Several months ago my friend Charles and I were delivering school supplies to a church for inner city children living in Church Hill. This community was named Church Hill because there is a church on nearly every corner; large stately churches that cast ominous shadows. I mistakenly missed the turn to the church parking lot and was forced to make the block. As I turned right on “T” street, it became obvious from the number of women standing on the corners that I had stumbled into territory belonging to the “working girls” and their “business managers”. As I drove slowly past, Charles said “stop the car”. He rolled down his window and struck up a conversation with a man who was leaning on a large stick. As he approached the car, I could see the perplexed look on his face. He knew Charles from the street, I am sure he was wondering what Charles was doing in a minivan with a white woman loaded with school supplies. Charles just smiled at him, asked how he was doing and said “Man, I will have to catch you later, I got to get back to work” and we pulled away.
I asked Charles who the man was and he shared that he had been in The Healing Place, which is a recovery program, but had relapsed and gone back out on the streets. He then educated me about how he made is living by selling his girlfriend who was on the corner across from him. He offered her assurances that if anyone messed with her, he will kill them, thus the importance of the stick and his presence.
We turned the corner, pulled into the church parking lot but my eyes could not help but return to the half dozen women selling their bodies there in the shadow of Christ church.
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned”, the author in the book of Matthew in the 4th chapter claims that Jesus is the fulfillment of these words originally spoken by the Prophet Isaiah. I have a question. If Jesus is the great light to those living in darkness, has the light gone out?
If you stroll through some of the darkest corners of our city you will see some of the most spectacular church buildings ever built in Richmond. But instead of being a light casting out darkness, many are abandoned and now their shadows only add to the darkness.
We have all heard that “the Church” is not a building but a people, so where are the people? Sadly the truth is that the original architects of these churches have fled these communities out of prejudice and fear. The Body of Christ abandoned not only their church buildings but also the people living in darkness in its shadow.
In my work, I visit many suburban churches and it seems that every one I visit is going through some phase of a building campaign. They usually give me the grand tour, proudly pointing to an architectural drawing on the wall saying “We are in Phase 4” but in “Phase 8” we will have a gymnasium and a new family life center. I listen to their sermons many of which are simply creative messages aimed at soliciting the funds needed to complete these grand complexes. I wonder, will they one day abandon these as well?
When I look at the church budgets, I see 30%-50% of the budget going toward buildings, with less than 1% going toward caring for the local poor. And I wonder, “Why is it so dark in the shadow of the church?”
So how can we restore the light? Matthew also gives us the answer to that question in Chapter 5 vs. 16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” The Body of Christ must carry the light into dark places, to the women on “T” street, to the men purchasing their services, to the dealers selling the drugs, and to the children who witness the violence of it all. We do not carry the light with our words; according to Matthew it is in our “good deeds” that the light shines the brightest.
I asked Charles what we could do for his friend on “T” street and he said “I just did it.” I looked at him puzzled and asked “What did you do?” “I let him know that I still care about him and I showed him that the program works simply by me being with you, working an honest job, I am bearing witness that God has saved me and can help him when he is ready.” Charles is a very wise man. Sometimes our simple presence in dark places is a light to those living in darkness.
Let us remember Jesus who was and is “The Light of the World”. I pray you will choose to become little children and live the words we have all sing but seldom embody “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine , let it shine.” Don’t let Satan snuff it out with fear and lies, don’t hide it under a basket, but choose to hold it high so that it drives away the shadow of darkness and brings hope to a hurting world that thinks the light has gone out.