At 6:25 A.M. on a recent Saturday, a few neighbors met in my driveway. We loaded food into a minivan and drove from our suburban neighborhood to nearby Chicago, where we cooked and served breakfast at a homeless women's shelter.
Our monthly visit to the shelter is a step on a shared journey of faith. Through serving, we solidify our friendships with one another and remember to be grateful. We dare to believe our small acts of justice matter and advance the kingdom of heaven.
Simple Acts of Love
The women at the homeless shelter each have a story. Some wrestle with mental illness, addictions, or both. They've experienced poverty, abuse, pain. Some are incredibly smart; some are angry and withdrawn; many have faith that far outshines mine.
After cooking and serving breakfast, my friends and I typically visit with the women for a while. On the drive home, we talk about our conversations. Finding common ground with people we don't know isn't always easy. But on this Saturday, my friend Kathy remarked, "You know, you don't have to figure out what to say. You just have to listen. All they want—all everyone wants—is someone to listen to them."
Kathy, who's not a theologian by any stretch, had said something profound. She was, in a way, bringing the kingdom of heaven to a homeless shelter. She brought the hungry food, and she provided the poor with the shelter of her attentive listening. In the process, her obedience led her to truth: black or white, privileged or poor, everyone just wants to be loved. And listening is an act of love.
The Here-and-Now Kingdom
I grew up thinking God's kingdom meant heaven—a place we'd go in the future if we were "in" with Jesus. So bringing the kingdom into the world meant evangelizing—leading seeker Bible studies, arguing with atheists, witnessing to friends, inviting non-believers to church. The goal was getting sinners to pray "the prayer" and be saved. Although such efforts are worthwhile, they seem less like bringing the kingdom into the world and more like pulling people out of it. It was as if we were selling tickets for a future event, or offering a bus transfer for a ride to the preferred eternal destination.
Jesus often said, "The kingdom of God is near you" or "among you" or "within you" (Luke 10:8-9; 17:20-21). He described this kingdom with word pictures: It's like a seed or a bit of yeast or a hidden treasure—small inanimate things that effect great change in the here and now. He also said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). So this here-and-now kingdom apparently consists of folks who realize they're spiritually bankrupt, needy, hungry. It's a fellowship of people who understand we can't buy our way into the kingdom; we're dependent on God's goodness to welcome us in.