It was Sabbath morning and Pastor Dale was preaching about grace. Pastor Dale always preaches about grace. Sometimes about love, hope, or forgiveness, but always about grace. God’s grace. Free grace. Grace for all. Even for you.
Partway through the sermon, Eddie walked in the church door, storming in like a point guard on a fast break. (Pastor Dale’s church, by the way, meets on the basketball court of a converted fitness center.) Eddie arrived screaming.
“He’s telling lies!” “He’s full of s**t!”
There was more, but you get the idea. Eddie’s screams blew a cloud of hate into the room, clogging ears with the muck of his anger, transforming the church into a handball court with sewage bouncing off the walls.
Pastor Dale kept preaching, knowing the cleansing power of grace.
Eddie kept screaming, now marching up and down the rows of worshippers, graphically describing the uselessness of God, religion, grace, and specifically, Pastor Dale.
Eddie finally landed up front, his spittle-spouting lips six inches from Pastor Dale’s face, toe-to-toe. So close that you’d get cross-eyed trying to look at him. So close that the down-sloping wrinkles around his mouth look like desert canyons. So close that his sour-alcohol reek challenged the stability of Pastor Dale’s stomach.
“Welcome Brother,” Pastor Dale greeted his guest.
“I hate you. There’s nothing about you that I like. I’m gonna stand right here as long as I want.”
“I don’t think I’ve met you. My name is Dale. So glad you’re here. I invite you to stay here as long as you need to stay here. It’s okay. Now, I’m in the middle of a sermon, so if you don’t mind, I’m gonna get back to that. You’re welcome to be here. You’ll get the closest seat in the house.”
Dale went back to preaching, Eddie standing silent before him, the worshippers carefully holding their collective breath.
Nothing happened. It was as if love had quashed hate, at least for a few moments. Then, slowly, as if slogging across a street filled with deep mud, Eddie moved back through the worshippers toward the still-open entrance. There, just inside the door, he was intercepted by the congregation’s bouncers, two deacons who had recently come in from years of living on the streets, homeless, and hopeless.
They talked, discovered his name was Eddie and that his wife Lisa was in church today, hiding silent and unnoticed in the crowd.
“We’re homeless, living on the street, got nothing except what’s on our backs.” Eddie hadn’t calmed down much, still seething and about to start screaming again. “It’s hell out there man. You know! Now this pastor and church have opened a place for women to stay at night and my wife can stay over here at your SafeSleep thing, but I’ve got nowhere to go. That kind-of pisses me off.”
One of the deacons, listening closely, said, “Our SafeSleep thing is just for women, but I can give you a ride to the Union Gospel Mission if you’d like. They’ve got places for men like us.”
“Well. Okay. That would be good,” answered a deflated Eddie. A few minutes later the two men were in a car driving away from church to a safe place where Eddie could sleep.
The next Friday night Eddie and Lisa sat together through the church’s Friday night Bible study. When the study ended Pastor Dale sat down beside the couple and asked where they were planning to sleep that night.
“Don’t know for sure.”
“I’ve worked out a deal with a motel down the road and have reserved a room for the two of you,” said Pastor Dale. “Ready to go?”
The room had been paid for, and there was a Sabbath-basket with enough food for several days. Though he was willing to leave with a smile and a “Happy Sabbath,” the couple asked if he would answer a few Bible questions for them. The impromptu Bible study stretched deep into Sabbath.
“Why are you treating us so kindly?”
“That’s how it works where God is.”
But the story doesn’t end here.
Three weeks later, with worship music filling the basketball cathedral, Eddie and Lisa came through the door towing a tall, thin man who looked to be right off the street. They greeted the deacons and sat calmly together near the front of the room.
“There was a baptism that day,” remembers Pastor Dale. “And while I was standing in the tank I saw Eddie, Lisa, and their friend stand and come right to the edge, as close as they could get, to see the portable hot tub we use as our baptistry.”
The three stood silently, watching as if they’d never seen clean water before.
Tom, the homeless street friend Eddie had brought to church that day, was the first to speak.
“Could I be baptized too?” he asked. “I want to be clean.”
It took a few moments for the deacons to scrounge through the church’s thrift shop for something Tom could change into for the baptism. When he was ready, the entire congregation stood around the baptistry, Eddie and Lisa right at the front, cheering their friend’s decision.
“Jesus,” began Pastor Dale, his arm embracing Tom and his heart joining his church family in celebration, “You already know Tom well, but right now he’s here in the water accepting you as his best friend and personal Savior. He’s here to be baptized, to be totally yours, and to tell the world that today everything about his life is changing in your direction.”
Everyone wept, sang, shouted, and danced as Tom rose from the baptismal water. Clean. New. With a church-full of friends.
That’s how it works where grace lives.
…and the story has just begun!