This is Why We Plant Churches…
It was a sunny Saturday morning in Portland. We had taken a team from our supporting church in Oklahoma downtown to Pioneer Courthouse Square to make one last connection with people before we launched our new church, Agape Church of Christ. This year Easter was in early April and we were lucky to have a sunny day so early. Lori and I had been meeting in our home for nine months with a small group of five families, preparing to launch a church that would reach people on the margins. I had made many trips downtown to connect with others and listen to what they needed from a church.
We divided into teams to canvas the area, hand out flyers, invite people to our worship service, and have discussions with those who were interested in Jesus. I had my two-year-old son, Caleb, with me who was riding on my shoulders. I was quickly walking along the light rail (MAX) tracks to the center of the square. As with any sunny Portland day, people and their children, homeless youth, and others were gathered throughout the square visiting, eating, or soaking up the sunshine.
“Spare some change?” a quiet voice said as I passed. I stopped and turned around. I noticed a young woman, wearing black with black fingernails and thick black eyeliner. She was in her early twenties and took the spot where many young people sit while spanging (asking for spare change). I had been walking so fast and was so preoccupied with directing our teams that I almost missed her.
“Sorry, I don’t have any money. Something to eat?” I asked.
“No, I’m not hungry but would like something to drink,” she responded.
“I can go to the Starbucks over there and get you some coffee or juice. Would that be OK?” I responded. “No, that would be too expensive,” she said.
“No problem,” I said, “if you like I can get you something.”
“OK.” She smiled, “I would like some juice.”
I hurried to the Starbucks with Caleb on my shoulders and returned with apple juice. She drank it, thanked me and we talked. She said she had come to Portland from the Midwest for work and adventure. Unfortunately, life was hard for her and her boyfriend and they were sleeping in his car under one of the bridges. She talked to Caleb, said he was cute, and asked what I was doing. I told her about Agape as a new church and invited her.
“Naw,” she said, “my boyfriend and I don’t do church — that’s cool for everyone else but not us.”
“No problem,” I said, “I will see you around. My name’s Ron.”
“Cassy,” she said, “thank you for stopping and listening, a lot of people don’t do that you know.”
I smiled and waved to her and walked away. I had to smile because I was almost one of those who did not stop, listen, and offer help. It was convicting. I almost told myself not to bother because “I was too busy…” I almost ignored someone who was asking for help.
In Luke 18:35-43, Jesus and his followers were headed to Jerusalem. Luke indicated that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a type of “travel narrative,” (Luke 9:51; 19:28). His journey will end at the “city of David.” He has told his disciples often that his destiny was to die at Jerusalem and rise after three days. He has a calling, a journey, and a direction he must go. Jericho was the last city he would pass through before fulfilling this prophecy. As Luke progresses more and more people join Jesus in this journey.
A blind man was sitting by the road that day in Jericho. He asked for help and begged for money—spanging. However, money was not the issue—he simply wanted mercy. When he heard it was Jesus, he asked for mercy. Oddly, alms (gifts to the poor) and mercy are similar in the Greek language. Did he want spare change or mercy—or did it matter?
Luke tells us that Jesus’ group was “leading the way…” (Luke 9:39). It was Jesus’ journey, but now he was not setting the pace—his followers were. This is the only place where Jesus does not lead…until we get to the crucifixion…there the soldiers “lead the way,” (Luke 22:54).
In typical Jesus fashion, he heard the man, stopped, and “called them to lead the man to him…” Many of us know the rest…Jesus talked with him, healed him, and gave him what he wanted. While this was more than “apple juice” I see a similar point.
Luke wanted us to know that sometimes Jesus’ disciples lead the way, or maybe push him past the voices on the road needing attention. We often believe that “Christianity is about the cross…so let’s get Jesus to the cross so he can die and we can have our sins forgiven. Then we can move on to the resurrection. There is no need to doddle along and help every person who asks for it.” In the end we forget that he is supposed to lead us, not the other way around.
Thank God that Jesus is different…he hears, he listens, and he says, “lead them to me,” rather than “drive me past them…” or “let us hurry along now…”
Thank Jesus for the interruptions that remind us to do his true work.
By the way, Cassy’s boyfriend went to jail. She showed up three months later at Agape…pregnant, trying to recover from drug use, and feeling alone. Lori, our interns, and the women at Agape welcomed her, accepted her, walked with her. She became active at Agape, occasionally sang on our praise team, and came to our home community. Everyone loved having her there and she connected with many of our young people, also working in some of the community outreach programs. Lori and I were there to witness the birth of her first daughter, and I remember holding her second one just after she was born. She now has a college degree, has been sober for seven years, has three wonderful children, and lives a stable life back in the Midwest.
I am often reminded in prayer…what if I would have kept walking that day?