A couple years ago, I was at my church’s Sunday worship service when I noticed a man walk in. He was an older man, with shabby clothes, a patchy white beard, and several grocery bags full of papers. He stayed in the back of the church, swaying with the music with his eyes closed. He looked at peace.
After the service ended, people started walking out. As one of my friends headed out the door, he quipped “Dude, who’s that random homeless guy?”
On one level, that comment makes sense. This older white man stood out amongst the Asian-American college students and young professionals that made up the bulk of the congregation. Not everyone in our congregation comes from the same economic background, but the material lack of my friends lies behind closed doors, whereas this gentleman’s poverty was visibly apparent. He stood out.
Yet what stung me about the comment was the message it declared: “Sir, you do not belong here. You have no place here. This is not for you.”
My friend was not being intentionally exclusionary, of course. He did not harbor malice or contempt in his heart. Yet his words revealed what churchgoers often think: This is a place for people who look like me, and people who look too different don’t belong.
Yet the expansive heart of God is greater than our desire to be comfortable. It is written that Jesus refused to keep to polite company. He socialized with prostitutes, outcasts, lepers. As a preacher once put it, “Jesus hung out with people who hung out at the Greyhound bus station.”
May this same Jesus continue to teach me how to love, for I know I have much yet to learn.