Eduard Nuessner Loring is a Partner at the Open Door Community in Atlanta (right), seeking to dismantle racism, sexism and heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison. Below are some highlights from a talk he gave at a worship service at Central State Prison in Macon, Georgia on October 28, 2013. Approximately 200 prisoners attended, and one has since come to live at the Open Door Community. Access the entire text in the July-August 2014 Hospitality newsletter.
My dear Brothers and Sisters, let me introduce you to my home. I know that none of the 211 folk in this room are at home tonight. You live here, but it is not home. All of us hunger for home: to find home, to go home. Not all of us have a home to go to.
The abandonment of people to homelessness in this country is a sin and evil for which the American people will pay for years and years to come. It is only with trepidation and radical courage that folk should pray for the God of the Hebrew Slaves to bless America. Some do so with heads bowed; others with a license plate on the latest Lexus SUV…
When I speak of home, I speak as a seeker, lost but found. We at the Open Door Community give our lives to building a home for ourselves, the hungry, the homeless and the prisoner. Our home is ultimately in the heart of God, in the Beloved Community, and in those places where Jesus is among us. So for you, in your homelessness-in-prison — for you never want to become “institutionalized” and find home in a hell-hole — you are invited to share a life in Jesus Christ and a big mouthful, a foretaste, of the Kingdom of God to come in prison as it is in heaven. In the day that Jesus was in the grave, he went to the “prisoners” and preached the Good News to them (I Peter 3:17-20a). Jesus Christ is no stranger to prisons and prisoners. In fact, he commands all of his disciples to visit there.
We believe and follow the Jesus in the Bible, the Living Word of God. Jesus is Lord, as the early church confessed in the face of state persecutions, and as the Confessing Church proclaimed in the face of Hitler and the German Church of the Third Reich.
We read the Bible through the story of Jesus: his birth, baptism, teaching, preaching, healing, conflicts with religious authorities, turning the tables over in the Temple and running the bankers out with a whip, his cross, death, resurrection, ascension, and, today, his life in the church and his body in the poor and the prisoner through whom he cries to us to follow his Way, his Truth, his Life.
We read the Bible in faith and discernment through Jesus — as the prisoner Dietrich Bonhoeffer cried, “with Christ at the center.” Thus, when the white supremacist Christians of the Old South, using the Old Testament, proclaim that God and Jesus are in favor of and justify racial slavery, we read those sad verses through the New Covenant in Jesus Christ, washed in his blood, and through his teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount. The Black and white abolitionists of 19th-century America taught us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of freedom, of “liberty to captives,” of taking from the rich and establishing the poor. God is not in favor
of slavery, racial or not. God is opposed to the death penalty, homelessness, hunger and the exclusion of gays and lesbians. Jesus is the One for us in agape love, which manifests itself in freedom, restoration, equality and fun…
The ultimate power of the state is to kill. But our power through God extends beyond that of the state, when in mercy we bury the dead and we confess that though the body is dead, the person is alive in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our fight against the powers and The Evil One is strengthened. We know the state and the FBI can kill the resister, but the weakness of imperial power is that it will never kill the resistance, which is Christian Discipleship.
Of great importance in understanding the centrality of these words to the life of Christian discipleship in the Beloved Community/Kingdom of God is this: Jesus ascended into heaven. How, then, are we to find and serve him concretely, in the flesh, in the world, for the sake of the world? The answer is simple. Jesus comes to us in the guise of the stranger, the body of the poor, the life of the prisoner and the slow and violent death of the homeless. Dr. King preached,
Christians are always to begin with a bias in favor of a movement which protests against unfair treatment of the poor, but surely Christianity itself is such a protest.” (September 30, 1962)
I’ve seen people use some real smooth moves to get out of this radical gospel message. There are those who understand the Works of Mercy as an invitation, a possibility, rather than a command of Jesus Christ. And then there are those who use Paul’s theology of gifts and practices to claim that God calls some folk to care for the poor and prisoner, while others are called to be endowed chairs at elite schools to study the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer while playing golf at he International Bonhoeffer Society (I used to be a member, so I know of what I speak). Some churches even hire staff to serve the poor and oppressed. By having “specialized ministries” the “real” ministers and church members do not need to worry about prison visits or listen to the mentally ill scream as though they are Legion before the pigs threw themselves into the sea.
But Jesus makes no exceptions. To be a follower of Jesus is to do the Works of Mercy. As Professor Shirley Guthrie taught us at Columbia Seminary in the mid-1960s, “Either practice Matthew 25 or go to hell.” Simple isn’t it? No exceptions…