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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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HOMILETICS IN SERVICE: Retired pastor serves a different ‘congregation’ on Easter – Memphis’ homeless

by Dr.. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., Special to The New Tri-State Defender

In the early stages of my development in ministry, I listened intently to the words and advice of the elders.

One nugget of wisdom that stuck with me was: “I would rather see a sermon any day than to hear a sermon.” I gathered from that statement that a sermon is better thought of as a verb than a noun.

My own beloved father, the Rev. Leo M. Gray Sr., told me as I wrestled with my calling, “Son, every tub has to sit on it’s own bottom.” I gleaned from that statement that every minister must be accountable for his or her own actions, choices and decisions.

During Holy Week, I was excited about the choices I had to worship in celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Christ. For the first time in my ministry, I did not have a waiting congregation to hear of the victory of Resurrection Morning. I retired from pastoring in 2018 and now I am free to worship wherever the Holy Spirit leads me.

All week as I navigated the streets of Memphis, I saw individuals standing on corners, asleep on benches at bus stops and sitting in parks. They had two things in common: they were hungry and homeless. As I contemplated a strategy to help, I heard the words of my pastor, the late Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks.

“What compelled me to help that man was this reality: but for the grace of God I could be the one begging for bread,” Dr. Hooks had said of his own  encounter with a man begging for food on the street.

I thought about how a thankful person should be motivated to take actions to relieve the suffering of another. In the Greek language, such action is called charity.

I resolved that I would not attend a worship service on Resurrection Morning. Rather, I would go to those individuals I had seen all week and share with them the “Good News” – that God had not forgotten them.

I would not take a Bible nor hymn book, but food for their hungry bodies as proof God cares for the last, the least and the lost.

I ended up at a well-known fast food restaurant that was running an Easter Special: two pieces of chicken, honey and a biscuit for $3. The restaurant filled my order for 25 boxes.

Exiting with intentions of getting back to Beale Street, I saw four men and a woman sitting on the north corner of the parking lot. Their eyes were fixed on me and I could not pass them by. I offered them a box in honor of Easter and they gladly accepted.

One by one they began to tell of others they knew were hungry. I looked up and saw a stream of men running to us from the Union Mission. Within minutes I had passed out the 25 boxes. But what about those on Beale Street?

I returned to the restaurant and placed a second order for 20 boxes. While my order was being filled, I went to converse with my newfound “congregation.” I thanked them for allowing me to bless them with food. They began to bless me and praise God for the food.

One young man testified that he had awakened with one concern: “Where would I get a meal? And then you showed up. God bless you.”

When my second order was ready, I drove deeper into the downtown area.  Along the route, I passed out boxes of food in honor of “Easter.” I made it to Beale Street and in Handy Park my “congregation” was waiting.

I left Beale Street and made my way to the eastern edge of the city to feed my “congregation” that has been devastated by the opioid crisis. These young people, for the most part, are victims of the rogue pharmaceutical manufacturing of pain medication.

I ran out of boxes and was able to find another restaurant with the “finger licking good chicken” and placed my third order. Then I returned to my waiting “congregation” to spread the good news.

After I had passed out the last box, I felt a moving spirit of altruism, thanksgiving and joy. Normally when I do not attend church, there is feeling of guilt. However, on Resurrection Morning 2019 there was no such feeling. A particular hymn came to mind: “Only what you do for Christ will last.”

Then I recalled the late Dr. Charles Dinkins, the legendary pastor of First Baptist Church Lauderdale, and his admonition: “Preach young man the gospel of Jesus Christ and use words if you must.”

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