I recently participated in a 10-day intercultural immersion in the city of Baltimore. The idea of the immersion is to expose seminary students to different cultures, actually a different culture, so that they will have an impactful experience that they can then take back to their own ministry settings.
The Baltimore Immersion is intended to help seminarians (most of whom are future pastors) to understand something about urban Ministry. The goal is to help future church leaders to think constructively about how they deal with issues that have come to traditionally be connected with the urban setting. Poverty, crime, drugs, homeless, and gentrification are among the issues we will look at in the city of Baltimore over the next 10 days. We will explore not only the issues, we will also learn about ways in which the church specifically, and people of faith generally, are addressing these issues.
Our first stop was Manna House. A ministry in Baltimore that originally started in one of the local United Methodist Churches and has since grown into an entity unto itself, independent of the church. Manna House provides a hot breakfast, showers, clothing, mail services, and medical services for the city’s unhoused residents. The visit included a conversation with the director and assistant director of the program. It was noted during the conversation that many of the people whom Manna House serves are “broken” in some way. Sometimes mentally, sometimes physically, but nearly always spiritually. The challenge for the people of faith who work at Manna House is repairing what is broken.
When thinking about these “broken” spirits I am reminded of Jesus before the famous “Sermon on the Mount”. “He had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The challenge for well-meaning people of faith is how to heal the broken spirits. A good meal, a warm shower, and some clean clothes do help, and they are needed. Unfortunately these are mere bandages on a wound that requires stitches. Lovers of righteousness and people, understand that it is not enough to put a bandage on the wound. There is something much deeper and more lasting that must be addressed. There is a deep yearning in the soul of each of us that, unmet, leaves us empty and unfulfilled.
Here we turn to the life of Jesus of Nazareth for help here. Jesus encountered folks who were broken and cast to the margins of society constantly in his life and ministry. It is true that he met their felt needs for food and healing. He met their spiritual needs as well. What undergirded all of this was the way in which Jesus related to people. For him people were not merely objects of charity. They were not “clients” for whom he was a service provider. They were not just potential parishioners or members. They were not just categories of homeless, or sick, or hungry. For Jesus of Nazareth these were real individual people. They were fellow human beings with complete personhood. By seeing, understanding, and relating to people in this way Jesus built the social capital to be more than just a service provider. With this perspective Jesus became more than just another preacher trying to gain more converts. This is important when asking the question, “How do we heal the brokenness?”
The people who came in contact with Jesus, whether it was the leper shunned from physical human contact, the tax collector isolated by the society around him, or the rich young aristocrat, were each treated according to their personhood as God created beings. They were not treated according to the socially constructed categories in which they had been placed by society. Everyone has a sense of their own inherent humanity. It was on the level of that basic equality that Jesus related (and is still relating) to people. That is what people responded to in Jesus’ life and ministry. That is what people respond to today.
The good news is that this is something we all can do. We may not have the money to buy homes for all the homeless. We might not be able to feed all of the hungry people we meet. We might be just a missed paycheck from homelessness ourselves. No matter what our social status, economic condition, ideological position, or theological belief we can all treat every woman, man, and child with the respect and dignity of their full humanity. This is what heals the brokenness. Life’s difficult challenges will not go away completely until “the lion lies down with the lamb” and “the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven”. People whose humanity is recognized, honored, and respected have the strength deal with those challenges.
How do we heal the brokenness? We start by seeing people as complete fellows with us on this journey of life. Not simply categories, and objects of our acts of mercy but full participants in the world. We understand that everyone has gifts to share. Everyone has value. Everyone has worth. That understanding is where the healing from the brokenness of spirit begins. Jesus was in reciprocal relationship with everyone he came in contact with on the most basic of levels. From that foundation he was motivated, to seek, serve, and to save.
This is our model as we engage in ministry with the people in our world. Understanding people no matter their station or walk in life, as fully human, completely equal with us as we do our ministry with them. Our challenge is not to see people as mere categories, or clients. We cannot succumb to the temptation to let mere numbers be the primary measure by which we judge the efficacy of our ministry.
The core question is not “How much?” or “How many?” the question is, “How well?” How well have built reciprocal relationships with people? How well have we been able to show others the respect and dignity of full personhood? How well have we communicated to others that we value their words, thought, and indeed their very presence in the world? How well have practiced being in ministry with fellow human beings, rather than ministry to objects of charity or for clients of our services?
The answers are up to us!
MAKE A DIFFERENCE . . . . . . . . . . FOR LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!