In the Faces of Those We Meet

 

How many faces have I looked into this past week? Have I lingered and looked into them, into the eyes? Have I seen the hurt and isolation in those eyes? Have I said, “Hello. Are you hungry?” Have I taken the time to see the living Christ in any of those faces?

 

One Sunday evening, a man came into Faith Church in Northwest Denver. I was in my senior year at seminary, and I was local pastor.

 

I interrupted our youth group meeting to talk to the man. I led him upstairs and we sat and talked in the sanctuary. He said he was 77 years old, recently from out-of-state. He was of large stature, with a full head of white hair and a white beard. He carried a cane.

 

He said that after 48 years of marriage he and his wife had divorced. He said he had two sons, neither of whom cared at this time to have him around. He showed me a scar on his forehead where one of his sons had hit him.

 

He said he lived in an apartment complex with people who used drugs or who were mentally ill. He said he and his well-behaved dog wanted to move out of those undesirable quarters.

 

He said he still did some commercial art which he would like to show me. He said he received a small Social Security check. He had a van which he used to collect things.

 

Then came his proposition. He said he wanted to move into our church with his dog, to sleep right where we were sitting, in one of the pews, in exchange for being a watch person. He would be there to protect the church’s property and at the same time have a quiet place to stay.

 

I admired this gentleman’s ingenuity. How had he thought up this scheme? But I said that I didn’t think I could work that out. There were liability concerns. Not only our congregation met in the church, but also a small Catholic fellowship. It was too complicated for our church to allow anyone to live in the church building even temporarily.

 

I asked if there was any other way I could be of help to him. He didn’t seem to be in need of food, nor did he seem in immediate need of shelter.

 

I mentioned our senior program. Perhaps he could join that for a light meal and fellowship. Because he said he was a commercial artist, I mentioned the writers’ group I convened. We actually had a world renown muralist in the group. He didn’t seem interested in these possibilities, but said he would be back, asking that I try to work his proposal out with the people of the church.

 

Two nights later, during my writer’s group meeting, the man showed up again, at the door of the crying room. Looking up from our discussion group, I said I was sorry but the church couldn’t have someone living in the building. The man left, saying that he had experienced other disappointments in life.

 

He was gone, and I wouldn’t see him again. I felt badly about this last encounter because I hadn’t thought he’d return and had essentially blown off his proposal. In the two days following his first visit I hadn’t even shared his story with any of the members in my congregation.

 

The living Christ is in each of us. I believe this. But had I looked for the living Christ in this man? Had I been present to him, as Jesus would have been present to any of us? And, more importantly, what did this man see in me, to return a second time to the church?

 

Did he see beyond the student pastor too busy facilitating a meeting or writing a sermon or preparing a bulletin or designing a wedding ceremony or preparing a Sunday School lesson plan? Had he glimpsed the living Christ in me, waiting to stop doing, waiting to simply be?

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