A powerful way to approach the Scriptures is for a person and/or community to settle down into a story or passage long enough for it to begin to work its way into you. Some texts burst into your life like fireworks and neon lights. Others quietly sneak into your imagination and begin to reorient your outlook on life and faith. I like to call this the practice of inhabiting Scripture.
The Bible story or image that has captured the unique ministry and culture of MainStreet more than any other is the Jericho Inn from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here is how I see MainStreet inhabiting that story these days in Mound.
In the story we find a broken and battered man lying half dead on the side of the road. Two religious professionals race by on the other side of the road and avoid getting their hands dirty or being inconvenienced by this high-needs person. I tend to think the priest and levite were on their way to Jerusalem where they had important religious business to attend to. If you were a religious leader in that day, Jerusalem was where the “big show” went down, the Temple being the ancient megachurch where the masses gathered to worship and the priests went to serve. Everyone who was anyone was headed in the direction of Jerusalem.
Except the Samaritan traveller.
Let’s just assume he’s going in the opposite direction of the busy “pastors” building their ministry portfolios at the Jerusalem megachurch. He notices and shows compassion for the broken person suffering in the road ditch of life, and goes out of his way to care for his needs. He’s not afraid of the mess and is willing to inconvenience himself for the sake of this poor stranger. He brings him to the Jericho Inn to be cared for.
The Jericho Inn is a small, dingy place in a small village that pales in comparison to the exciting metropolis of Jerusalem. No crowds flock to the Jericho Inn. No one sends postcards of the Jericho Inn. Its just a temporary abode for weary travelers to find a moment’s rest and be renewed. In this case, it becomes a hospital where a very broken and battered person will be nursed back to health.
The injured man finds healing balm, a place to recover, to be loved and cared for, until he is well enough to be on his way again. Knowing that it costs money to operate even a small inn, the generous Samaritan man offers to foot the bill from afar, and is grateful for the innkeeper’s servants for tending to his needs.
“The next day [the Good Samaritan] took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have'” (Luke 10:36).
MainStreet has been a Jericho Inn church for many folks these past years. Many broken people have stumbled through our doors in a moment of crisis or a very low place in their persona life — a crumbling marriage, fighting addiction and in recovery, unemployed and in debt, dealing with illness, recently released from jail, etc. We have tried to move toward messy people with compassion, knowing there’s a personal cost and inconvenience.
All churches and believers are called to show compassion to the needy all around us. All churches certainly do find ways to reach out to others in compassion ministries. Yet, to let such a battered and bruised culture shape the core DNA of a new church has some real challenges and costs.
First, an inn is a temporary lodging place and not a permanent home. We have at times invested deeply in the lives of some people who after all our efforts, decided to move on from our community shortly after they got back onto their feet. This can be emotionally painful and relationally heartbreaking.
Second, a new church is trying to attract committed “members” who will put down roots, take the membership class, begin tithing to support the growth of the organization, and stay for the long haul. Inns offer temporary respite, but aren’t designed to attract permanent residents.
Third, for these reasons we have been financially dependent on generous people who, like the Samaritan, help pay the costs of such ministry from a distance. We have many strong supporters — especially folks from our sister church at Excelsior Covenant— sending checks each month still seven years into the journey.
Fourth, its hard to draw the masses to a church that sometimes feels like a hospital ward when other churches are offering country club like comforts and amenities. We are a church where we let our scars show, and help others bandage emotional wounds and do spiritual therapy together. Its a special place where healing occurs; not always a comfortable place.
We are not growing like I hoped. Ministry is often messy and emotionally exhausting. I know that our culture exalts “Jerusalem churches” — big, successful, popular — and Jerusalem church pastors sell books and get the headlines. Jericho Inn churches and pastors often minister in obscurity, without recognition or the applause of others.
Still, I know with every fiber of my being that Jesus would (and did!) spend most of his time with the least, the lost, the last and the lame. “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). He tells us to “go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21).
Jesus was born into a world where “there was no room in the inn,” and then spent his life making room for all those cast aside or in need of a fresh start. MainStreet is humbled to be a Jericho Inn church that always has vacancy for any broken people needing temporary or longterm respite and care! To quote the tagline for a popular motel chain: “We’ll leave the light on for you!”