Over the past three years I have lost three dear friends for three very different reasons. All were formerly homeless. All were thrust in to making difficult choices under difficult circumstances. All did the best with what they had. All were ushered in to my life and the lives of God’s people. All were truly loved and became an integral part of my church family. All experienced incredible victories along the way. All died knowing and believing they weren’t alone. But all died.
Over the past 17 years of loving and walking with many who spent much of their lives living thru homelessness, I’ve learned a lot. They have not only been my friends and a part of my family, they have been my teachers.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned it’s that there is an inherent vulnerability in taking Jesus seriously when it comes to friendships of love and gracious hospitality. When a friend passes I am reminded that love and gracious hospitality is a life or death matter.
There is also a peculiar kind of fragility present in a friendship of love and gracious hospitality. It is fragile because recovery from addictions, life-reorientation, and healing from the traumatic narrative of homelessness is, at times, fragile. But this beautiful and hard, joyous and sorrowful friendship is understood by realizing it’s only possible by embracing a friendship for life, one formed in the community of God’s people and forged in the Lordship of Christ.
Our friends in need can never be “clients” to be case-managed. They can never become projects to be fixed, problems to solve or prospects to save. They are persons made in God’s image to be loved and welcomed just as they are and not as they should be, because none of us will ever really be as we should be. Yet, God’s love and gracious hospitality in Christ meets us there. So too should our love and gracious hospitality for all others.
We love our friends in life. We love our friends in death. We just love.
So we press in and pray onward. We have many neighbors living on the margins of our cities that are still alive. Some are thriving because of friendships of love and gracious hospitality, while some are still struggling to keep one foot in front of the other. Either way, God’s Spirit is out ahead of His Church calling us to join Him. We must.