Tony Campolo is one of my favorite storytellers. He has the amazing ability to touch your heart with stories that challenge you. He tells the story “Party for a Prostitute” and not to long ago he told about a homeless man he met on the streets of Philadelphia. The story goes like this:
One day around noon when he was walking down Chestnut street in Philadelphia. He noticed a bum coming straight toward him. Tony was wearing his nice preacher’s suit. The bum was wearing layer upon layer of filthy clothing. His most obvious feature, however, was a tangled beard that hung nearly to his waist. Bits of rotting food were stuck in the beard. The teeth he had left were yellow and rotted. He was holding a cup of McDonald’s coffee in his hand. As he staggered toward Campolo, he said, “Hey mister, Ya want some of my coffee?” As you can imagine, Campolo really didn’t want any of the coffee but reconsidered and then said, “OK” and took a very small sip. He handed the cup back to the man and said, “You are feeling pretty generous today. What’s gotten into you?” The man answered back, “Well, I figure, if God gives you somethin’ good, you ought to share it with somebody else.” “Uh Oh,” thought Campolo, “he’s getting ready to hit me up for five dollars.” Knowing it was what he was supposed to do Campolo said, “Well, you shared your coffee with me. Is there anything I can do for you?” “Yeah, come to think of it there is,” the man said. Campolo started to reach for his wallet. “You can give me a hug!” Campolo said now he kind of wished the man had asked for five dollars! But he put his arms around the man. The man hugged him back – and didn’t let him go. There all of the business people in Philadelphia were streaming around these two men, a man in a suit and a man in rags, hugging on the sidewalk. Just as he was ready to push himself away, he sensed Jesus whispering to him, “I was hungry, did you feed me? I was sick, did you visit me? I was a bum on Chestnut street, did you hug me? For if you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”
As I read this story it reminded me that God often works in the world in unexpected places and unlikely people. We never know where we’re going to meet God. God is a God of surprises, and we are blessed to be called into this adventure of faith. The realm of God is a place of radical grace and boundary-breaking inclusion. It is a place where there are no outsiders, where we reach out to all regardless of color, status and gender. The church IS a place for those the world calls “weirdos.” The kingdom is a place where we do not erect boundaries and walls, but provide a place of healing. We’re called into a community in which the circle is expanding ever wider, to welcome all of God’s children and learn to live ever deeper in love and compassion. This is the good news! This is the church! This is God!