Summary: A sermon about mercy, justice, humility.
“What Does God Want?”
18 years ago I was an Associate Pastor at a big church in Macon, Georgia and also going to seminary at the same time.
I felt God calling me to reach out to a community of folks I had just recently heard about.
It was a homeless shelter for indigent people living with HIV and AIDS.
And the place was an old hotel.
It was called the “Rainbow Center.”
This was back when there was still a really BIG stigma attached to HIV and AIDS.
I suppose there still is, but I pray it’s not as bad as it was then.
In any event, I called the person who ran the Rainbow Center, introduced myself and asked if I could get involved in ministry there.
He wasn’t too thrilled to be hearing from me.
“What do you want to do,” he asked hesitantly.
“Well,” I said, “I’d like to get to know you and the folks living there and perhaps I can learn from you and you can help me and perhaps I can help you.”
He opened up to that.
He told me that the residents eat a common meal in a common room every Friday afternoon.
He invited me to come.
I went, and continued to go until I finished seminary and no longer worked for that church.
I was later told by the director, who became a dear friend, that the reason he was leery of me at first was because the only Christian Pastors who had ever called him in the past had wanted to come over and beat the people over the head with the Bible.
The people at the Rainbow Center already felt judgement and condemnation.
They’d felt it most of their lives.
No one had ever wanted to build relationships, become part of the community, make friendships, love and help in other ways.
It was one of the most rewarding ministries I have ever been involved in.
Soon, some other members of the church decided to join me for lunch on Fridays.
And the people living at the Rainbow Center started to become friends.
They started to trust me and the other folks from the church who would just hang out with them on Friday afternoons.
Soon, a group of about 15 residents decided they wanted to come to church.
I didn’t have to ask them—they asked me.
So, every Sunday, a church member named Wally would drive one of the church vans to the Rainbow Center and pick up this wonderful motley crew of people—black and white, male and female, prostitutes, homosexuals, drug addicts and former drug addicts—who had contracted HIV and AIDS and were now homeless and whose families no longer claimed them as their own—and bring them to this big, middle to upper middle class white church where I was Associate Pastor.
They went to Sunday school classes that eventually “sort of” adopted them.
The church started collecting toiletries and food goods for the center.
Residents would call me up at all hours of the day and night needing rides and money…
…and since I was a bit younger then and didn’t have a young family like I do now—it worked out pretty well.
One member of the church, basically adopted a young man named John.
And one time, John became very sick.
He was put in the hospital and eventually slipped into a coma.
The doctors—everyone—thought that John would never wake up.
But this wonderful Christian woman would go to John’s hospital room every day—spending the entire day there.
She would talk to him, pray for him, read to him.
It seems like yesterday when she called me up one afternoon with tears of joy: “Pastor Ken, John just woke up. He just opened his eyes!!!”
I am convinced that John had given up on living, but God’s love working through this woman saved his life.
Before I left that church all 15 or so folks who had started coming to the church had joined.
I remember one time, when my parents came to visit, one of the men came up to my dad and told him: “Your son is my best friend.”
I’ve never received a better compliment.
Seven hundred years before Jesus Christ was born, Israel was in the middle of a sort of revival.
The temple was crowded.
Giving was overbudget for the first time in years.
What could be better?
The people must have thought that God was really pleased with what was going on.
I mean, numbers and money, noses and nickels—that’s what it’s all about in the religion business—right?
The ones with the biggest buildings win.
Apparently that is not how God sees things.
Because although lots of people were paying lip service to God and their religion—something big was missing—the biggest and most important stuff of all—goodness, mercy, humility and walking with God.