Two Thursday mornings ago, I pulled out my old embroidered suede coat out of the back of our coat closet. I had bought that coat my in PA school when I realized that I needed something that could be both warm, and semi-professional looking. It had since been relegated to the back of the closet by newer coats. “I need to donate this to Goodwill,” I thought, and put it on for what was probably going to be the last time.
That afternoon, I wore the coat to Mercury Courts, where our students do weekly health workshops for people who are transitioning out of homelessness. We’ve been going there every fall and spring semesters for 3 1/2 years. I’ve learned a lot of names, hugged a lot of shoulders, answered a lot of questions, and learned more about poverty than any book could ever tell me. The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that poverty is not primarily economic, but lack of resources is often symptomatic of other problems– poor relationships, poor health, inability to delay gratification, and especially a lack of self-esteem.
As people start coming to our weekly workshops, it takes them a while to warm up to us, and this has been a difficult semester as we’ve had an influx of many new people scattered amongst the residents who have been with us for all three years. So I work hard to learn their names, to know their stories, to hear their fears, and to love with no expectation of anything in return. I want to be the face in their life that lights up with joy when they enter the room, and over time, their faces light up right back at me. I may not be able to help them each financially, but I can offer my time, my respect, and be a conduit of God’s love. And I do love these residents dearly and consider them some of my favorite friends.
On that suede-coat-wearing Thursday, the room where we hold our workshops was especially warm, so I laid my coat on a side chair. After the workshop was over, I helped the students load out the room, and then I returned to retrieve my coat.
But it was gone.
Half of the people from the workshop were still in the room, so I asked them where my coat was.
“Come on folks,” I thought, “I have been coming down here for almost 4 years and you know that I would give you anything just for asking. But don’t steal from me!” Threats from the administration of Mercury Courts went unanswered, and I went home without a coat.
More irritated at the loss of trust than the loss of a soon-to-be-donated coat, I drove home exasperated.
“I can’t believe they stole my coat!” I whined.
“Was it really YOUR coat?” the Lord whispered.
“No, it wasn’t. It’s your coat. Everything I have is yours, Lord.”
“Sometimes I call you to places where your coat — and a whole lot more– will be stolen. But that doesn’t mean that you weren’t called to be there.”
God and I have been reminiscing about that old coat, and about lots of other areas of loss that I’ve experienced in the last year. Even the current yearning to get our kids out of the Congo reminds me that Kingdom work is dangerous work.
In Matthew 5 in the NIV, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Poor? Mourning? Persecution? Being insulted? Lied about? None of this should be unexpected in Kingdom work. In fact, if we’re not putting ourselves in positions of some sort of danger to our possessions, jobs, time management, pride, etc., perhaps we should question whether we’re really doing Kingdom work to begin with. After all, if we’re not stretched beyond ourselves, do we really need God?
God calls me to the perilous path to bringing people to Himself, rather than safety and comfort found on my red microfiber couch, making a difference to no one, or even to bless the already-blessed. God has asked me to weekly plant myself in a community where I am the outsider. He’s asked me to pursue a less-profitable career than I could. He’s called us to adopt from the world’s poorest country. It’s not about me, it’s about helping others to hear the call and know the love of Jesus in their lives.
Jen Hatmaker in her book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” says,
“I don’t want to consume the redemption Jesus made possible then spur the methods by which He achieved it. Jesus’ kingdom continues in the same manner it was launched; through humility, subversion, love, sacrifice; through calling empty religion to reform and behaving like we believe the meek will indeed inherit the earth. We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.”
When I returned to Mercury Courts last week, one of the regulars whispered in my ear, “I heard your coat got stolen. I’m sorry. Please don’t stop coming ‘cuz someone stole from you.”
Stop coming? I’d never dream of it. The fact that someone stole my coat lets me know that there is more work to do. Someone at Mercury Courts doesn’t know that God and I love them so much, all they’d have to do is ask.
In fact, I may need to show up all the more.