“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
I pastor a small church. We have a ministry in our community that we’ve supported for a number of years. It is a homeless men’s mission. One Sunday evening a month we meet there around supper time and cook a big batch of spaghetti, along with green beans, garlic bread, and cookies.
The men arrive at the mission at about 4 pm. They donate the clothes off of their back to the shelter, get a hot shower, and put on a pair of scrubs and white tube socks as a sort of pajamas. They relax in the front room for a bit and visit with one another until the service begins.
At about 6:15 they are ushered into the chapel, I preach the Gospel of grace to them, and then we dismiss to the dinner tables as they are fed the supper that we've prepared for them. After our congregation members finish serving them the supper, they fix plates for themselves and sit at the table with these men and get to know them. After supper, the men retire to the lodging area for a good night's sleep. Best of all, this is provided to the men at no cost. The only requirement for admission is weariness, an empty belly and need. Their money (if they had any) is no good there.
These men are weary and beaten down by their difficult circumstances. They've been on the streets all day long. They've received scornful looks and suspicion from everyone who has seen them. They have both sinned and been sinned against. It is really encouraging and beautiful to see their spirits buoyed by a bath, some clean clothes, a lovingly prepared meal, warm fellowship, and the promise of rest.
I hope this vision and depiction of what goes on in a homeless shelter is captivating to you. I hope you’re saying, “Wow, I’d love to be a part of a ministry of something like that!” Because, dear Christian, you are a part of a ministry like that! If you’re a member of a local church that baptizes, preaches the Gospel and serves the Lord’s Supper, you’re enjoying precisely what I’ve described. Your church is a homeless shelter.
Do people come to your church beaten down and weary? Are they bathed in the waters of baptism? Are they encouraged to confess their bankruptcy, brokenness, and need? Are they invited to shed their soiled garments and receive Christ's royal robe of righteousness? Do they have the Good News of the Kingdom preached to them? Are they served a feast of bread and wine that was lovingly prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? Do they enjoy sweet fellowship from other people who've also been washed and clothed and fed? Are they given rest? And, is all of this unearned? Is all of it paid for not with the merits of the recipients but with the merit of another?
Begin thinking of your church as a homeless shelter. See how it changes your attitude about yourself. See how it changes the way you see the weary pilgrim sitting in the pew next to you. Observe how it raises your appreciation of the Eucharist. Watch to see if it causes you to adjust the way you see the poor and needy on the streets of your town. But, most of all, ask God the Father to help you love Christ more for the mercy you've been shown.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1).