Some thirty-five years ago, along with a group of men from our church, I spent a Saturday at a local homeless shelter painting the rather dirty and dreary grey/brown walls of the dormitory. I wasn’t quite sure if it was the color they were originally painted and if not, I wasn’t interested in knowing how they got that way. I’d never visited such a place and although I considered myself a pretty worldly guy, both the surroundings and the people there took me aback. I was somewhere between shocked and revolted with those who called this place their home, and as far as those who worked and served at the shelter, I just figured they’d gotten used to it.
The shelter was a lot busier than I expected for a Saturday morning, so I kind of kept to myself except when conversing with the guys from the church. There was one man, probably 30 years my senior, who watched us all morning and when I paused to grab a cup of coffee he approached me rather abruptly and asked, “Why are you painting that wall white, it won’t stay that way.” A bit startled I responded, “So what color do think we should be painting it?” “Why black of course, it won’t show the dirt and it’ll keep it a lot darker in here in the morning,” he said. He walked away shaking his head, as but then stopped suddenly and asked, “You’re not planning on telling me about Jesus are you? That’s all they do around here, especially at meal time.” Before I could respond, he returned to his seat and continued watching us paint, as if he was watching a ball game or something.
When lunch time came they rang the bell, you know, the ones you see in schools hanging high on a wall in the hall. It was like everyone hadn’t eaten in a month and like motivated zombies they marched off to the cafeteria, trying desperately not to break-out into a run. I got the feeling that I was back in elementary school, but the kids were all over five feet tall. When our group leader told us we would be eating with the residents, I definitely was not excited at the prospect of sharing a table with them, or eating what they might be served that day. I sat down with my fellow workers but in the seat directly across from me the old man who had been watching us all morning took a seat. We of course said grace, and the food was served buffet style so we had to get up and get in line. As luck would have it, the old man was right on my heals. I was pleasantly surprised by the lunch and I have to say that the baked chicken was as good as I had ever eaten. My friends and I chatted about the quality of the food, but the old man seated across from me, didn’t say a word the whole lunch hour, much to my relief.
An attractive young woman gave a brief message from 1Peter 4:8, prayed once more and then it was back to work, with our audience of one. It wasn’t long before the old man stood up and rather boldly asked if he could help with the painting. The leader of our church group had explained before we had arrived that we would not be soliciting help since it would go faster and smoother if we did it all ourselves. However, the old man seemed intent on lending a hand so I handed him the roller and picked up a brush to work on the trim. Much to my surprise the old man worked all afternoon without saying a single word, either to me or anyone else. When I did speak to him, it was like he was in deep thought or perhaps a bit sick from his night of boozing. When we were packing up to leave he approached me and said, “I wish I could do to my life what we just did to those filthy walls.” I asked him what he meant and he looked rather surprised as he said, “You know, get covered, like the young girl said after lunch.” Much to my embarrassment I admitted to him that I hadn’t paid much attention to what she had said and if he could elaborate a bit.
“She told us that love could cover over all our sins, or least most of them. The problem is that I don’t have anyone to love or anyone who loves me.” I paused for a moment not really knowing how to respond to him and then said, “I think you’re wrong on both counts,” but before I could finish he asked, “Do you love me?” Without waiting for my reply, he walked away. If you are wondering if I followed him, hoping to give him my answer, no I didn’t. I was all ready to tell him that Jesus loves him and how only Christ could cover His sins, but I was unprepared, unwilling or perhaps embarrassed to respond to his final question, “Do you love me?”
Tool #405 To love the unlovable is at the very center of the Gospel message. It can only be accomplished in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit and is measured by what we do and not by what we say.