Last week I received a letter from a man whom I’ll call “Jake.” He has given me his permission to share portions of it.
You might not remember me, but I certainly remember you. Four years ago I was homeless, living on the street, and had been for three years. I came to your church because I was interested in . . . the wonderful people I met every Sunday for the free lunch for the homeless.
I sat in the upper back with my backpack and dirty clothes and hair. That was my first church service in more than 20 years . . . After the service, you came back to the front door to greet people. When I tried to exit, you made sure that I couldn’t avoid you. You stepped right in front of me and held out your hand. Startled, I shook your hand while you were telling me that you were glad I came to the service . . . [Jake goes on to describe the small gift he received from the Minister’s Discretionary Fund.] I can remember it like it was yesterday. In my alcohol and drug-dazed mind it’s wonder that I can remember anything from that long ago.
You [It wasn’t me. It was the congregation I serve] started an amazing chain of events in my life that day with your act of kindness for a longhaired, dirty, homeless person.
I’m now three years clean and sober, have been a resident at Veterans’ Village, and as of last month I have my own apartment at University Apartments. I have a car and a motorcycle! I go to NA meetings at Lake Ella, and as of late, I chair many of them. We have a very large meeting considering the noon meeting time. However, our Sunday meeting is at 10:30, which conflicts with my attending your service at church. However, I’ve managed to slip in occasionally and enjoy your heartfelt and meaningful sermons . . . I’ve been on your mailing list for quite some time . . . I enjoy your editorials and newsletter immensely.
[Jake goes on to name his NA co-sponsors, who are well known figures in town, and concludes]
I’m beyond grateful and blessed to have you, the catalyst, and the support of (my co-sponsors) for my “new life.”
Jake enclosed a money order as a gift to the church. It will go right back into the Minister’s Discretionary Fund.
We must not underestimate the impact we can have on people’s lives through the simple act of hospitality. When I read Jake’s letter I couldn’t help but recall verses from the Epistle of James, that epistle Martin Luther so disliked, but which contains some deep wisdom:
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? . . . You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (James 2:1-6, 8).