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“The Command, as Invitation”

Katherine Todd
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15
Luke 6:38

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, 13-15

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me;…

Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our ancestors—a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Luke 6:38

…Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.


 

This passage from Deuteronomy is interesting.  It talks about the tithe – giving the first fruits of one’s labors to God.  Now it isn’t as though they just set baskets out before an invisible God and left them there, no.  Their gifts to God were to be given to the Levites – the family of Israelites charged with teaching about God and leading the people in their relationship with God – to the aliens – those outsiders residing among them with little means, acceptance, or connection – to the widows – those women not permitted to work who had lost the man in their lives – and to orphans – obviously the children without parents and therefore a means of survival.

So their gifts to God were to go to those in professional service of God and to those in need in their communities.  All of these groups were those who could not own land, hold jobs, farm the land, etc.  All of these groups were those whose calling or circumstance in society made them dependent on the charity of others.

These gifts were the gifts of their labors.  They were the produce of the good land God was giving them to inhabit and tend.  But it wasn’t just any produce.  It was the first produce.

 

There is something holy and sacred about giving of one’s first fruits.  First fruits are long awaited.  They are anticipated.  They are watched and waited for.  Giving thanks and remembering the Giver of these good things is a holy and life-giving act.  And we are called to give thanks first, at the start.  We are not to wait till we have forgotten God’s work.  We are not to wait until we are satiated and feel secure.  We are not to give of our leftovers.

No, we are called to give of our first fruits.

We are called to give as this holy act of remembrance and gratitude.

We are called to remember that all we have has come from God

And to remember our calling to care for the outcast, the disenfranchised, the needy among us.  We are called to use these gifts to provide for those who serve us and our communities in remembering and being still before our God.

And we are called to do this first,

Before we know what will be,

…An act of trust.

 

God’s commandment to the people to bring their first fruits to God puts remembrance, gratitude, and trust at the center of their lives.  With each new season’s produce, they come before God to remember God’s deliverance and generous provision, and to make loving provision for those dependent on God for their daily bread.

 

What a loving commandment.

I imagine many have looked upon the tithe and giving to God similarly to how they’ve looked at paying taxes or paying for a service.  It may have felt like an obligation, or perhaps a nagging guilt.  But in this commandment is the wisdom of a parent, a parent who knows that we will never be happy and whole without gratitude.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us into a ritual of remembering all that the Lord has done for us.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that re-frames our labors and energies in the perspective that God is the one who has given us those skills; given us life and health; given us the air we breath, the land we walk, the earth we till and enjoy.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that invites us to pay our gratitude forward in caring for others.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that reminds us we are not whole until all are made whole.  It is the wisdom of a loving parent that challenges us to keep trusting God into the future, so that we don’t loose our peace in that endless fight to go and get ahead and succeed.

For those of us who hear and head this call to bring our first fruits, this is a holy and life-giving act.  It is truly an act of faith.  And in it we are bringing in the Kingdom of God – the world as God intends it to be – both in our lives and in the world around us.  When we give of our first fruits to God, we invite the Kingdom of God into lives and into our communities.

 

And how merciful is this commandment.

Notice the first sentence:  “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you… and possess it, and settle in it…”  WHEN…

Unlike a tax that pays little head to where you are in the journey, this commandment is not one driven by greed.  It is not so God can store up or take from us.  It is not a commandment that disregards our station and place in life.

No these gifts are to be given in proportion to what we have received!  AND we are not asked to give from our emptiness but from what we have already been given.

God does not place this command on them while they are traveling as nomads, wandering through the desert.  No.  God gives them this command for their season of arriving, their season of provision, their season of receiving God’s good gifts.

It is precisely when we receive those long-awaited promises, that provision, those gifts, those breaks, that we become vulnerable to many sins.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to believe that we’ve gotten there on our own.

It is in those moments that we can forget, by whose grace and mercy, we have arrived.

It is in those moments that we are most tempted to cling to the gifts and to forget the Giver.

It is in those moments that we are tempted to ask more of mere things, that they can ever give us – such as happiness, security, peace…

That God calls us back to gratitude.

 

And God’s invitation, God’s command, is precisely what the Doctor ordered.  It is precisely what we need, so that as we move forward in this new season of abundance, we do not forget who we are and whose we are.  We do not forget those on whose shoulders we stand.  And we continually, in each season, actively remember that all good things come from God.  And we remember that our future, as was the past, is ever in God’s hands.

We remember that God is God, and we are not. 

For peace and happiness, joy and security cannot be earned or bought.  The best gifts in life, come when we remember, give thanks, walk in faith, and pay it forward.

 

God’s command to bring our first fruits, is our loving parent’s invitation to the good life,

the promised land,

…the Kingdom of God on earth. 

“I Once Was Blind, But Now I See”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 100
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into God’s presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to the Lord, bless God’s name.

For the Lord is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever,
and God’s faithfulness to all generations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 


 

In this season, we are reminded to give thanks.

Giving thanks is something we know we should do.  On some level, we all know we are blessed, but in the day to day, we find it exceedingly difficult to stay in a grateful place.

Some days, things seem to fall into place; the road rises to meet us!  Other days we find ourselves face to face with injustice, with short-sighted and inconsiderate behavior, with quandaries in which we feel forced to choose between the lessor of two evils…

And even when our situations aren’t so dire or discouraging, we’re often just in a funky mood because we had to drive behind someone slowly on the highway, or wait long in line, or make extra trips to the store because what we wanted wasn’t in stock…

From the simple things to the deeply complex, we find ourselves mired in negative thought patterns.

 

So if you will, I’m gonna give you several minutes to briefly jot down all the things that are bugging you today – big and small things.  Nobody needs to see your list, unless you want them too; this is just an exercise we’re doing for ourselves.

So if you will right now, actually take the next three minutes, and jot down all the things that have got you down or angry or worried.

It is exceedingly difficult to stay in position of gratitude, but gratitude it turns out is one of the markers of resilience.  Gratitude actually has the power to drive out depression and fear.  It turns out that anger, fear, and depression, to name a few, cannot thrive in an atmosphere of gratitude.

So it would seem that giving thanks is the chicken soup for a tired soul.

 

As my son Caleb was growing up, he struggled to say thank you.  In his early years he often forgot, and if I reminded him, he would get upset and the gift-giver would become uncomfortable.  No one wants a forced thank you!  We want folks to mean what they say.  Otherwise the words feel hollow.

But waiting till we feel thankful is also a danger because gratitude at its root is a spiritual discipline.  Discipline is something few of us want.  I know I certainly don’t.  But there are disciplines that strengthen and ground us.

We discipline ourselves to eat regular meals

So that our bodies will be well and able to support us.

We discipline ourselves to get good sleep

    So that we have energy and a good state of mind and body for the coming day.

We discipline ourselves to not speak words in anger

  So that we don’t burn bridges and create divides between us and the people in our   lives.

 

Gratitude in its best form is also a discipline, a spiritual discipline.

Gratitude becomes lifegiving to us, when we do it whether or not we feel anything.  In fact, it is most powerful when we discipline ourselves to give thanks in the midst of trial and adversity.

 

Our own Phylliss Moret tells the story of supervising other supervisors.  They would come to her complaining about so & so, offering a litany of shortcomings.  And after listening for a bit, she would say, “Well if they are that bad, then why are they still here?  Should we let them go?”  And at this, the disgruntled supervisors would quickly say, “But, we need them because…..”  For all the frustration, there was also so much good, and when it came down to it, the good often outweighed the bad.  The complaints were only part of the picture.  Usually there was a host of good that the supervisors were failing to articulate.

The same is true of our lives.  Talk to any one of us on a given day, and we can give you a litany of the many things wrong; of the challenges; of our worries, concerns, and fears.  But in this same moment, we are standing on a wealth of immeasurable blessing that we are taking for granted.

 

A friend of mine illustrated this so well in a facebook post.  She posted a list on notebook paper equating her complaints with their converse, blessings-in-disguise.

11'25'18 Grateful List

This is why gratitude as a spiritual discipline is so very important.  It is precisely because we become blind to the blessings and gifts in our lives.  We need the routine task of giving thanks in order to wake us up to the immensity of blessing in our lives!

 

So at this moment, I want to give you another 3 minutes to consider your complaints one by one and to write down the blessings that lie just under each complaint.  And if you finish while there’s still time, just go hog wild & start a list of the things in your life you are grateful for.

I have asked you to do this exercise not to shame your for your unhappy feelings and thoughts.  Those feelings and thoughts are legitimate.  They are important.  Our negative feelings are there to teach and guide us.  We feel what we feel, and then we process them in light of our values to decide how we will respond to them.  But in and of themselves, feelings are neither good nor bad.  They may be uncomfortable.  They may be deeply upsetting.  But when befriended, they can give us insight into ourselves.  They are one of the many fabulous tools God has given us to navigate our mysterious selves and this mysterious world.

So please don’t take away any shame.

Rather, I hope you will take away a greater awareness of how you’re feeling – the happy, the sad, and the ugly – and of the many blessings in your life.

Life is not one thing.  It is a mix of events – both beautiful and tragic; of feelings – both highs and lows; of growth – both painful and invigorating.

 

Following Christ in this life does not mean we will be always blissful and that nothing bad will ever happen to us.  But Christ teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances.  For in all things, there is much to give thanks for.  And when we do, we unlock new perspective and strength.

 

As we leave the season of Thanksgiving and approach Advent, I invite you to begin your own spiritual discipline of giving thanks.  Do it however you like:  keep a gratitude journal, keep adding to a list, speak the things you’re grateful for at mealtimes, share three things you’re grateful for with a spouse or a friend each day…  But whatever you choose, stick to it.  See it through.  Persevere.

 

And let us see what God can do

in and through hearts

that are AWAKE to the profound gifts and blessings of God in our lives.

 

French novelist Marcel Proust writes, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

 

May God grant us the ability to see as God sees,

with new eyes. 

And who knows,

we may find our whole world transformed.

 Thanks be to God!

“Our Beloved Saints”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Proverbs 27:17
Hebrews 12:1-3

Proverbs 27:17

Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

 


 

My grandfather.  My mother’s father.  He was a Presbyterian Minister out in Texas where they lived.  When he was ordained, his presbytery was so small that he was elected to serve as Presbytery Executive in the same meeting, so he signed his own ordination papers!

He liked to tell stories of his ministry – how he’d (or more accurately God had) held together a church deeply divided by listening to everyone each Sunday after church.  I appreciated these stories.  They told me his values.  They told me that it was more important to be in relationship with one another – sharpened as iron sharpens iron – than to be estranged and separated.

In this way my grandfather deeply shaped my faith development.

 

I also learned from his mistakes.  He was a passionate man, and not being able to discipline his grandchildren made him feel totally disempowered.  So what do we so often do when we feel powerless?  Quite often we unearth other more malignant tactics.   So most of us grandchildren have haunting memories of him taking us off to some hallway, kneeling to our level and hitting his head repeatedly in front of us saying, “Since I cannot spank you, I will spank myself.”  This was his way of trying to deter us from doing things he disagreed with.  Talk about psychologically twisted, this definitely qualified!

But after my grandmother passed away during my 7th grade year in school, my grandfather changed.  She had been the tender and gentle one.  He had been the hard one.  But after she was gone, he softened.  He stopped hitting his head.  He started being tender with us and kind.  He spent more time with us, telling stories.  And finally unbound by fear, we could enjoy him and get to know him.

 

Several years later, I would attend my church summer camp and find that I enjoyed learning and teaching about God, more than any other thing.  I would deliver my very first sermon, drawing from the imagery of Pachelbel’s Cannon.  And members of the church who had nurtured me from the time I was born were approaching me to say they could hear God’s Word in my sermon and hoped I would consider seminary.

Still new to any critical study of the Bible, I had many questions – such as whether or not women should be in ministry.  And I questioned myself, as I was introverted, and I didn’t think that a very suitable quality for a minister.

But like Mary – after giving birth to Jesus and receiving the Shepherd visitors – I treasured these things in my heart and began to ask the questions of my own calling in life.   I began the long road of scripture study and interpretation.

And as my own calling to ministry began to emerge, I came back to my grandfather, who, a product of his time, had always thought it wrong for women to be ministers.  I half-expected him to shame me for this sense of call, but he surprised me.  Instead he told me that he’d been listening to more and more women preach and that he was hearing God speak through them.  They were anointed.  And if God’s Spirit was speaking through them, who was he to say they couldn’t or shouldn’t be ministers.

And in this, my grandfather gave me the greatest example of faith:  the example of a passionate but humble, living, and growing faith.   With a lifetime full of experiences in the world and in the church, he had every reason to say, “this is not the way that things should be done.”  His contemporaries would have judged me in that vulnerable place where I was considering my call.  But instead, he stayed in a position of openness to the Spirit of God.

And when the time came for him to start considering the fate of his worldly possessions, he took me into his small library room – filled on every wall with books from top to bottom – and gave me the gift to his entire library.

 

This man who had been passionately against women in ministry – keeping my grandmother down, who had longed for him to teach her, and forbidding her from speaking on his behalf at church – this man was blessing my calling to ministry in his final years.

And he started downloading all his experiences into me – so that I would learn from him.

He once said, and it was so funny and moving that I wrote it down, “This does not deny you the right to investigate new visions.  Go to it!  Your old grandpa may roll over in his grave by them, but so what!?”

 

I loved that.

He recognized that God was still moving and working and revealing Godself in new ways.  He recognized that he would never have the corner on the truth.  He trusted the Mystery beyond himself.

And this example has been his greatest gift to me.

 

Whatever our paths and families, we ARE indeed surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.  In the chapter before these verses from Hebrews, the writer reviews all the great faith figures.  He is reminding us that we are not alone in this journeyIt is a hard journey, but we are in good company!  The Bible is full of story after story of our ancestors in the faith – who got things beautifully right and terribly wrong sometimes, and yet who were used by God.

We have them, and we have Christ!

We are not alone.  And we can learn from their experiences – both what TO do and what NOT to do.  God has given us a great gift through their lives.

This gift is not meant to call us back to a time that no longer exists.  It is not meant to keep us in a place of nostalgia.  No, the writer of Hebrews reasons that because we are surrounded by this great company of saints who’ve gone before, we run with perseverance.  We press into the living of these days, of our lives, of our journeys of faith – taking encouragement from these saints and direction from Christ, the pioneer and perfector of our faith!

We look back, in order to move more faithfully forward. 

 

And so today, we take this time to remember those in ours and other people’s lives who have strengthened and blessed us on our journeys, and we take time to give thanks for them!

In just a moment I will invite you to walk around the room (as you feel led), reading the stories of these saints, and giving thanks to God in your hearts.

When the music comes to a close, I will invite you to take a stand or a seat near the write ups that speak to you.  And we will come before God in prayer together – giving thanks for those who have shaped our lives.  During that prayer, we will go around the room, in order, speaking out the names of all these saints.

So I invite you now to spend time in holy listening, silently walking and reading, or seated as you like, meditating on these saints who have blessed our lives.  And after about 4-5 minutes, I will call us back together for a prayer and speaking of the names.

“Thy Kingdom Come”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 6:20-23
James 2:1-10

Luke 6:20-23

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

James 2:1-10

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

 


 

In this chapter of the Book of James, the author is calling out the human behavior of favoritism.  His rationale goes something like this:  in God’s Kingdom the poor are rich in faith and will be heirs of the Kingdom, so why do you treat badly, those who God blesses?

We all know how this world works.  It seems the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  And as much as we may wish to believe our lot in life is purely built on hard work or laziness, the reality is that many more factors are at play than we have control over.  There are the things we control – like how we respond to situations and opportunities and the lack of opportunity.  And there are things we do not control – like societal bias, our parent’s means, …and luck.

Certainly hard work is important.  The Bible encourages us to work hard and to live into our potential, making the most of whatever we have.  But the reality is that while each of us is beloved by the King of Heaven and earth, our means and resources, skills and abilities, network and connections are very much different from one another.  In the parable of the talents, not all the servants are given the same amount.  And in life, we are all differently equipped – in intellect, in common sense, in wisdom, in physical ability, and so on.  So in life, as in the parable, we are encouraged to maximize our potential, making the best possible concoction out of the ingredients at our disposal.

Some have a strong work ethic.  Some do not.  Some head their parent’s wisdom, while others do not.  Some have parents who are active and involved, while others do not.

But in all this, we cannot deny luck or perhaps grace.  We cannot deny that some things happen – both good and bad – without their being earned.

 

And so when we have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the elite, by all means, we jump at the opportunity.  We hope their luck and network will rub off on and convey to us.  We fantasize that perhaps they’ll find us as charming as we do 😊 and write us into their financial futures.  As absurd as all this sounds when we say it out loud, we still chase after these illusions – hoping to be that lucky one.  And we tend to roll out the red carpet – removing obstacles, cutting corners, bending process – just to be close to those who are rich.

And this stands in stark contrast to how we treat the have-nots in our lives.  Far from rolling out the red carpet, we most often avert our gaze and hope for as little-to-no contact as possible.  Perhaps we’ve seen so many like them before.  Perhaps because you’ve opened yourself to someone in need before and been burned, burned out, or abused.  Perhaps because you’re on a schedule and have no margin for anything extra.  Perhaps because you’re on a budget and have no margin for anything extra.  Perhaps because you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of the need and the inadequacy of your power and means…

We have our reasons, do we not?

But most of us have learned in life to favor the rich and ignore the poor.

James is calling out this behavior challenging it by God’s behavior.  Far from ignoring or pushing aside those in poverty, Jesus attends to them, heals them, says that they are blessed, rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom of God.  Those who the world scorns and despises, those who the world has judged and labeled, those outcast are the very ones Jesus blesses.

And James is holding these believers accountable – for living according to God’s Kingdom instead of the Kingdoms of this world.

 

There is a gentleman who used to stand at the corner of Brook and Laburnum.  You could tell he had weathered a lot.  Missing teeth, uneven hair, scraggly beard.  You knew he’d been on the street for quite some time.  But he always smiled, greeting folks with a blessing.  And he wrote out a blessing.  In addition to his sign asking for help, he wrote another sign, often hanging it on his bicycle parked nearby, that read, “Smile, it’s not that bad.”

This gentleman mesmerized me.  How could he, of all people, say, “Smile, it’s not that bad.”  Coming from him, I knew it had truth.  Coming from him, I could take it and receive it.  Coming from him, it wasn’t trite or diminishing of my pain.  Coming from him, I found it inspiring.

But no day was it more inspiring that when I found myself in the extended misery that was bed bugs.  I was worn out by this mystery bug that even the exterminators knew very little about.  Almost eradicated for many years, knowledge of bed bugs had been lost and very little facts could be found over the internet about their behaviors.  How could I overcome a tiny bug I didn’t understand?  And the exterminator kept changing the story – first saying all I had to do was launder and bag everything fabric in my home and pull everything out 4 feet from the walls, and then showing up the day of – only to reveal that I had to remain in this limbo for another 2 weeks, after which they would likely treat again….  I thought I was going to lose it.  It was like moving all over again.  It would be a total of 6 weeks, before my space would be bed bug free – the whole time in which I was living out of bags & lying in bed as bait night after night.  It felt like hell – a unique type of hell that I care never to repeat.

And one day, in the throws of my ordeal, I passed this gentleman on the side of the street.  And his sign, “Smile, it’s not that bad” called me to gratitude, out of the depths of my pain and anger and self pity.  It called me to give thanks for my home.  It called me to give thanks that I had clothes & bed & things to have to clean and bag up.  The words on his sign were still true.  And I just balled and balled as I passed him that day.

He had given me a gift.  He was teaching me what faith and gratitude were like.

 

Later that year, someone interviewed him for the local free paper.  His name is John.  At that time, he had been on the street for four years, maybe more.  But it hadn’t always been that way.  Back in the seventies, he was in college, and he majored in computer programming and minored in accounting.  His future gleamed bright.  There was money to be made.  He worked for a bookkeeping and tax firm, and he was doing well.

After eight years, the firm was sold to a conglomerate and John panicked.  He took out an unauthorized loan, sure that he would pay it back, but he was unable to before the auditors caught up with him.  It ruined everything.  His lawyer told him, “If you had the money, you could walk away from this,” but he didn’t.  So he went to jail.  He was released on a suspended sentence, which meant that any small infraction would land him back in jail.  So after some time he was caught speeding, which landed him back in jail.  Each time they’d say it was just a few months, but it wasn’t just that.  It was just enough time to loose his house, loose his car, loose his job…over and over again.  The hardest part was working his way back from all that again and again, only to loose it ALL, all over again, over minor infractions.

But John didn’t give up.  He relocated to another city.  He started over.  Again.  He steered clear of the financial sector and was doing well.  But he was summoned back to Richmond when his Aunt and Uncle could no longer care for themselves.  So he threw himself into their care.  He lived off the savings he had rebuilt.  But both of them passed away, and when they did, relatives came out of the woodwork and claimed everything that was theirs, leaving John on the curb, with two plastic bags that were his things.

He was homeless.

He says he had no idea that returning to Richmond would leave him homeless.  But it did, and now he has that stigma, like a leper.  He feels no one wants to hire him – like he has a disease that will rub off or a giant X on his chest.  Folks look at him as cheap labor, and he’s happy to do anything.   Usually by the time he shows up on the corner to beg, he’s already worked a job.  Folks will have him bike out to their houses, out in the suburbs, and its not uncommon for him to work 5 hours and get paid 20 bucks.  It can be incredibly discouraging.

 

It was winter when this reporter interviewed John, and they talked about the cold.  John survived by sleeping a work shed, lighting a kerosene heater in the center and sitting up all night.  He explained that in winter, it was not safe to lie down.  Lying down would mean death.  And so that was how he managed.  And the birds had become his companions.  He feeds the birds and walks with them, and he chases away the cats.  And the birds are his security, because whenever anyone is coming, they make noise and shake the tree limbs.   About those birds, he says, “It may sound crazy, but I talk to those birds.  And they listen.”

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[d] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

 

Sisters and Brothers,

We are called to more than what can be touched and seen;

We are called to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven,

To live as God’s people that God’s Kingdom may come on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

May God give us Christ’s eyes to see our neighbors,

Christ’s humility to know our neighbors,

Christ’s wisdom to see the truth,

Christ’s power to say, “No more.”,

Christ’s love to welcome all,

Christ’s courage to face the fury of this world and follow wherever our Lord leads.