Randy…


Last Sunday, I attended Missio Dei in downtown St. Pete. Missio meets in The Gallery @620. It is an art gallery at 620 1st Avenue South. Set in the middle of urban St. Petersburg, just a few blocks from the bay which separates the western communities on a small spit of land to the west, and Tampa located on the mainland to the east, the church is a plant by a couple of different denominations, and is quite unique in both its ecumenical leadership structure, and its strong priorities of helping the poor and living in sustainable relationship to the environment. Its top priority, though, in my view is to people who are searching for God, no matter how that looks or sounds. I realize this thought is nothing new, and many churches carry the same priority, but for Missio, this seems to be more than just a “brand”. They embody the concept.

I began attending Missio since shortly after moving here, and have found a circle of friends. One of my new friends is Randy. Although I don’t know Randy well, I do know a little of his story. Randy has lived a very difficult life, and still does. I suspect he is living in transitional housing, and has had substance abuse issues and lived on the streets for much of his adult life. I don’t know specifically how old he is, but he has longer, primarily gray hair, and it usually looks like he stuck a fork in a light socket. (Which is actually…kinda cool, now that I think about it.) Randy’s hands are rough, and his skin tanned from the Florida sun. His clothes are clean, but very worn. Many times, he wears a suit coat, since it is Sunday and church. Recently he has brought his bible. I like Randy a lot. He is generally quiet, yet always friendly.

Last Sunday, I got to church early and was hanging out on the wide sidewalk just outside the gallery. Randy was there, too. We greeted each other, and he quietly motioned to a couple of chairs on the sidewalk.

“I brought a couple of chairs out. You wanna sit down?” He said shyly.

“Sure!”

It was a cool day with a few clouds floating through the otherwise sunny sky. We sat down and began to smoke a cigarette together, and make small talk about the weather, and about how he wanted to buy a car so he could have more freedom. He spoke a little about how much money he received from his monthly government check, and about how he wanted to get a job, but not having a car made it difficult. Unexpectedly, Randy suddenly said, “I was reading Psalm 42 earlier. Do you want me to read it to you?”

“Yes, I would like that…”

He took the bible, and openned it up to the right page, all-the-while holding his cigarette in one hand. Finding the psalm, he began to read…

“As the deer pants for streams of water, 

    so my soul pants for you, my God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
    When can I go and meet with God?
 My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?” 
 These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul: 
how I used to go to the house of God 
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise 
    among the festive throng.

 Why, my soul, are you downcast? 
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, 
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan, 
    the heights of Hermon —from Mount Mizar.
 Deep calls to deep 
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

 By day the Lord directs his love, 
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

 I say to God my Rock, 
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning, 
    oppressed by the enemy?” 
 My bones suffer mortal agony 
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.”

As Randy began to read, I found myself sinking into a deep peace, mindful of the coolness of the day and the relaxed setting of a quiet, urban Sunday morning. I also began to think about how the words reverberated in the past few years of my life, and of how they must echo in the experience of Randy. “We are not so different.” I thought to myself.

After finishing, Randy hurriedly said, “I also read Psalm 25. Would you like me to read it too?”

“Of course…”

“In you, Lord my God,

    I put my trust.

 I trust in you; 
    do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
 No one who hopes in you
    will ever be put to shame, 
but shame will come on those
    who are treacherous without cause.

 Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths. 
 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior, 
    and my hope is in you all day long.
 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, 
    for they are from of old.
 Do not remember the sins of my youth 
    and my rebellious ways; 
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

 Good and upright is the Lord;

    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
 He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful 
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant. 
 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? 
    He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
 They will spend their days in prosperity, 
    and their descendants will inherit the land. 
 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
    he makes his covenant known to them.
 My eyes are ever on the Lord, 
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.

 Turn to me and be gracious to me, 
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish. 
 Look on my affliction and my distress 
    and take away all my sins. 
 See how numerous are my enemies 
    and how fiercely they hate me!

 Guard my life and rescue me; 
    do not let me be put to shame, 
    for I take refuge in you.
 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
    because my hope, Lord, is in you.

 Deliver Israel, O God,
    from all their troubles.”

This time as he read, I thought of what an honor he was bestowing on me, by reading the Word to me. It was beautiful, and simple, and so much like God to step into life in so unexpected a fashion. As he finished the last word, I realized that I had already attended church.

Listening to Psalm 25, I was especially impressed of how much like a prayer it could be for Randy…

Turn to me and be gracious to me, 
    for I am lonely and afflicted.

Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.

 Look on my affliction and my distress 
    and take away all my sins. 

Guard my life and rescue me; 
    do not let me be put to shame, 
    for I take refuge in you.

Those are the prayers of one who must walk the hard streets. The ones with few opportunities and many barriers. But I am also reminded that the streets can be hard anywhere, even when the one walking has many opportunities, and not as many barriers. Sometimes, I think success may be the biggest obstacle of all to our walk with God. I am sure that Randy also has had “sins of youth” and “iniquity” of heart which needed the forgiveness of God. I could pray those things, too. In fact, I do.

Later, after the “second” service… the one in the gallery… Doug, one of the co-pastors, asked Randy to pray the final prayer before we left. I was a little too far away to hear it, but I once again felt the simplicity and purity of faith which comes from hard times.  I spoke with Doug after the crowd had thinned, and told him about earlier on the sidewalk. Doug responded, “I think there is more to Randy than people might imagine…”

I agree. You just need to be open enough to see and hear it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

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