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Sometimes church and worship can keep us from the living water people need and that we need. People can actually hide behind church, the machinery of church and worship.

Recently I attended a Wednesday Lenten service with my wife in my former church. A stranger - a shabby and homeless man, walked in from the cold and driving rain, smelling of feces and urine, but not alcohol, and took a seat way, way in the back. I found it most annoying. The smell drifted a third of a way into the large sanctuary. Meanwhile the service just went on as usual; formal, classically difficult Lenten Lutheran hymns, readings back and forth and so on. The usual "let's shorten this up a bit" kind of service. Not wanting to visit much after the service, since we'd been earlier to the soup supper, my wife and I left right away at the end. But I couldn't get the homeless man out of my mind.

Arriving home, I called the usher and asked what happened to the man, but it went into voice mail. An hour later, not because I was the pastor there, but because I was compulsive, I returned to the church with some of the left over soup I'd earlier made, wondering if the man might still be there somehow. Sure enough, there he was, sleeping in his sleeping bag on the concrete walkway right next to the side door we'd left from. He smiled as I offered him the soup, though he'd been earlier given a cup by the ushers, along with an umbrella when he was first spotted in church. I asked if there were anything else. He said something about needing some gloves and some socks. I drove the two miles home in the dark returning with those, as well as a banana and a breakfast bar and a long piece of foam I had laying around for him to sleep on. Keep it, I said.

No, he shouldn't have been there, but what are you going to do? I found out the next morning, the church administrator had called the sheriff to have him removed since we had our Christian elementary and pre-school right there on campus, and "you just can't have these kind of people around." He'd gone to church to hear the Gospel, even if it was just to get out of the weather, and now he got the Law. I immediately felt guilty I hadn't spared the secretary, the cops, and the man himself the trouble by not arriving an hour earlier before anyone got there and take him to a shelter a dozen miles away, in spite of the smell. I sort of felt like the Good Samaritan who didn't quite finish the job. At the same time, I felt annoyed there were people like this guy in this world disturbing my own comfortable world and my time in God's house. Part of me wished I'd not even gone to church that night and I wouldn't have had to deal with my obsessive-compulsive side and to have so much to think about and bother with.

But aren't we supposed to be "bothered" with people? Isn't that in the end what church and worship is? Should we be surprised if God sometimes upsets the little patterns we fall into -- even that pattern of church as we know it? Isn't it about the living water that we and a tired and thirsty world needs? Isn't it that as Jesus was "bothered" about this woman and "bothered" to visit with her, so he bothered to come to this earth as a human being, for the moment, letting go of his divine position in the universe, and join us, offering us through his life, death and resurrection true soul refreshment?

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