to follow Jesus?? What does it mean for the Church to follow Jesus? For all our bible studies, small groups, book discussions, and fellowship gatherings — can we speak meaningfully to the “least of these” about following Jesus? Are we ready for the long pilgrimage? If we fell drawn to follow Jesus how long is it going to catch up to Him??? He’s still there, still on the move, still the guardian of ‘the least of these’.