|Posted by chesterlanducc on April 6, 2017 at 2:20 PM|
This sermon was the final sermon of our Lenten series on issues of social justice. The Gospel text was tha parable of the wealthy landowner who hires workers to tend to his vineyard in the morning. Seeing others without work hires more people in the late morning, then the afternoon, and finally in the early evening. At the close of the day he pays first those who were hired last. He also pays everyone the same ammount he agreed to pay those who were first hired. Those who worked the full day, seeing those who only worked part of the day get a full pay, expect now to get more than they were promised and become angry at the landowner. The response from the landowner is that, is it not his perogative to be generous, and hasn't he paid those who worked the entire day what they were promised?
I was sitting there, across from an older gentleman, quietly eating my dinner—occasionally looking up to chat a bit, my food sitting on paper plate in front of me, a plastic fork in my hand and a Styrofoam cup across from me. There were volunteers in the kitchen cleaning up behind me and as dinner ended we were ushered out of the hall into the adjoining sanctuary. My memory of it is a bit blurry, I have probably filled in the gaps of what I have forgotten with images of how it made me feel. However, I can clearly envision pews which had been moved to make a semi-circle—a piano at one end, a flip pad of paper at the other, which had hand handwritten songs on it—Amazing Grace—Lord Prepare me to be a Sanctuary.
It was a Methodist Church—61st Avenue Church, to be precise. The building, even the name of the church felt neglected. Floor tiles were worn and scuffed. The Church had long ago declined in membership and financial support. It was now supported by the wealthier churches in the area. Many of its members were homeless and/or poor.
We worshiped together. We prayed, we sang, the minister preached. It was a modest service, but it was real—it was authentic. It felt as though Christ were present with us in that worship—it was the type of place that one would imagine Jesus being present—a place where those on margins gathered.
This week I have been reflecting on today’s scripture which I have always appreciated. I think it is a prudent reminder for those of us, myself included, who might be tempted to judge others, especially the poor. In this context I have also been reflecting on the he issue of homelessness. While most would agree everyone deserves a home, a safe, warm, place to sleep and to call their own, too often those who cannot afford adequate housing or who have other challenges that keep them from having a home are judged—they are labeled as lazy or bums or bag-ladies.
Perceptions are funny things. One of my favorite stories from one of my favorite preachers is a story about how as the minister was walking down a city street one day as he approached a man who appeared to him to be homeless, someone he described as a bum. And as he got closer, this bum greeted him by telling him what a lovely day he thought it was. And the minister agreed.
And the bum was holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee and he says to the minster, the coffee is particularly delicious today, would you like some. Now the minister doesn’t want to be rude so he takes the cup, takes a sip, thanks the man, and asks the bum why the generosity? The bum replies, when God shares something special with you, you want to share it with others. The minister thanks him for his generosity, and in return the minister says, is there anything I can share with you, thinking the man would ask for a few bucks—but instead this bum, this man who appears to have not showered or shaved in quite some time, who appears to be living on the streets, says to him instead, yes, actually, I could use a hug. And the minister wishes the bum had asked for money instead.
The two men, the minister in his suit, the bum in his well-worn, layered clothing, stand in an embrace on the sidewalk, on a busy city street, as others walk by, and then, all of a sudden, the minister realizes, he is embracing Jesus.
There are many preconceptions about what types of people are homeless, or how folks get to be homeless. I have heard that some in Geauga County don’t think there is a homeless issue in our county because we often think of homelessness as bag ladies and bums who we see on the street asking for money, or people who are jus too lazy to work for a living. Not only in rural and suburban areas, but also in cites, most homelessness doesn’t look like this. Homelessness looks like a woman with children who is fleeing domestic violence and doesn’t have a safe place to go. Homelessness looks like elderly folks who can’t quite make ends meet and who can no longer afford to stay in the home they have owned for decades or to afford another place to live in their community. Homelessness looks like people who go from friend to friend or family member sofa surfing, staying where they can, as long as they can, because they can’t find affordable housing in our communities even though they have fulltime jobs. Homeless looks like teenagers who are foster children who age out of the foster system and who suddenly have little to no support and no home to fall back on like many of our own adult children in this congregation do. Homelessness looks like folks who suffer from mental illness which is not treated—folks who often don’t have a lot of support. Homelessness takes all shapes and forms and affects all kinds of people.
This morning we celebrate communion and we remember where Jesus ate and drank and with whom Jesus ate and drank with, and it wasn’t in synagogues or in fancy restaurants, and it was not with the wealthy, or politicians, or religious leaders—it was with the poor, the outcaste, those on the margins of society. Communion in its purest form is simply about inviting everyone to the table, about proclaiming the gospel of Jesus that everyone is welcome and everyone is loved and everyone is equal.
Communion can be gathering in church to participate in the ritual of remembering the last supper as we did this morning—but communion can also be cooking meals for the young adults at Next Step, communion can be gathering across generations at Dan, Tracy and Clement’s home to eat and share together. Communion can be any time we lift up the spirit of Jesus that all are welcome, that all are loved, that all God’s children are created in God’s image. Communion can be eating with homeless at a Church that serves a free meal—communion can be sharing a cup of coffee with a bum on the street—communion can be any time we open ourselves to recognizing the Christ in others—and to embracing one another. Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.