At the end of the sermon and invitation song he walked down the middle aisle with head held low. It was the kind of moment that you realize that the dynamics of the past hour were about to change dramatically, and there’s no way to tell just how it’s going to turn out. Obviously in need of a shower, he humbly approached me without making eye contact. His white tee-shirt was marked with smudges of dirt, and the rest of his clothing betrayed his homeless status. He stood very close to me at the front of the aisle, facing the communion table, unable to turn and face the people in the pews. He must have felt every eye in the place on him. Even though he tried, he could not speak.
I asked this young black man what his name was. He said, “It’s James, you know me.” I didn’t recognize him, but the reason for that is that I had only spoken with him and prayed with him over the phone. Only a few weeks ago he called me and wanted me to give him fifty dollars to pay a debt to someone who was looking for him. I do not, and we (as a church) do not give money. Not long after that he solicited some money in the neighborhood, claiming to be from the Central Church of Christ. Unfortunately for him, Kathy has been very involved in hurricane relief and attending our church. She knew he was attempting to defraud others in the name of the church, and she strongly encouraged him to cease this behavior. The story even ended up in the local paper.
And now here he is standing with his back to the congregation, tears streaming down his face. In this situation that is very unusual for us, not a sound was to be heard. Even the children were rivited by this sight. All he could whisper were things like “It’s so hard” and “I need God to be in this.” I tried to be helpful and suggest that he simply apologize and we would pray, letting him know that he would be treated kindly. He was not about to let himself off the hook that easily. He turned around and faced an auditorium full of strangers.
Then it came pouring out. A heart that was broken in it’s own sin was exposed with a rare frankness. He pulled four dollars out of his pocket. He had asked a man for some money for food and received that four dollars. He went straight to the drug-infested FEMA trailer park near him and looked for even a small amount of the drug that gave him escape from his shame – and increased his shame. I doubt that many in the room could hear him, but I didn’t dare offer him a microphone. This was an expulsion of demons long held in. When he couldn’t find any drugs, he wandered into a nearby church. The smell that comes along with homelessness, and his attire, and his own guilt made him feel uncomfortable there. He offered a man his four dollars to drive him to Central Church of Christ.
James expressed his repentence, his desire to follow God, his hope to escape addiction, and his heart for helping others who are in his same situation. He pointed out Kathy, who had confronted him about the fraud. He told us that she was not ‘nasty’ with him, though he deserved it. Kathy stood up and said something like, “I’m very proud of you for your courage. You did the right thing and I pray that God will give you the strength you need.” It was an amazing moment of grace. Kathy and her husband, Bud, are faithful blog readers who encourage me often. I’m proud of her.
Though it seemed hours, it was only about fifteen minutes. To him, I’m sure, it felt like days. Some got up and left. Most couldn’t hear him. But God’s attention was surely focused upon a broken man exposing his sin-sick heart to a redeemed people. Our prayer was for James to have the strength to break the bondage that has such a strong hold in his life. We were able to feed James, let him get a shower, have a place for a night, some new clothes, and tomorrow we will talk about some more permanent solutions.
Look at my heart again, look at the mess I’ve got it in.
I’m trying to trust in You, To know that you’ll see me through.
— The Space In Between Us, Building 429