Last week Gracie dropped me off at an auto glass place that had replaced a windshield on our car I’m trying to sell. I drove it down to a parking lot on a busy street in Mount Vernon, taping ‘For Sale’ signs to the windows. Gracie called me, offering to pick me up to accompany her on other errands.
I’m not sure why I declined, but I felt compelled to walk the 40 minutes or so down a busy road through a commercial district towards the older part of our town. I asked Gracie to meet me downtown, by the boardwalk along the Skagit River when she was done. This is a beautiful place that is often frequented by homeless people.
I was feeling troubled by current events in our country and the world, and took off, on foot, praying silently in the Spirit as I walked. As I approached the River a Mexican man I knew from the jail named Jose called me over to where he stood in the parking lot.
“Hey pastor Bob, can you talk with me?” he said. “Of course Jose,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I just got out of jail on Monday, and now here I am, homeless,” he said, lowering his backpack to the ground– a blanket bulging under straps.
Just then, Irby, a Native guy who sometime attends Tierra Nueva’s services outside and inside the jail appeared, warmly greeting me. I hadn’t seen Irby for months, maybe even a year. While the connection was short as he was on his way to meet someone—it was good to see he was alive and well.
Jose began enthusiastically sharing how he’d just been reading through my Guerrilla Gospel book in the jail with some other guys I know. He was excited to tell me about Bible studies they’d done— in this time when we haven’t been able to go in the jail.
It was obvious Jose had been drinking, and I spontaneously asked a question that surprised me and him:
“Are you being really hard on yourself about something Jose? Are you feeling the need to punish yourself for something, by any chance?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s true,” he agreed, matter-of-factly. “I don’t know why, but I’ve felt that way for a long time,” he said.
I shared how Jesus really loves him, and that there’s no condemnation coming from God towards him—only love. He said he knew, but he didn’t look convinced so I repeated the same message in a different way. I encouraged him to consider doing something that would be good for himself—like getting into a recovery house, where he could get healing and freedom from his addictions.
Jose said he wanted this, so I made called to see if there was an opening at a place we often refer people to, and gave him the address so he could check it out. He thanked me, just as a lady from one of the local churches appeared who reaches out to the homeless. She gave him a bottle of water and a sandwich, and offered to walk with him to the recovery house.
I was amazed at how fruitful my walk had already been, and continued the 100 feet or so to my destination– the boardwalk along the Skagit River. The moment I stepped onto the boardwalk I found myself face-to-face with Sara, a Native woman who often attends Tierra Nueva services, who lives near us on the Swinomish Reservation.
We were both quite surprised, especially as Gracie and I had been wanting to connect with her. Sara introduced me to her friend Zoe. They shared how they’d come down to the river hoping to minister to people, and Sara showed me the Bible tucked under her arm. I asked them if they felt like looking at something from the Bible—and they gladly agreed.
I suggested we read about how John the Baptist introduced Jesus beginning in John 1:29, and Sara read: “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
We then read how the next day when John was with two of his disciples he looked at Jesus as he walked and said: “Behold the Lamb of God!” Sara read John 1:36-39.
“The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day.”
The simplicity of John pointing to Jesus, and his disciples humble following seemed so relevant as we leaned against the railing overlooking the river. Walking, seeing, hanging out together was what we were doing. We read the next verses which show Jesus’ growing movement as others are found, invited to follow by Jesus himself, or by his new disciples. Jesus knows their names, their true identities in ways that move these first recruits, and us too.
Sara, Zoe and I felt inspired to walk along the river together, continuing our conversation and looking for someone who might need prayer. We walked and talked about the days we’re living in, when gatherings are limited by physical distancing measures, masks and low numbers. Sara says she’s felt compelled to be more closely connected to Gracie and I and Tierra Nueva, and is delighted we’ve run into each other.
I noticed a man up ahead on a bike, stop, turn his bike upside down and inspect his front tire. We stop and ask him how he’s doing, and then we realize we know each other.
“Hey, Bob— remember me? We met in the jail years and years ago—my name’s Carlos.”
“Of course I remember you Carlos. You’re looking good, healthy and fit,” I remarked.
He told me he’s been clean and has been doing well— except for pain in his foot related to diabetes. We offered to pray for his foot and he agreed. Zoe jumped into action, stooping down and reverently placing her hand on his foot. We prayed for all pain to leave in Jesus’ name, just as Gracie arrived to pick me up. Sara and Zoe accompanied me to our car to greet Gracie, and we talked about meeting up again.
I’m amazed how my day and mood shifted as I began to walk and pray. It was like I “came and saw” where Jesus was hanging out, experiencing the kind of movement building described in Jesus’ first encounters with his disciples at the beginning of his ministry. May you, too, experience Jesus-movement building action even now as the pandemic surges. The invitation remains open to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and join the movement of Jesus’ Kingdom.
Check out last week’s longer sermon on John 1:35-51, “Come, See and Stay: Relational Life with Jesus” here.