“I just don’t understand why he hasn’t changed, yet…” A disgruntled member said to me.
“He comes every week and you would think that God would have gotten through to him, by now?”
Every week that we show up to Street Church and host our outdoor worship service, is a miracle! We are a mobile church, with no walls, who relies on the goodness of neighbors for our space, food, music, transportation, and even set-up, cooking, and clean-up. Our collective homily is also a miraculous encounter with the Divine as we come together to hear what God has to say to us through our experiences in conversation with the Word of God. We are a group filled with the battered and torn, the privileged and the impoverished. We have become a unique and diverse place where the professional therapist sits with the day laborer and the addict in recovery sits next to the retired elementary school principal.
This is one of the few places where people from very different backgrounds sit down to share a meal together and find ways to share our ever-evolving story that God is unfolding before us. Every week, we experience a miraculous encounter and we have the opportunity to work together in a very divided world. God “equips the saints” who have been often labeled “too far gone” to make the fractured whole again.
In our scripture reading this week, we focused on the gospel of John’s feeding of the five-thousand (John 6:1-21). In this telling of the miraculous event, we wrestled with how we could apply this miracle story to our lives. I asked the Body to share the last time they experienced a miracle and one responded with:
“I woke up this morning-and that is saying a lot.”
Another piped up, “I made it to church this morning!” It was our friend Arritt, who walked from the neighborhood of Mayfield to get to church even though his ride fell through. Instead of staying home because of the mishap, he got to stepping towards Jesus!
I found that to be quite the… exercise (pun intended) in dedication to worshiping God. Don’t you think?
As we reflected on the power of the miracle stories of Jesus, I asked the question if we believe that miracles are possible today? How often do we doubt or worry if God will come through this time, and somehow, God shows up in the unexpected encounters? How do we understand miracles when we have members of our community still wrestling with disease and sickness? How does God work towards healing for those who have been deemed “un-saveable” by a society who has discarded or forgotten them.
As an ecumenical body of Christians, we wrestle with what it means to “bring people to Christ” so that they can find healing. Unfortunately, this tag-line has a sour taste of forceful evangelism (even if our intentions are good). In Jesus’s time, people would literally bring the sick to him to be healed. Likewise, at Street Church, we attempt to create hospitable and safe space where people can come "get their fill" and encounter a God who invites them to come as they are and to to find healing and wholeness through a faithful relationship with Christ.
When working with those who are struggling with addiction, we know that it is not our job to “fix,” but instead to encourage and support our people. We meet them where they are and offer holistic tools to move from “bad” to “better,” when they are ready to take that step. Unfortunately, we do not always get to see them “healed." Yet we continue to care for this group of people because it is our Call and passion as Christians to care for the least and the lost, not to "fix" them. Being a trauma-informed ministry means recognizing that being in recovery is a lifelong battle and a daily (sometimes hourly) choice for sobriety. The disease of addiction can be very hard to rationalize, but the reality is, it’s not rational, it’s a debilitating sickness that is layered, like an onion, for care.
Healing starts with love.
Yet even when we are "woke" and trauma-informed, it can still be a human response to look around and get frustrated when people seem to be staying at the status quo for their own lives…even when they come to church.
When we read the gospel miracle story, it is easy to shake a fist at God and question, “can you help us heal this sickness, God? Where is our modern day miracle for healing addiction which continues to kill and plague our people?” Yet, God can sit in the silence of our wondering and wrestling.
When people come to Street Church, we set the expectation up front that this is a place where you can “come as you are.” However, that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. In our ministry, we ask that our friends try to put their "selves" aside for worship to be present and fully experience God in their own personal way. It is not our job to set timelines; that is between them and God. What we can do, however, is offer a safe place to go and give them the bread of life, Jesus, who seeks to bring wholeness and satiation in areas of our life when we are so desperately seeking worthiness or healing from other vices.
The miracle occurs when we come to the Table together and experience God’s real and present Grace with us, consumed by us, revealed through our love and compassion for one another.
In our gospel story, Jesus is with his disciples as the crowds continue to grow larger and larger, who want to experience his healing power and teachings. On this particular day, the crowd got so overwhelming that the disciples looked at each other and felt defeated before they even started. One retorted in response to the gift offered by a small boy of five loaves and two fish, “what are they among so many people? (John 6:9)” In other words, “what in the world can we do when faced with an overwhelming amount of need in front of us?”
What we need to realize is that it is not about us. It is about God. It is God who is at work in the simplest ways, all around us, that make the ultimate impact on the whole.
God can do the impossible with the improbable. It is in the ordinary elements, whether it is bread and fish, or us, that God truly has the capacity to do the extraordinary.
We come to Street Church and wonder how this small group, made up of neighbors and community members, will meet the great need of the Micah Neighborhood. What we have come to realize is that we do not do it alone and we are called to come alongside what God is already doing in our community. We are the five loaves and two fish. We are the small offering that God can multiply and expand with Blessing.
You are part of that invitation, too.
Our role is to come as we are and let God use us for the miraculous, and for the good of the Body of Christ.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Would you pray with me? Miraculous God…Thank you for reminding us that through the healing name of Jesus, we have the capacity to come alongside what you are already doing in our community. Remind us of your power and your Grace in moments when we feel inadequate and don’t feel like we are enough. Thank you for your abiding love that reminds us that we are, in fact, enough. Use us and continue to work through us, the improbable, to do the impossible in your name. Amen.