The experience happened before I read Carol Howard Merritt's blog posting, “The Menlo Park Difference,” but I was reminded of the event. The ER was kind of like church, a place for broken people: only there wasn’t enough beds so most of us sat in the waiting room, between tests. And this was the place where the homeless gathered because it was warm, or they were sick, or lonely. Over seven hours of waiting produced various views of the human condition.One lady became angry when a man, large and boney, accidently stepped on her toe. The hospital policemen quickly gathered and the loud name calling subsided. One man, generous and kind, nevertheless spoke aloud every thought that entered his mind. He rambled on, talking to himself for several hours, offered someone a cigarette, and continually left to buy coffee or food. And then he decided to pull off all of his top clothing, shake it out and put it back on.
Another went to the rest room and when he returned he brought out a whole roll of paper which he left on a chair. No one sat there again. One lady troubled by anxiety talked on the phone to the nurse on the other side of the window. After she began screaming and falling, her husband and a nurse half carried and half pulled her to the other side.
A kind of camaraderie develops under such conditions. When someone was called in for a test all others clapped. One young man with his foot in a temporary cast, after having too many people stumble over it, was relieved when someone else placed a 'wet floor' sign over his poor injured foot. Several ladies, two in a wheel chair, sat toward the back chatting, laughing and making good use of what seemed to many of us almost imprisonment. Every so often a nurse would come to the waiting room and administer pain medication to those who needed it.
But here’s the important part: there were nurses and doctors on the other side. There was medicine and beds for those who would finally need them. (The hospital is rebuilding so eventually there will be more beds in ER.) There was the potential for healing and wholeness. No one was turned away until they were tested and hopefully treated or at least given advice. Church is supposed to be like that. No one tells the sinner to go away. No one tells the sinner, he is not a sinner. Instead they tell the sinner that Jesus loves them, and died for them.This is what happened to my husband and me many years ago. We saw a young hippy couple being snubbed at our home church and prayed that God would bring us to a place where those in the hippy culture would be loved and given the gospel. And He did for fifteen years. Several years later, a friend I shared a Greek class with at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Sacramento, told me how she and her husband would load their car up with young people and head to Saturday night concerts at Warehouse Ministries. They heard great music and they heard about Jesus, his death and resurrection. Drug pushers, prostitutes, the self-righteous, the addicted and pagans, they came and as they were discipled Jesus changed them.
As I said, I thought of this commenting on Carol Howard Merritt’s blog posting, “The Menlo Park Difference.”
Surely this is what church is about, bringing the sinner home to Jesus, teaching them and us, also sinners, to grow and be transformed in Christ. We should be rejoicing when anyone, pastor, ruling elder, layperson hungers to reach out and minister to the unbeliever in our communities. We should jump for joy whenever and wherever the gospel, the good news of redemption is proclaimed.
The unity is not rubbed out by changing denominational lines, rather it is torn apart when our love for Christ grows cold.