THE LEAST OF THESE

Class hadn’t even begun when everyone passed the “final exam.”

It was the first day of teaching a new series in Sunday School, using Philip Yancy’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? My plan was to begin class by showing a video clip of a powerful story told by Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church: 

 A homeless alcoholic named David used to sleep in his own urine on the steps of the church. One Easter Sunday he wandered inside, reeking of alcohol, urine and the streets. After the message, David approached Pastor Cymbala. The pastor admits his first thought was that he was going to get hit up for money. Instead, David fell into his arms and said, “I want this Jesus you spoke of.”  David received Christ that day and experienced a miraculous transformation in his life.

After the clip, my plan was to ask the class, “What would we do if a man like David walked into our church this morning? Would we welcome him with open arms or would we be uncomfortable and hope he would go away?”

Minutes before class began, a homeless man walked in…His clothes were filthy. He looked like he hadn’t showered in a long time. Truthfully, he looked a bit scary. I wish I could say I was creative enough to arrange for a homeless decoy to show up that day, but it was totally a God-thing.

 In light of our lesson, I wondered if this man would experience grace that morning. I was relieved – and proud – to see several people walk over to welcome him. They invited him to help himself to coffee and donuts. He took a seat towards the back. Just as I began the introduction to our study, he got up and walked out, never to be seen again.

After we viewed the video clip, I explained my intentions to ask how they would respond if a man like David walked into our church. I said, “I don’t have to ask, because I know what you would do. You passed the ‘final exam’ before you heard the first lesson!”

 There is a powerful story circulating on social media these days about Pastor Jeremiah Steepek who transformed himself in appearance as a homeless man. ( According to snopes.com the validity of this story is “Undetermined,” meaning they were unable to confirm it.) Supposedly, Steepek showed up disguised and disheveled for his first Sunday as head pastor of a 10,000-member church.  As the story goes, only three people said hello to him; the rest shunned him completely. The pastor taught from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46 that morning: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The people wept with conviction. 

It would be easy to judge the congregation in this story, but let’s be honest: We all need reminding from time to time to keep our hearts and churches open to the least of these.

Today’s Challenge: Let’s all check our hearts, faces and actions. Do they communicate, “You are welcome here,” especially to “the least of these?”

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