Thursday, January 21, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
The Good Samaritan simply saw the need
Homelessness has been on my mind lately. This recession has brought a great increase of it, especially as people have had their mortgages foreclosed. I read a devotional in a Scottish church magazine I receive how the Christmas story could be seen as a story of our Lord’s identification with the homeless.
That manger in Bethlehem was certainly outside the secure comfort of the inn. We have romanticized the story to the point that we no longer smell the things that make an animal barn what it is. It was no place, then or now, to have a baby.
Now in Haiti hundreds of thousands are homeless. A famous preacher has now said God sent this because the Haitian people “made a pact with the devil.” I, for one, have to say this is not my kind of religion. The Good Samaritan did not say that calamity must have happened to the wounded Jew because of evil in his life. The Good Samaritan simply saw need and went to work helping.
I was proud to see Holy Communion Episcopal, Idlewild Presbyterian and Temple Israel — Jews and Christians in Memphis — all working together to raise funds for Haiti.
We are tempted to think homelessness will never happen to us. If you’ve ever experienced the queasy feeling that comes (at least it does to me) when all your belongings are packed up and in storage, or in a moving van, when you are changing residences — then you can push in your mind just a bit further and ask what it would be like to lose everything.
My house has never burned down or been swept away in a flood, but psychologists say that is just one step below death of a significant loved one on the scale of trauma.
These things came home to me when a fellow church member in Chicago lost everything. “Kathy,” as I will call her, was a very interesting person. She worked for the airlines, and flew a regular route between Chicago and Anchorage, Alaska. Because her schedule put her in Chicago one Sunday and Anchorage the next, she maintained dual membership in two congregations and was a deacon in both churches!
One rarely finds such dedication among church workers, but Kathy was one of these people. In Chicago, she worked with the church’s tutoring program, helping children from a nearby housing project where the living conditions were unimaginably bad.
Kathy was an only child and her parents had died. She was single and had no close relatives. Then a recession happened and the airline laid off a great many people. (This was back in the 1980s, at the beginning of the airlines’ long spate of economic woes.)
Her savings exhausted, Kathy could not pay the rent on her apartment, and while she looked for another job, sought refuge in a homeless shelter. But the shelters all had limits on how long you could stay, and because it was a recession, nobody was hiring.
So Kathy quietly turned to our church’s Social Service Center for help. Now our congregation had a solidly middle class, if not “upper crust” reputation. We were ready to help, but it was sort of assumed that the people needing assistance would always be from the “other side of the tracks.”
It was a wake-up call for me that the props and supports we think we have may not be as strong as we think. We are not invulnerable. The ground may shake, the stock market may collapse, our loved ones may be taken from us, and then we must say with the psalmist, “God is my refuge and strength.” (Those words sound different when you are thrown utterly upon God for help.)
Kathy had her church, and with everybody’s love and support, she eventually found her way. Many people think they can do just fine by themselves. I do not know what I would do without my church family. Something could happen where I was rendered homeless, but still I would have my church. The church exists (or ought to exist) primarily to show God’s love by helping, and if you join in that effort, perhaps the church will be there when it is you who needs the outstretched hand of healing and hope.
You may not be able to do much, but you can do something. I believe that in the grace of God, that when we sincerely offer what we have, God will make sure it is enough.
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