Some days ago I was in New York City. It is a marvelous city that gives me a whole lot of respect for mankind’s ability to build stuff. And to use space efficiently. There is not a lot of wasted space on Manhattan. On the streets of Manhattan I and millions with me went about business as usual, as if there was no sign of a hurricane in the distance.
We ate, we shopped, we went to Broadway. I even went to a fundraising seminar, which was my main reason to go there. (It was not to see the Statue of Liberty) I saw The Naked Cowboy and other famous people. I took the elevator the 86 floors up to the top of the Empire State building. I got a tour of the small park where a few hundred activists from different political parties and religious and cultural backgrounds occupied Wall Street. It was much different than I had imagined.
But the thing that made the biggest impression on me in New York was a church close to Wall Street that I will not name here. Its a church with history going as far back as the 16th hundreds. An English queen granted them their land. Wow. I was impressed with the place and its history. I loved the old architecture and the feeling of being in an ancient and historic place when I walked on to the property.
The only problem was that I soon started to wonder if the members of the church would recognize Jesus if he came to the church, or if they would spray water on him.
You see, the area the church is in is also, unfortunately, the ‘home’ of many homeless people. There are many of those in New York. It was sad to see, and they made me feel awkward. Like I owed them something. Like food and a place to live. I doubt that any of the homeless that I saw during the week I was in the city were homeless because it was their idea of a great life. I have a feeling they would have chosen a different direction if they had been able to. I did not get to hear their stories, but I have heard stories of other homeless people. They are often sad.
Now here is the problem: Many of the city’s poor and homeless congregated in front of this big church. I would think it is a natural choice for a homeless person. Christians are supposed to help the poor, right. Isn’t that what Jesus encouraged us to do?
With many poor people congregating in front of the church I mean perhaps seven. There is a roof on the sidewalk in front of the church, so it is a good place to put your mat and your bags down if you are homeless. Then you at least have shelter from the rain or the sun. Some of them put their shopping cart next to the cardboard they were sleeping on.
So, and here comes the really sad part: This very powerful, rich and historically significant church wants nothing to do with the poor people that are sitting in front of their building. In fact, they don’t just not want anything to do with them, they resent having them there, in front of the land that Queen England gave them. They resent having to walk past these stinky people every Sunday when they have put on their nice clothes to go and worship Jesus.
So this is what they have done: First they drilled holes in the roof that is above the sidewalk in front of the church. Then they put a water hose on the roof that is always on, dripping water constantly, 24 hours a day. It is like all of New York may be sunny, but in front of the church it is always raining these days. Water is dripping down on the poor, making what little belongings they have wet and cold. It is a genius way to show Jesus’ love.
They also are very concerned about the cleanliness of the pavement in front of the church, so exactly twice a day somebody comes with yet another water hose and sprays the pavement with gallons of water. If the poor who have been sitting there don’t move fast, they are sure to get very wet very quickly. As a gesture to the church community the pavement washers make sure to leave the pavement so wet after they are done washing that nobody who loves their cardboard pieces would dare to put them down for a long time.
I saw this with my own eyes, and I could not believe that what I saw was being done by people claiming they are followers of Jesus. I could not believe they are reading the same Bible as me, because surely they have skipped some very important verses. How about the one saying:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Matthew 25:34-36
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14
Just to mention a few.
I walked inside the church. It is a beautiful building. Some people were practicing their songs in the choir. I loved the stained glass and the art on the walls. But what caught my eye was a shiny box with brass trim on it that said: For our homeless ministry.
I am not sure what they plan to do with the money people put in the Homeless ministry box, but I would suggest that they take some of it and fix the roof they destroyed in order to keep the homeless away from their church.
I was saddened by what I saw at this church. It is not what Jesus would have done. I am sure of that. I have had to search my own heart and ask what I would do too. It is not always easy to reach out to the poor. It may be hard, smelly, cold and very challenging. But it is what we have been called to do. I think that Jesus would say something like: They are people created in God’s image. So to spray water on them rather than loving them is like spraying cold water on Jesus on a cold October day.