March 19, 2017 Matthew 4:1-11
THE WORD FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES Isaiah 58: 7 - 9b
from “The Message” by Eugene Peterson
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on.
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’
Matthew 25: 31-40 from the NRSV
‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
How many of you, in let’s say, the last six months, since Mid-September, have felt one - or more - of the follow emotions? anger, fear, frustration, anxiety, stress, helplessness, overwhelmed? (show of hands) How many have felt hope, joy, love, enthusiasm, optimism, gratitude, the spirit’s presence? (show of hands)
Good. We need both sets of emotions to live in balance. If you’re anything like me, you are being pulled back and forth from those positive to negative emotions. There is a time and place for righteous anger, and even fear - if it leads to hope, and acts of love. To live solely in either set of emotions stymies our growth as spiritual human beings and our ability to make this world a better place for all of God’s creation.
David Sipress had a cartoon in the New Yorker that went viral on the internet. (show cartoon) It spoke to me, along with others across our nation:
“My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.” Can you identify with that?
As Christians, Jesus has loaded us with a lot of responsibilities. He didn’t pull them out of thin air. As we can see in today's scripture readings, they were part of his tradition - laws passed down from God to Moses to the Israelites to Jesus, and to us.
As Christians, we want to do our part, to follow Jesus’ example; to welcome the stranger, to stand in solidarity with Muslims, Jews, Hispanics, African Americans, the refugee and the undocumented, to care for the earth, to provide a good education and affordable health care for all of our citizens, to make sure that everyone in this country has food to eat and a safe place to call home.
But, as the editors of Sojourner’s Magazine this month ask: “What are we supposed to do when everything is threatened at once? When it’s so hard to focus, we’re tempted to just keep refreshing our newsfeed and let ourselves get swept away in a diffuse sea of outrage that quickly evaporates into despair, and leaves us feeling pretty crabby.”
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson has coined a name for it: “Spiritual disequilibrium.” This is where I found myself recently, suffering the results of spiritual disequilibrium. It became clear to me when I drove to Chetwyn Golden Living to officiate an Ash Wednesday communion service and discovered when I arrived that I had forgot the ashes. At least I remembered the juice and wafers. That was just one of many warning signs.
So before I could face the continuing onslaught of bad news on the tube; needs, concerns and requests arriving daily in my in-box and Voice Mail, I needed to remind myself that I’m not alone. We’re not alone. God is here, standing with us, guiding and supporting as we navigate these challenging times.
So I created a Lenten altar on my coffee table - with candles to light for those in need, a journal to reflect in, a mindfulness coloring book to make me slow down, a gratitude book to remind me of all the things I have to be grateful for, and my favorite friendship angels, and a Celtic cross reminding me of what Jesus taught me and sacrificed for me.
And then I made a pledge to myself and God to turn off MSNBC each evening and spend an hour in silent reflection, to draw me into God’s presence and guidance. It helped! I highly recommend it.
Our theme today on this third Sunday of Lent is Care for the Poor - Fight for the Powerless. Who in this country are our poor and powerless neighbors? - the homeless. (slide) They are the most vulnerable. I thought of those I met this past year at the Friday Cafe at 1st Church Cambridge - many actually living on the street. I stopped and said a prayer Tuesday in the midst of the blizzard, that they would be safe and warm.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2015 there were 65.3 million displaced people worldwide, that’s nearly 1 in 100 people living on this earth. I imagine when new data comes out, that number will have increased dramatically.
In January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on any given night in the U.S., 206,286 were families; 358,422 were individuals - without a home - in this, the richest nation on earth.
In MA 21,237 people were in shelters, in transitional housing, or on the streets that year, an increase of more than 2,200 or 12% from the year before.
For 2016, 4,410 out of 10,019 families who applied for shelter in MA were denied.
And in Boston in 2015 there were 7,663 homeless men, women and children, an increase of 5.6%. Homeless families jumped 25%.
Even in Newton there are people applying for EAEDC Assistance (Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children. 158 in Newton, 83 in Watertown and 194 in Brighton.
These statistics are overwhelming, and if the current administration in DC has their way, they will be increasing. How can we, sitting here in this sanctuary, make a difference? American anthropologist Loren Eisley tells a story you may have heard before:
An old man was walking on the beach at dawn when he noticed a young man picking up starfish stranded by the retreating tide, and throwing them back into the sea one by one. He went up to him and asked him why he was doing this. The young man replied that the starfish would die if left exposed to the morning sun. ‘But the beach goes on for miles, and there are thousands of starfish. You will not be able to save them all. How can your effort make a difference? “ The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safely in the waves. ‘To this one’, he said, ‘it makes a difference.’
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs reminds us that “God asks us to do what we can, when we can. We mend the world one life at a time… We can change the world, but we need partners, and the best way of finding them is to lead by example.”
Many of us here at Eliot have been leading by example, and it has led to collaborations with 2nd Church and others, in our efforts to Care for the Poor through our cookouts and parties for families living in transitional housing in the motels. We are making a difference, one family at a time.
But what have we been doing to Fight for the Powerless? This is a whole different ballgame. It’s political. It involves advocating for the homeless through our legislative process, showing up for legislative action days at the state house, meeting with our representatives and senators, signing petitions, writing letters and post cards, making phone calls, showing up at rallies and marches. We have two women sitting here today who have dedicated their lives to doing just that. They are here to tell you how you can make a difference. It’s by these actions that we can make a difference for more than one person at a time. They will be sharing more with us in the parlor after worship.
Our dear Josephine McNeil is a role model for all of us. She is retiring soon as the Executive Director of CAN-DO. She was one of the organizing members and the first President of its Board of Directors in1994, and was appointed Executive Director in 1999. In that time they have developed affordable housing for low and moderate income individuals and families in Newton, creating 46 units, with two more in development.
Last Sunday I attended the 14th Annual N.I.M.B.Y. (Yes, In My Back Yard) Celebration where Josephine was honored for her chutzpah and tireless efforts. She may be retiring as executive director but that won’t slow her down. She has new plans on the horizon which I’ve asked her to briefly share with you.
Our other guest this morning is Sister Linda Bessom. She’s the Outreach Coordinator and Senior Community Organizer for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. She is currently organizing the Coalitions’ public policy Campaign to Strengthen EAEDC Assistance (Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children). She’s a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. I’ve asked her to share briefly about the work she is doing.
(Sister Linda speaks)
We have our work cut out for us this year - on many fronts. It’s important work if we are to Care for the Poor, and Fight for the Powerless at a time when the powers that be want to leave them further behind. Stop by for refreshments in the chapel and sign a petition and a postcard. That’s a beginning. Then join Josephine and Sister Linda in the parlor to learn more about ways you can make a difference.