Compassion in an Inner-City Church
Feed the dogs. Touch the dumb, and find faith in places where you least expect it. This is what truly brings pleasure to our Lord, much more than any outward show of self-righteousness.
There is church in the inner-city of Chicago that for me demonstrates this kind of faith and grace. It’s Philip Yancey’s church, the LaSalle Street Church, and he talks about what his church did for Adolphus, a young black man with a wild, angry look in his eye. He says, “Every inner-city church has at least one Adolphus.” He had spent some time in Vietnam, and most likely his troubles started there. He could never hold a job for long. His fits of rage and craziness sometimes landed him in an asylum.
If Adolphus took his medication on Sunday, he was manageable. Otherwise, well, church could be even more exciting than usual. He might start at the back and high-hurdle his way over the pews down to the alter. He might raise his hands in the air during a hymn and make obscene gestures. Or he might wear headphones and tune in bebop music instead of the sermon.
As part of worship, LaSalle [Church] had a time called “Prayers of the People.” We would stand, and spontaneously various people would call out a prayer for peace in the world, for healing of the sick, for justice in the community around us. “Lord, hear our prayer,” we would respond in unison after each spoken request. Adolphus soon figured out that Prayers of the People provided an ideal platform for him to air his concerns.
“Lord, thank you for creating Whitney Houston and her magnificent body!” he prayed one morning. After a puzzled pause, a few chimed in weakly, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
“Lord, thank you for the big recording contract I signed last week, and for all the good things happening to my band!” prayed Adolphus. Those of us who knew Adolphus realized he was fantasizing, but others joined in with a heartfelt, “Lord, hear our prayer…”
A group of people in the church, including a doctor and a psychiatrist, took on Adolphus as a special project. Every time he had an outburst, they pulled him aside and talked it through, using the word “inappropriate” a lot …
We learned that Adolphus sometimes walked the five miles to church on Sunday because he could not afford the bus fare. Members of the congregation began to offer him rides. Some invited him over for meals. Most Christmases he spent with our assistant pastor’s family.
Boasting about his musical talent, Adolphus asked to join the music group that sang during Communion services. After hearing him audition, the leader settled on a compromise: Adolphus could stand with the others and sing, but only if his electric guitar remained unplugged (he had absolutely no music ability). Each time the group performed thereafter, Adolphus stood with them and sang and played his guitar, which, thankfully, produced no sound …
The day came when Adolphus asked to join the church. Elders quizzed him on his beliefs, found little by way of encouragement, and decided to put him on a kind of probation. He could join when he demonstrated that he understood what it meant to be a Christian, they decided, and when he learned to act appropriately around others in church.
Against all odds, Adolphus’s story has a happy ending. He calmed down. He started calling people in the church when he felt the craziness coming on. He even got married. And on the third try, Adolphus was finally accepted for church membership.
In his entire life, no one had ever invested that kind of energy and concern in him. He had no family, he had no job, he had no stability. Church became for him the one stable place. It accepted him despite all he had done to earn rejection. It gave him a second chance, and a third, and a fourth.
Philip Yancey concludes, “Christians who had experienced God’s grace transferred it to Adolphus, and that stubborn, unquenchable grace gave me an indelible picture of what God puts up with by choosing to love the likes of me. (Philip Yancey, “Taking My Stand with the Church,” Leadership, Spring 1996; www.PreachingToday.com)
From a sermon by C. Philip Green, Feed the Dogs, 10/16/2009
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