What I Am Learning from Church Under the Bridge

1. Don’t judge people by what I see.  Some are on the street because of addictions, mental illness,  bad choices, and just plain bad luck. But my place is not to condemn out of arrogant self-righteousness or fixing the speck in someone elses eye while ignoring the plank in mine.

2. Giving a few handouts doesn’t solve the basic problem.  There are complex cultural, economic, social, and spiritual issues that lead to homelessness.  About 6,000 people in Austin are living on the streets. We are just helping a few folks make it through another day.

3. Even though this may be only a band-aid, I still believe this is the work of Jesus.  “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”  Matthew 10:41-42

Even though they may not see it this way, I also believe that the people in high places in Austin who are trying to sponsor real solutions and enact legislation beneficial to the poor are also engaged in the work of Jesus.

4. What I want to say to every church member – do not look away from the poor!  Do not consider yourself better than the poor. They are our brothers and sisters.  As Mother Theresa said, the poor are Jesus in his most distressing disguise. If we do not offer compassion to the poor, then how can we say we really know Jesus who ministered almost entirely to the poor?

5. Many people in my church have brought in clothing that is given freely.  Thank you. Let’s keep it up. And let’s somehow go further to join with those seeking more than just a band-aid.  What might that be?

God’s Grand Story

Part 1:  God created everything and it is good, very good.  [“Good” here means a lot more than just beautiful or pleasing.  It means there was a purpose to it, with which The Creator is immensely satisfied.]  God made creatures “in his own image”, meaning they had “being” like God. Part of that “being” means that they have a mind and will to think and choose for themselves.

Though The Creator made every provision for the creatures, they did not fully trust their Creator and thought they were not adequate enough as He made them, as if The Creator held something back from them.

The Creator of life made life to work in a certain Way that would lead to blessedness for all his creation, living and non-living.  But when the creatures of God’s image did not trust their Maker, their life, that was intended to be blessed, quickly became muddled and difficult [putting it mildly!].  Even though it should have been obvious that life had taken a turn for the worse and wasn’t working too well, still the creatures did not return to trust their Creator. So The Creator let them have their own way but also initiated a quest to win them back to a place of trust and to restore the creation to it’s original grand purpose of blessedness for all creation, living and non-living.

Part 2:  This is how the Hebrew people became part of The Creator’s quest to bring back the creation to it’s good purpose.  In spite of the difficulties they had in trusting The Creator themselves, there arose a few voices of visionaries who reminded the people of God’s good purpose for all creation and saw that God was working to bring His world back.  They dreamed about a time when all people would enjoy the blessed life as The Creator had originally intended – no one being left out. They struggled with how they saw The Creator as One of love and justice at the same time and how the creatures could be fully restored to what the Creator intended.  They saw the Creator was inviting the people to simply return [“repent”] from where they had wandered from the Way, to again trust The Creator, and be restored by The Creator to the full grandness of their “being”. And their vision included all people everywhere, all nations and tribes, the least and the greatest, the worst and best, and even all of nature too, just as in the original creation.

Part 3:  Then Jesus steps out.  He proclaims that the day the visionaries had dreamed about has finally arrived.  He says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”  (Mark 1:15)

Jesus goes around not only announcing that the time of God’s restoration has come but also demonstrating it by liberating people to be restored by The Creator.  He offers people another Way to live, like The Creator had originally intended, that brings about restoration to the full grandness of humanness that was intended from the beginning.  All along his journey Jesus invites others to follow him in His new Way of living – restoring the “being” back into the creatures that was lost to them when they turned away from The Source of Life.  A few people who do follow Jesus began to have faith and then “see” the message and enter into this Way and become restored. But the established “authorities” take offense, since Jesus’ message of liberation and restoration puts them on the same level as everyone else, thus canceling their place of privilege and authority over others.  And this message of God’s liberation seems so unlike the “conventional wisdom” at the time. This is not acceptable to the “authorities” and since they have power they silence Jesus and eliminate his threat to the establishment. Jesus sees this coming and chooses to trust God and to accept this suffering in the belief that God is vindicating His message and Way of living and establishing a new rule of power out of serving, self-giving love, and suffering.   And that is what happens. The Creator raises Jesus from death to validate that something truly new is entering the world – the kingdom of God, the new order of God, the dance of God, the revolution of God, the restoration of the Creator [there could be many more descriptions or analogies here].

Part 4:  The first followers of Jesus, as they are energized from within by the Spirit of The Creator, become agents of this new order of restoration.  And when facing the same hostility as their Master, continue serving and loving others and many eventually also choose suffering and death because of it.  They believe that this kingdom of God ushered in by Jesus has already arrived and yet is still to come in the future as they participate with The Creator to spread the dance.  They see themselves as participants with God in a revolution of love that brings power to restore back to what The Creator has always claimed as His own from the beginning – His people and His creation.

This message of the dance of God, the revolution of love, comes to us today.  Jesus still invites everyone to join in His Way of living by renouncing our own way of living selfishly and to trust The Creator, and be restored “beings”, and to become participants with The Creator in bringing about the kingdom of restoration.  And those who accept Jesus’ invitation in faith and follow Him in His Way of loving, serving, and suffering find themselves being restored to the fullness of life that The Creator intended as they join with The Creator in spreading that restoration to others.

[ Sadly, many of the followers of Jesus today have given up on the visionaries’ dream of the restoration of creation in the course of human history.  In this view “salvation” is offed mainly for individuals to avoid hell in the afterlife. They see the visionaries’ dream as further out beyond human reach and only as an act of The Creator (not in participation with His people) in a way that is forced on humanity.  Can this be the way? ]