When my wife and I returned from our European vacation in October, I did come down to earth with rather a bump! After only two nights in my comfy bed, and still suffering from the effects of a seven-hour time difference, I found myself sleeping on our church hall floor on the Friday night, and only got about four hours sleep. I shouldn’t really complain because about 40 other people were sleeping rough in cardboard boxes outside in the funeral home car-park. Discretion being the better part of valour, I opted to guard the church from the inside, which was to be open all night to provide washroom facilities and hot drinks for those sleeping outside. It was draughty with that door open! This meaningful event was designed to draw much-needed attention to the plight of the homeless in Alberta, and over $5,000 was raised to support the Champion’s Centre, our local shelter for 16 men. Funding is the biggest need for organizations like the Centre. Rev. Rick Chapman from the Inner City Pastoral Ministry in Edmonton came and gave a talk before people went out to bed, and provided some valuable insights and perspectives on the problem of homelessness. I think it goes without saying that the government of an oil-rich province such as Alberta could probably do better in its concern and financial support for the marginalized in our society. The process by which organizations like The Champion’s Centre apply for funding, from all levels of government is difficult, restrictive, and complicated to say the least. I believe the Church has to be politically involved in order to carry out the gospel imperative of concern for the poor. I have found too much of an attitude that suggests homelessness is a life-style choice, and not enough compassion or understanding about the circumstances that can bring about homelessness. We should remember the old saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. Without the initiatives of churches and other social organizations, many of our citizens would be dying on the streets – some still are! As Rick pointed out to us in his talk, our Lord Jesus Christ went among lepers and mentally disturbed people, touching them, and healing them, showing the compassion of God for all people. The Old Testament prophets wrote that the health of a nation is judged by the way it treats its poor. I felt that in a small way we were living out the gospel in our involvement with the sleep out project, especially those involved in getting sponsorship and sleeping out. I definitely chose the soft option, sleeping in the church.
The gospel tells us that Jesus was the stone that the builders rejected, who became the chief cornerstone. The clients of The Champion’s Centre and those who sleep rough in Edmonton suffer rejection by the community in so many ways, yet our Lord’s teaching about the Kingdom is that “the last shall be first, and the first last”.
To many Christians, the idea of the homeless, the addicted, and the mentally ill taking priority over decent, respectable people in the Kingdom of Heaven is unthinkable. But Jesus’ words on the matter are there for all to see and hear, and the job of the Church is to make sure that his words are heard and acted upon by those who hold power and the purse strings in this town and province. As somebody rightly put it, “When the worship is over, the service begins”. Our small act of support on that Friday night did not cost us anything, and none of us was adversely affected by our involvement. This means that we could go quite a way beyond what we did, and achieve something really spectacular. For Jesus said, “And greater works shall you do because I go to the Father”.