Sunday, February 10, 2019

City Notes '19 | Drop the Stones: "If You Can't Do Great Things, Just Do Little Acts of Love." + Mother Theresa

"It was the hug," he kept saying. "It was Catherine's hug."

Sometimes you read a book that you need to read at just the right moment. Drop the Stones: When Love Reaches the Unlovable by Carlos A. Rodríguez was that book for me.

Like the first chapter, the fourth chapter also captured my attention in profound ways. Perhaps it will do the same for you today. 

Chapter 4 | Traffic Light

Robert was always hanging out at the traffic light, and he always smelled like death. He used to have a job, a family, and access to a shower, but now he had nothing – no home, no bank account, and no dignity. An addiction to alcohol owned Robert, and, like a slave-master, it drove him to that traffic light. His daily plan was to "earn" a living by begging on the streets of Camuy, Puerto Rico, to see if enough people in this tiny town felt the pity he never felt when he had been the one braking at traffic lights beside the homeless asking for change. At night, with his nickles and dimes, Robert would buy the liquid that would help him forget. Forty-proof was almost strong enough to erase the reality of his tragic life on the streets. That specific traffic light was less than two minutes from our church building. ... 

The first time Robert entered the church building I noticed him right away. I could see him from afar and, honestly, it was impossible not to recognize him. I wanted to be kind and prove that I was a cool pastor and a loving Christian, so I made my way over to him. Before I got close, the odor that radiated off of him was more than I could handle. I gave him a short handshake, but as soon as we were done, with half a smile on my face (and trying my best to be discreet), I began a desperate search for hand sanitizer (because who knew where those hands had been). Robert kept visiting our building and he started to engage in the "full church experience." He would greet people, close his eyes during worship, and even respond to the preacher's invitation. He prayed the Sinner's Prayer on multiple occasions. Per our theology, salvation for his soul seemed guaranteed, but Robert was still lost on the streets, unsaved from himself.

After months of having Robert among us, he began to behave like a proper, proper church member, and in our church that meant moving to the front during ministry time and waiting to be touched by God. There he was, smelly, broken, and yet expectant. And it was in that place that Robert encountered true love. You see, there was a British girl who would sit next to me (and she always smells amazing). She could barely understand the songs or the sermons because she was still learning Spanish, so she would ask me to translate for her, and even thought it was my duty as her husband to make it easy for her to come to church with me, I would quickly get tired of repeating the words and ask her just to pray. And pray she did.

It was on one of those days, while talking to Jesus, she felt a compulsion to go to Robert and give him a hug. Slowly but confidently she approached him. Wanting to be obedient to God, without making the man feel uncomfortable, she asked Robert in her broken Espanol, "Can I give you a hug?" The six-foot-six homeless man nodded yes, probably thinking it was another one of the courteous three-second hugs these Christians kept giving him while holding their breath.

Catherine smiled, raised herself like a graceful ballerina, and wrapped her arms around Robert's dirty neck. My wife then held on to him for more than twenty minutes. She squeezed him as if she was hugging me, or her dad, or Jesus Himself. Her calf muscles worked hard as she determined to stay in that position, tiptoeing for the hug. It was like she was convinced that this one act would make up for every unkind word Robert had ever heard – as if one embrace could convince Robert to stop drinking, sinning, begging, limping. She held on to this man like it was her favorite thing to do. And as she breathed in his stench, all she could smell was the fragrance of the Redeemer. While she embraced his wounded body, she could feel herself being healed. And watching her doing it with such grace convicted me.

Catherine was Christ, Robert was the adulterer, and I was the religious leader (see Luke 7:36-50). When will I ever learn?

Previously I had tried my best to convince Robert to change his lifestyle; I spoke to him on multiple occasions about improving his condition. I invested time in prayer asking God to lead him into the way of real freedom. My strategy was to use godly principles, human plans, and the pious language I was acquainted with, but he still looked the same, begged the same, and drank the same. It wasn't until that warm embrace that things turned.

We never saw Robert again. We didn't see him on the street or in the church building. Why? Because he decided to go back to his family. Then he entered a rehabilitation program. Robert moved on to a different sort of light, a more divine and gracious one. He sent us a message a few months later. He was clean, happy, and connected. "It was the hug," he kept saying. "It was Catherine's hug."

In the captivity of my wife's arms, a drunkard became intoxicated with acceptance. There, he encountered the fragrance of liberty; there, my wife enjoyed the aroma of obedience; and there, I stumbled into the stench of my pride. Mother Theresa once said, "If you can't do great things, just do little acts of love." I think she knew a thing or two about Jesus. So does my wife. And one day, I hope to smell like them both. 

Next post: City Notes '19 | Drop the Stones: When a Story of Rejection Becomes an Invitation, and the Love Received Becomes Motivation

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

2018 | The Eternal CurrentLearning to Speak God

2019 | Tattoos on the Heart Part; Drop the Stones Part 1

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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