Here’s the problem. I’m bound, even obligated, to follow the Jesus code. What’s the Jesus code? It’s this idea of loving strangers, showing hospitality to all, and extending care to visitors who enter my world; especially my life at church. I signed on to live by the code years ago both in its Old and New Testament forms. In fact, I’m a big proponent of the code. I love the code. On a regular basis, I’ll stand up in church and urge others to adopt the code for themselves. Living by Jesus’ rules of graciousness and hospitality can be challenging. Jesus, unlike our world, went out of his way to embrace those who many of us might willingly ignore or reject. This is what makes following Jesus fun. We are asked to push ourselves into areas where our comfort matters less than sharing God’s love. That’s exciting, especially when you’re preaching on a Sunday morning or on in the controlled setting of mission trip with people who look just like you. On the other hand, following the Jesus code can be unsettling on a Thursday morning in late July, particularly when you find a stoned homeless man sleeping in a hammock in the front yard of the church.
We’ve had a tremendous amount of rain over the past three days. Localized flash flooding has inundated the island. Ankle to knee deep water is everywhere. Crickets, mosquitoes, and standing water have made our summer vacation island a swamp. It’s humid, hot, and nasty. The severity of the thunderstorms has limited the number of outdoor campers in the National Park Service and private campgrounds. No one, if they had a choice, wanted to ride those out.
Hence my surprise this morning at seeing a hammock strung among a few of our only trees. Someone was camping at the church. No one told me about this. I saw a few plastic bags and a man with dread locks, a beard, a knit camp, and well-worn beach wear. He reeked of pot.
I brought him water. Water is part of the Jesus code. Without moving from the hammock, he thanked me for my compassion. It was just water. He wanted to know if I was a vegetarian. I am not. I eat meat. This, in his mind, was not good. Humans, he tells me, are mushroom based life forms. If we were all vegetarians, wars would cease. Fish would live in peace with chickens. Pastors, he says, are all about money and power. I tell him I’m broke and have no power. In fact, I’m on the way to the dump. If I had real power, someone would take my trash for me. The “Christian/vegetarian humans are mushrooms” diatribe goes on for fifteen minutes.
I keep insisting I need to get to the dump before they close. He laughs, “I ended up preaching you a sermon, how about that?” Yes, that he did. I heard his sermon. It was loopy and a little frightening. However, I hope he felt heard and valued.
“What’s your sermon on this week”, he asked?
“I don’t know”, I said. I didn’t want to prolong the conversation. It will probably be about something I call the “Jesus Code” and how it’s been getting me into some blessed and strange encounters for more years that I care to count. One way or another, Jesus is always asking me to practice what I preach. It’s easy to tell other people what to do. It’s another matter altogether to be that person you’re telling other people to be. Church bigwigs will tell you that church involves a lot fancy things. This morning, here on Ocracoke, church was offering space, water, and an ear to a stoned homeless guy sheltering from a flood. I was out of my comfort zone. That’s OK. Because it doesn’t get more Jesus like than that.
If this was today, can you imagine tomorrow?
Richard Lowell Bryant