Today, I had a conversation with one of my friends, a follower of Jesus. During the conversation, I said, "Do you know that a few weeks ago a small city mayor, the city and county commissioners in a North Carolina town not too far from here held a meeting with various leaders. The topic of the conversation centered around the problem posed by homeless persons who were gathering uptown near businesses. The business owners complained, 'We need to get them out of the center of town. They frighten my clientele. Where are they coming from? What can we do to get rid of them?" Sadly, enough, during the meeting, no one had the courage to ask, "What are the underlying problems of homelessness?" The homeless were treated like a virus to be erased rather than real persons with real challenges and real needs. Many of the persons present in the meeting also claimed to be dedicated Christians!"
My heart broke when my friend with quite a lot of irritation said to me, "The homeless? Who are the homeless? Persons who are homeless deserve to be homeless. They got themselves into the mess they're in usually because of drug addiction. I don't want to get to know someone who is homeless. They unsettle me. They frighten me. You know what I mean! A lot of them are crazy too."'
So I paused and prayed, "God, give me patience. Help me be kind and share my perceptions of the truth in love" Then I said,
"I remember when I served in Greensboro with Hinshaw United Methodist Church. Our gathering place was located on what was then called High Point Road. Now it's called Gate City Blvd. We had a nice playground located on our property. There were parts of it that made a great shelter for persons who were homeless to spend the night. My good friend, Jim, the program director, and I decided we would get to know the men who were sleeping out there. Some of them did have issues related to drugs. Others seemed to struggle with mental illness. Some were down on their luck. They faced significant illnesses and went bankrupt because they couldn't pay the bills. Soon I learned that it was not really helpful handing out bandaids like providing a temporary places for them to stay, like taking care of a few meals once a week. God wanted me to offer Christ. God wanted me to offer Jesus and his redeeming grace. God wanted me to listen to their stories and share The Story of Good News, the Good News that God enters into our place through Jesus so we may enter into his place, a place of peace, meaning, love, faith, and everlasting joy. Simply put, Jim and I got to know persons who were homeless. We became friends. We helped connect some of them with a community drug rehab program. We helped connect others with some friends we had who worked with jobs training through Goodwill. We helped some of them find a place to stay. We helped some connect with mental health resources. It was hard work and took a whole lot of time, patience, and prayer. In addition to Jim and me, it took the whole church. It took a team of support persons... I believe as followers of Jesus, God empowers us to bridge the G.A.P."
After this rather long speech, I was afraid my friend had quit listening. Instead, he asked, "What do you mean, bridge the gap?"
Since my friend is really smart when it comes to various theories related to economy, I began by lifting up the following statistic:
"Yesterday, September 13, 2023 in a speech shared at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, 'Inequality grew dramatically between 1980-2020, with the richest 0.1% accumulating the same wealth as the poorest 50%.'
("Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American").
I continued, "The way we do economy is not working! It's based on greed and debt and rampant consumerism. We have to do something about it!"
"Like what?" he smirked.
Then I said, "What does it look like to invite the living Christ to prayerfully help us imagine what economy based upon Acts 2:42-47 looks like?" "In what ways does God want us to share the resources of the earth in ways that bless all?"
"So often," I said, "we as followers of Jesus forget that the gift of God's love as made known in Jesus reveals that God puts on us what we don't deserve. All we need to do is let God love us more and receive the gift of his unmerited agape, salvation, redemption, and reconciliation. What do I mean when I say God empowers us as followers of Jesus to bridge the G.A.P.?"
"G stands for Grace. A stands for accountability. P stands for perseverance and patience."
"God bridged the gap by putting all of this into place for us as followers of Jesus. God wants us to get to know persons who are stuck in cycles of poverty and stand by them through thick and thin so they can navigate their way out of poverty. Then they will mentor others and help them find their way too. A book written a while back called "Bridges Out of Poverty" offers some helpful strategies."
"Likewise, more and more followers of Jesus are coming together to hold each other accountable for ways we can be better stewards of the earth. Forms of new monastic communities look at helpful ways to share resources and do more than hand out bandaids. The goal is to offer Christ you know kind of like Saint Francis did a long time ago."
What would it look like for you and me to bridge the G.A.P.?
Jesus said, "Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brother or sisters, you were doing it to me!' (Matthew 25:37-40, "New Living Translation of The Bible,").