April reached out to me by e-mail. I was recommended to her as someone she should reach out to as someone who could help her out. She wasn’t looking for help with paying the fee to live in the hotel, but help to get out. She told me that she had to leave – that she needed to set free of the bondage of the place she was living in. She was being reunited with her ex-husband who was living in Colorado.
I came and visited with her in her room just a couple of days ago. I didn’t know what to expect. She spent the first hour telling me her story, but with a twist. It was a story of God’s timing and God’s plans and how they are different from ours. She has been separated from her husband for 14 months, but that separation allowed healing to happen. That separation gave room for April to see how God is Lord, and not anything or anyone else.
We talked and shared our faith stories, moments in our lives when we have experienced God nudging us and tapping us on the shoulder, and sometimes shouting directly at us to get our attention.
She shared with me what it has been like living in the motel – like a trap. Things deteriorate, service is terrible, there is no kitchen or way to make food, except for a microwave, and things generally don’t work consistently. But there aren’t a whole lot of options for people in her situation. She described it as being in bondage – a term that is not used lightly. And a term that seems very fitting. It’s not just physical bondage, but bondage of the spirit, of the human will to live. Every week, the bill comes due to cover the shelter of the room – an expense that is way beyond normal. An expense that often times takes advantage of the poor who are sheltered there. But then again, where else are these folks going to go?
In this country, there is a creed that we live by – individualism. It’s the belief that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that everyone is able to get themselves out of trouble, and that only the lazy suffer the consequences.
And in this country, we like to claim that we are a Christian nation. Many churches proclaim the creeds of the church that were established centuries ago in far off lands. And we claim to follow Jesus who favored the poor and proclaimed Good News to the poor.
How do these two creeds and belief systems compliment each other though? Christianity isn’t so much about our personal salvation devoid of public implications, but as something far more greater. Revelation 21 paints a picture of the entirety of creation being renewed and restored. Jesus doesn’t proclaim that only the strong will survive and only those with material wealth are the ones who are blessed by God.
When I keep encountering more and more people who are struggling with the basic necessities of life, I have to compare our national operating creeds and beliefs with those of Jesus. And frankly, I find our nation’s operating beliefs to be lacking – failing in the promise of an American Dream. But Jesus has yet to fail to come through on his promises. If we are a great nation, then why do so many struggle to survive? If you think there is an easy answer for this, then you are dismissing the struggles that exist because you think they don’t affect you. And you are wrong.
Homelessness does affect you. When a homeless person without insurance gets sick, they go the hospital to receive treatment. Going to a hospital for routine care is expensive. Someone has to pay for that. It ends up showing up in your insurance premiums and taxes. When the poor don’t have enough food because they are being gorged with weekly payments, they become sicker and have health problems. Guess who pays for that? When the homeless sneak over to an abandoned hotel to find shelter and every day the local police department are sent over to kick people out – someone has to pay for the police to do this, as opposed to doing something else. Guess who pays? That’s right, everyone does, including the people who think that homelessness has no impact on their lives. Apparently, we like to lie to ourselves and think that we are like islands. Yet Christ calls us into community, to proclamation, and to service of others.
1 Peter 2:9-10 states:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
This isn’t only about individuals. It’s much bigger than the American ideal of catering to each individual. In the side commentary of the Lutheran Study Bible related to this passage of Scripture, it states:
What is the priesthood of all believers? This is a key concept for Martin Luther, who insists that all Christians are priests or God’s messengers. Proclaiming God’s mighty acts is not a job reserved for only a few people. God calls all believers – no matter what their vocation or standing – to share the Gospel and serve their neighbors to that others come to know Christ.
(Source – Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 2002)
Did you catch the end of that – All believers are to share the Gospel and serve their neighbor. Not make excuses. Not judge. Not put blinders on and ignore those around us. The Gospel is Good News to the Poor.
At the end of my conversation with April, I got her set up with transportation. And we spent time in prayer.
April was having a true Jesus moment that had nothing to do with me. Her old life, the life she was living here – a life in bondage – was dying. Today her old life will die as she gets on the bus. Following Jesus is about dying. It’s about trusting what Jesus tells us – that following him will lead to death – death daily, death to self, death of life, death of bondage.
But it doesn’t end there. Death doesn’t get the final say. Jesus does. In order to experience resurrection, we have to go through death. When April steps on the bus, she will also begin to experience resurrection, new life. A life of hope. A life where bondage has ended and there is a future. A transformed life. This is what Jesus promises. And it’s not just for some time in the distant future. It’s here and now.
Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we are stop fighting with God and allow God to take over. Sometimes we have to get to a point of complete loss of hope in order to let go of the chains that bind us, that hold us bound.
April is a reminder that death and resurrection are real and are what Jesus calls us to – right here and now. April left the bondage of a motel room with a life that was hopeless and she is getting on a bus filled with hope, looking forward to the embrace of love and family, and experiencing Jesus’ mercy and grace. This is the Good News of Jesus in our midst.