It’s been said that the gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
The Tom Waits song “Down There by the Train” presents this truth in a compelling manner. It’s sung from the point of view of a man who wants to get on a train, but he knows he can’t buy a ticket. He’s discovered a place, though, where the train goes slow enough that anyone can jump on. He describes how, as the train slows down around the bend, every manner of famous criminal sneaks out of the woods to hop on. This is good news to him: a place where the train goes slow. He’s one hobo telling another hobo where to jump the train.
There’s a place I know where the train goes slow
Where sinners can be washed in the blood of the lamb
There’s a river by the trestle, down by Sinners’ Grove
Down where the willow and the dogwood grow
Down there by the train
Down there where the train goes slow
This word picture captures the heart of St. Paul Fellowship. For years, we’ve tried to be a place where the train goes slow enough for anyone to climb on. We haven’t been very fancy, and no one is calling us the “Next Big Thing,” but hopefully we are a group of beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.
This is a subversive message to someone with a merely “religious” mindset. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of “religion,” as it’s commonly understood. Religion gives people a system to follow so they can earn their way onto the train. To the religious person who did her good deeds, kept her nose clean, and purchased a ticket, it can be infuriating to sense the train slowing down as it approaches the bend, down by Sinners’ Grove, letting “just anyone” on.
But Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We are thankful for these words at St. Paul Fellowship, because we know that we’re all sinners of one sort or another. We rest in the work Jesus Christ has done, is doing, and will do in us. We look forward to heaven, when His work in us will be completed, but until that day we rest in His love towards us. We are thankful that He slowed the train down enough for each of us to climb on.
You may wonder whether you’re the type of person who will fit in at St. Paul Fellowship. The answer is that we have many different types of people here, and we cross lines of race, class, ethnicity, age, education level, political affiliation – you name it. What we tend to have in common, though, is an awareness of our need for God. If you know you’re a sinner in need of God – if you’re looking for a fresh start – if you think that nobody will accept you for who you really are – then you’ll probably fit in just fine at St. Paul Fellowship.