photo © 2009 Sean Hickin | more info (via: Wylio)A couple weeks ago, my sister and I ventured out to Mt. Dora to check out the local art festival. It was a beautiful day for it, just a little cool and overcast, but at least not raining. After circling downtown for a while, we finally paid the 5 bucks to secure a quiet spot behind a run-down gas station, then took the several-block walk down Fifth Avenue to find the party.
Downtown really comes alive during this festival, drawing artists from all over the country with colorful booths to display, share, and sell their work. But there was one group I didn't expect to see...
Sign-carrying street evangelists. Yup.
A small crowd in red t-shirts, holding up garish signs announcing that Jesus Loves You and Repent Before It's Too Late and such. A gray-haired Southern preacherly type paced back and forth announcing, "God wants to have a relationship with you! You think you can serve God however you want and still be saved? You can't just have it on your terms!" They were everywhere, stretched across the entrance to the festival, lining the sidewalks to hand tracts off to anyone they could.
I don't say this to be rude or disparaging toward them. Actually, with the exception of the preacher and the loud signs and the fact that they were kind of clogging up the entrances, they weren't doing anything disruptive, mostly just hanging back and offering tracts. I remember the guy that used to stand on the corner at UCF, handing out horror tracts and screaming at students in an effort to get them saved, so these guys were nothing in comparison to him.
But there was still something... I don't know... embarrassing about it? Maybe because CynicalJen was holding her breath waiting for them to do something crazy? As a Christian, I cringe a little inside at this sort of thing, because I know there was a time I would've relished being a part of this. Now, I just wonder if anyone's ever been argued into the kingdom with a badly-designed tract when they wanted to shop for art. I wished that they had perhaps been giving out water or something, doing tangible things, loving on people.
I thought about them all day. And later, I had a scary thought.
Like it or not, I am part of the same Kingdom family. I'm supposed to love these people.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" - Matthew 25:40
We all know this verse.... the one about loving the least of these. From the earliest days of learning Jesus' teachings, we hear that when we treat the least either kindly or terribly, we are, in a sense, treating God the same. And often, this is interpreted to mean loving the poor, because right before this he was talking about food and clothing and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
But what if the least of these is more than that?
Loving the poor is easy. I can do that. I can love the lost and the losers, orphans and widows. Even enemies can be easier to love, because at least you don't expect much of anything from them.
But what about those right in my own family? What if "the least" includes the least popular, the least lovable, the least "normal"?
What about the legalists and cynics?
The screaming street preachers and smiling televangelists?
The sheltered and scared, too chained to religiosity and rule lists to realize they're free, tossing stones at those who stretch their wings to fly a little further?
Oh God... do I have to love the Westboro Baptist people too? That's really pushing it.
These are the hardest for me to love, and try as I might, I don't think I really can... at least, not in my bent, all too fragile human way. Oh, but I want to. I long to be so full of of Christ's light and love that it overflows and evaporates in the air around me. I want to radiate just the smallest fraction of the love that brings dead things to life and undoes the chilling winter of the soul, even if only enough to warm the ice.
I don't know how to get there, other than let him love through me and try, in the tiniest of ways, to see them as human, and yet more than that... beloved, sacred, crafted in the Maker's image.
Just as I've been seen. known. loved.
Who is your "least of these"?