“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.”
How many times have we repeated that line of prayer, in memory alone? I’ve asked myself, what does it really mean to experience God’s "kin-dom" here on Earth as it is in heaven? Being the pastor at Street Church has given me new eyes to encounter this concept and it really hit me this week when our guest musician, Allan Paquette from Ebenezer Church, came up to me yesterday after service and said, “Chelsea, you know this place is like a little slice of heaven on Earth, right?”
I smiled, thinking back to just last week when we had a bit of a ruckus break out during our service, which proceeded outside our gates. In the moment, we handled it as a team; some of us worked towards de-escalation, others of us held a non-anxious presence as we continued our worship and tried to regain order.
Honestly, it was just another day at Micah.
We took the person home. He was having a hard day and we strive to be a trauma-informed congregation that recognizes the layers of trauma and that it can trigger unexpectedly. As the commotion neutralized, we told the congregation, “we all make mistakes, and he is still loved by this congregation and we will welcome him back when he is ready.”
Homecoming. What does it mean to be welcomed home even when we have fallen short? How do we nurture a community that mirrors the same kind of grace that the heavenly parent offers for a child who has wandered for far too long? This is what it means to embody the kingdom of God, here on Earth, “as it is in heaven.” There is no one who is excommunicated from “home.”
Yesterday at Street Church we spent a good amount of time talking about what it means to pray not only for ourselves in times of trouble, but to pray as a resilient community. In our reading from James 5:13-20, we talked about how the root of prayer in our spiritual walk can be impactful to our lives and our church. Using the basic prayer acronym of ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication) we discussed how prayer starts with God, recognizes our shortcomings, expresses gratitude and ends with our needs. This practice is a recognition of our unavoidable human need for God to help us along our way.
We talked a bit about why confession was both hard and an important part of the spiritual journey. Most people expressed that they struggled with confession because of embarrassment, shame, guilt or fear (of repercussions). These are all normal things that people wrestle with when admitting when we have inevitably messed up (again).
Then, something holy happened. Jake, the neighbor who had the hard time at church last week, spoke up. He said,
“Sometimes, confession is important because we need a clean slate. We avoid it because you can be so ashamed of the way you acted and are afraid of not being welcomed back or abandoned, because you hurt someone accidently while dealing with your own pain. It’s happened before, to me. For example, last week, I was having a really hard time and I’m sorry for the way I acted. I really appreciate having a place that would welcome me back after the way I was. I hope you guys know I’m really sorry and I’m working on it.”
“Jake,” I said, “what a vulnerable response to why confession is so important. Hear these words, we have all fallen short, but in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”
I looked at the congregation, “how many of us have done things we regretted, friends? Things we wish we could take back?” (most of the crowd reached their hands in the air). “Will we welcome back, Jake, in the arms of our community?”
A resounding “Yes” came from the crowd. Folks from the community came up to Jake throughout the service to express their welcoming attitude telling him that they were glad he was back.
I could have ended church right there.
In the eyes of our community, Jake is dealing with much more than what meets the eye. We recognize that mirroring the love of God looks a lot like the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) being welcomed home by the father. The sins of yesterday had no bearing to the fact that he was finally home, where he should have been all along.
[Image: (Artist) Margaret Adams Parker "The Prodigal Son" on display at Duke Divinity School]
Jake has been growing a lot this past year as he went into housing for the first time after a good amount of time living in a tent. He has been leaning on his case manager, Judy, for life skills and grieving support after his father died recently. Jake is a gifted gardener and in the midst of his grief, he has turned to us at Micah to find purposeful work to keep himself occupied. In the midst of his journey, he has asked along the way, “what can I do?” Micah assigned him a yard to mow for another neighbor, which in turn made him feel good about helping someone else. In the process, he got asked to take on another job by a random neighbor who saw his hard work. Jake has naturally become a part of the community in which he has been planted. It doesn’t mean he is still not working on himself, but now he knows he does not have to isolate himself away in order to protect other people from his pain. ¸Because of the power of invitation and a welcoming culture at Street Church that tells him he will never be cast away, he knows he can always come “home.”
Street Church doesn’t just happen on Sundays, it happens every day in our varying ministries throughout the hospitality center, our respite house, through our phenomenal housing placement and staff support team, as well as every other wonderful volunteer who leads from behind this robust ministry of neighborly kindness.
As Micah has had the privilege to welcome more people “home” this last year, we have decided that Street Church will take on the “homecoming & house-blessing ministry” as neighbors move into housing.
This past week, I invited one of our neighbors, Chris, to join us for a house-blessing for another new community member who just moved into his apartment. We brought some groceries to the house and naturally, Chris offered some neighborly guidance about transitioning into traditional housing.
“It took me over a year to get used to being in housing again, take your time getting adjusted. Here’s my number if you ever need to talk or need any help navigating resources around here.”
We invited the new member to church, asked him to come play with us in the band and street choir. Chris, his new neighbor, plans to visit again to check in. This was more than just bringing some food to stock the fridge, this was about being welcomed into the community that will never leave you or desert you.
What makes our homecoming so special is that it is a weekly invitation that will continue to be offered, again and again, nor matter how we have fallen short. It is called “homecoming” for a reason, because it is an active invitation, a continual process of “coming home,” back into the Father’s arms, through beloved community.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Grace and Peace,
Would you pray with me? Gracious God, whose love and comfort are like the open arms of the heavenly parent who welcomes us home, no matter what. Help us to embody the welcoming presence of Jesus with every encounter we have with our neighbors who are right within our reach. Help us to remember, we all deserve a place to come home to. Give us the energy and endurance to keep seeking justice for our neighbors so that we may realize that reality, as it is in heaven. Amen.