A couple of years ago our ministry held an Easter service in the neighborhood park. We sang hymns, proclaimed the gospel, and ate sausage biscuits together. Maybe 50 people attended.
In many ways, that Sunday marked the official end of a hard winter. We had experienced weekly snow storms and dangerously low temperatures.
But beyond the weather, our ministry had suffered through a difficult season, mostly involving the devastating effects of mental illness in the neighborhood.
So on Easter Sunday, we had sunny skies, a cool breeze, and temperatures in the mid 70s. Flowers were blooming and kids were playing on the playground. As we told the story of redemption, we saw the renewal of all things happening around us. One of our mentally ill neighbors stood in his right mind and worshipped God with sincerity. It was awesome.
A young man named Greg worshipped with us. He smiled with his eyes closed, basking in the glory of the day.
After our service, I got to talk with Greg a bit. He told me he had slept in the park the night before because his brother kicked him out of the house. We talked for a while but I eventually had to pack up and head home.
But for me, home was across the street from the park. I looked out the window every hour to see Greg perched on the monkey bars, smiling. But it was starting to get late and I realized Greg was going to sleep in the park again.
And, despite the warmth of the day, I knew temperatures were expected to drop in the evening.
I called over to Greg and invited him to our house. We gave him some dinner and a cup of tea.
As we talked I realized the truth.
Greg was schizophrenic.
I sighed to myself and thought, Can’t I meet just ONE person who isn’t mentally ill?
Greg described his visions of violence against friends and burning houses down.
Then he asked if he could stay the night.
I told him no. And I was honest, telling him that his somewhat violent words gave me no choice but to deny his request.
I convinced Greg to show me where he lived and drove him home. As it turned out, Greg’s brother had not kicked him out of the house. He confirmed Greg’s mental illness and apologized for any trouble his brother may have caused.
Encounters like this drove me crazy for a while. So I called my mentor, Barry.
I told Barry about all the mental illness I was seeing and how it broke my heart.
I asked him what Jesus would do to help these people.
Barry said, “That’s the wrong question. Don’t ask what Jesus would do, ask him what he wants you to do.”
I told Barry, “I just want to fix everyone.”
Barry said, “Yeah, that’s because you think you’re God.”
There was a silence.
He followed up with, “And you’re not.”
Barry is right. I’m not God.
To be honest, his words hurt at first. I thought it was a preposterous accusation.
But then I wondered why I felt so relieved.
So I asked Jesus what he wanted me to do in the neighborhood.
And he didn’t say, “heal everyone” or “end homelessness.”
He said, “Love your neighbor.”