He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
-Luke 6:17-20 (NRSV)
It’s called Grace.
On Sundays, one hundred men and women, the majority of whom are living in recovery or are without a permanent address, gather for worship. There’s no doubt their singing emerges from the pit of their gut—from trial and victory, heartache and forgiveness. Passersby can hear their voices, and even their tears, outside the storefront doors. During the summer, a seventy-something retired educator drives an old coach bus through the neighborhood, “Kidz Praise” blaring through the speakers. Each afternoon, she picks up nearly 30 kids who would otherwise go hungry during the long summers. Once they climb on the bus, it’s not long before their voices drown out the music. They know the words by heart and sing as though they are unstoppable. On Friday nights and Saturday mornings, men and women gather to study the Bible, shoot the breeze, and find a safe space until the shelters open.
Grace sits in an abandoned storefront on the edge of a neglected, tired, and resource-strapped neighborhood in Florida’s Panhandle. Grace is filled with hardship, struggle, failure, pain, and death. But Grace overflows with hope—dogged hope born of a fight for one’s daily bread.
I met the people of Grace more than 10 years ago. I had been assigned to serve at another faith community—one with a multi-million-dollar budget and some of the town’s wealthiest residents on its membership rolls. But after a week at Grace I didn’t want to leave. Perhaps it was the authenticity of the community. Perhaps it was the raw hunger and need—spiritually and physically. Perhaps God was having mercy on my privileged naiveté. To many, folks at Grace Mission were fools and failures at worst, a do-gooder project at best. But even if they were fools, they were the kind of fools the apostle Paul says we should all be: people whose life has been shaped by the power of the cross. They often spoke of a day when all would be welcomed at Christ’s table.
Even still, none of that changes the fact that they remain mired in a system that regarded their daily needs as entitlements ripe for the chopping block and their health care and safety a luxury or privilege for the deserving. We cry “Lord, have mercy,” but such cries are too easy to hide behind. May we all be so bold as to be fools together. Fools who never settle until all are at the table—both now and in the life to come. Fools who refuse to settle for anything but the transformation of the world. Fools transformed by grace.
This week’s author is The Rev. Maria Kane. She is an Episcopal priest, historian of American religion, and native Texan. She currently lives outside Washington, D.C., where she serves as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Waldorf, Maryland (and remains unabashed in her love for Washington’s archrival, the Dallas Cowboys). In her free time, Maria loves reading, cooking, kayaking, and spoiling her godchildren. She can be found on Twitter @mariaconchia.