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“Lives That Nourish”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 13:6-9
2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

Luke 13:6-9

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.


 

 

We are responsible.  We are responsible to God for the space and life and breath we have been given.  We are responsible to God and to one another for the earth we inhabit and the food we consume.  We are responsible for what we leave behind – our waste, our relationships, our legacy…

God has entrusted us, each one, with gifts and talents, with energy and ability, with love and mercy, with food and drink, with air and water, with earth and sky.  We have been given much.  And to whom much is given, much is expected. 

The point of all that we’ve been given is not to simply comfort and satiate ourselves.  God certainly does comfort us.  God certainly does satisfy us.  And these many good gifts of God are often the ways and means by which we experience God’s love and provision, comfort and joy in this world.  But the end of this comfort and joy, love and provision is not ourselves.  Our lives are not the main point.  Our joy is not the destination.

 

Now in life, we need joy.  Joy is what makes this life worth living.  It invigorates; joy begets life.

But our joy and comfort alone are not the main thing.

Rather, Christ died that ALL might know God’s love. 

Jesus came to the chosen people of Israel SO THAT they might become a city on a hill, a light to the nations.  Jesus walked among the people of Israel but had his sights on all people.  Jesus lived and died not just for the people of Israel but for all people.

 

WE have been called by God, drawn to this place, drawn into fellowship with one another and in deepening relationship with God, but our own personal well-being is not the end of this journey, for God’s heart is for all.

As long as there are people in this world living in the shadow of death, there is work to be done.  As long as the world groans in pain as we litter and poison it, there is work to be done.  Until the Kingdom of God comes, in fullness and completeness, we have work to do.  For God’s heart is for all that God has made.

And so coming back to our own means and provision, joy and comfort – these gifts are not meant to stop with us.

We have a responsibility to love as we have been loved.

We have a responsibility to comfort as we have been comforted.

We have a responsibility to give as we have received.

We have a responsibility to forgive as we have been forgiven.

And in-so-doing, we spread the love and light of God like a wildfire that burns in hearts and lives and communities.  In-so-doing, we become a light in the darkness.  In-so-doing we usher in the Kingdom of God. 

 

So as we hear this parable of the fig tree, may we remember that while it is good that we enjoy the many delights and resources we have been given, these many gifts are meant to keep going, to keep giving, to be the seed of a mighty tree, the first drops of a mighty flood, the planting that reaps a harvest through our very lives.

You and I are God’s handiwork.  You and I are beautifully gifted.  You and I are infinitely loved.

And with all this goodness that surrounds our lives, may we not become reservoirs but channels of God’s goodness and love!  Indeed, when we close ourselves off, stopping the flow of God’s goodness through our lives, we ultimately stop the flow of God’s goodness into our lives.  But when we open the floodgates, and let God’s blessings flow in and out of our lives, we become conduits of God’s greatness, beauty, and surprising love.

Like the fig tree that blooms and bears fruit,

our lives sustain and nourish many! 

 

May our lives be full of the joy and bounty of our God,

and may many,

many

come to know God’s infinite love,

healing justice,

tender mercy,

and surprising grace…

through us. 

“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. 

“A Little Child Shall Lead Them”

Rev. Katherine Todd
James 4:1-8a
Mark 9:33-37

James 4:1-8a

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Mark 9:33-37

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


 

This teaching of Jesus told by Mark is unique.  It doesn’t seem to hold together fully.  First the disciples are talking about who’s the greatest – to which Jesus says that “whoever wants to be first much be last of all and servant of all.”  And then Jesus adds on this seemingly unrelated object lesson.  Jesus takes a little child among them and cradling the child in his arms says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

And here I am left in a whirl.  Did Jesus really say all this back to back, in a seemingly related way?  Why did Mark present these familiar words of Jesus in such close context, when they don’t appear to be related?  Did these two seemingly unrelated teachings indeed hinge on one another, and did Mark see them as informative of one another?

You see Jesus’ object lesson feels totally out of the blue.  I would have expected Jesus to instead point to the last person standing in line or the servant in their midst for his object lesson.  Those would illustrate his point – showing folks WHO among them are truly greatest – and helping them see that all the rationale they had for ranking themselves and one another was utterly useless in God’s eyes.

But Mark says Jesus brings a little child among them.  The child is the object lesson.  And this is not simply in Mark’s account; Matthew and Luke also tell this story, and while each presents it slightly differently with slightly different take-aways, each time Jesus answers the disciples’ arguments about who is greater with a little child.

Matthew spells out that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is humble like a little child.  Childlike humility is lifted up as key to both entering God’s kingdom and being great in the kingdom.

Luke quotes Jesus as saying the very same words as Mark’s account:  “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And that is it.  No talk about being the last or the servant of all.

So these three parallel Gospel accounts tell of Jesus leaping from this story of the disciples’ one-up-man-ship followed by the object lesson of a little child.  In Matthew it’s the humility of a little child.  In Luke it’s simply the receiving of the Kingdom of God as would a little child, and in Mark it’s being the last and a servant that seems related to children receiving the Kingdom of God.

 

Now, all this talk about the Kingdom of God is an important frame of reference.  For Jesus is very specifically holding God’s ways in juxtaposition to the world’s ways.

We learn quickly in life that we need to hurry up and grow up.  While parents and grandparents tell us to savor our youth and its shelter from the worries and troubles of the world, we know that immaturity and naivete are marks against us.  We are encouraged to “be realistic.”  We are told to set down our dreams in exchange for sucking up “the real world.”  Saying what we think, without filtering it, is frowned upon.  Showing too much emotion is frowned upon.  Loosing yourself in the joy of a moment is frowned upon.  Children are keenly aware that their position is one of lesser.

We give them toy phones, but they want the real deal.  We give them toy pots and pans, but they want to play with the real ones.  Children yearn for the autonomy, self-determination, freedoms, respect, and powers afforded to adults.  And so we all rush to reach this pinnacle of power and respect.

Children have a lot more today than in Jesus’ day.  They are no longer seen as the property of their fathers.  They have rights.  Some parents and families have placed their children at the centermost part of their lives, so that all activities revolve around the children.  Many parents now allow their children voice and choice in the details of their lives.  Things have dramatically changed so children are not so fully at the bottom of the pyramid of power as they were in former days, but they are still under the authority of the grown-ups in their lives.  They still are keenly aware that they “should” be more mature, more realistic, less emotional, more reliable…  And the list goes on.

Children are ever aware of their own inadequacies, their dependence, their incompleteness.

Children who have experienced the loving provision of their guardians TRUST.  They trust that all will be well, that their needs can and will be met.

And Jesus is holding these small humans up, as pictures of what WE need to be. 

WE need to be keenly aware of our inadequacies.  We need to be humble.  We need to stop and recognize our dependence on God and one another.  We need to realize we are incomplete without God and one another.

WE need to trust, that God is true to God’s Word.  We need to dream God’s dreams and see the Lord’s visions.  We need to trust in things never before seen.

We need to let go of the preconceptions we hold about one another – the ranking, the judging, the partiality…  We need to come like little children – open to the world and everyone in it.

 

And how shall we do this?!?

It seems like the older I get, the more reason I have for skepticism and disappointment.

But GOD is calling us to live in a new reality.

Right now.

God’s Kingdom is not this idyllic world in the clouds, far away, and only accessible after we die.  Christ himself taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The Kingdom is not for later.  The Kingdom is for now.

The Kingdom is for now. 

The world’s ways are ever with us.  The world’s wisdom is always speaking.  Evil and injustice color our ways of seeing the world and our neighbors.

But Christ is saying that God has another way altogether, and if we want to be part of it, WE CANNOT ACCESS IT by doing what we have always done.  WE CANNOT ACCESS IT using the same mindset that we’ve mastered in the school of the world.

RATHER, we need to grow down.  To grow down.  We need to re-write the scripts in our minds with God’s truth.  We need to re-write the lessons of the world with God’s lessons.  We need new eyes to see our neighbors and ourselves, as God sees each one.

And we will do well, if we take some cues from those little humans among us who are our children and our children’s children.

Those little humans who are so naïve and incomplete.  Those little humans who are so honest in their displays of joy and anger alike…

 

SO, what do we do with this?

This is more than a nod of reverence to our kids.

This is more than doting over our children’s successes and smiling through their honest attempts and mis-steps.

No, we are called to BRING IN the KINGDOM OF GOD by being as little children. 

Trusting God and God’s Word.

Believing God’s wisdom over our own.

Being open to the new people and opportunities God brings into our lives.

Expecting to be surprised.

Looking for God to do something new, that we’ve never seen before…

 

In response to the school shootings happening with too much frequency in our nation, a student decided to form a No Kid Eats Alone Club.  Recognizing that hurting people hurt other people, this student made it his mission to reach out to those who didn’t have a group to eat with.  And the group has grown.  Every lunch period, they invite anyone who is sitting alone to join them for lunch.  As the group grows, more and more students are mobilizing to speak with the folks at their schools are who are isolated and alone.  And it is making all the difference.  It is creating belonging where there was rejection.  It is creating community where there was isolation.  It is fostering understanding where there was misunderstanding.

And it is growing.  New students are taking it to their schools and forming their own No One Eats Alone clubs.

These kids are bringing in the Kingdom of God.  Despite humankind’s years of experience living into the pecking order, accepting bullying, accepting cliques, these students are creating a new reality in their school lunchrooms.  They are turning one of the most divisive hours of the school day into a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary.

They are doing the work of church. 

 

Friends, we will not enter the Kingdom of God, unless we do so as little children. 

If you are longing for QUALITY of life

If you’ve been searching your whole life for rest and goodness, justice and joy

If you once dreamed of a whole and equitable world

GOOD!  God has been calling out to you.

And as much as it may feel like a pipe dream – with all you’ve seen and heard –

YOU are called to help make that world a reality.

 

You won’t do it by doing things the way they’ve always been done.

Take a cue from our children; they are always inventing new ways!

We will get there by creating a new world together, one dream, one act of trust, one vision, one step of faith, one heart of openness, one act of repentance and humility, one honest word, one act of justice…at a time. 

 

God is counting on you and on me.  And we don’t have to be complete & perfect & all wise.

We just need to know that the Lord of Heaven and earth has us in the palm of Christ’s hands, and has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a future of hope.

 

May we grow down and learn how to live and move in God’s ways.  For we cannot be both a friend of the world and a friend of God.

We must choose.

“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.