This weekend our youth group participated in our area Homeless Awareness Weekend! I didn’t preach long, but here are my thoughts for the day. I will share the video I put together of the weekend in another post!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 16, 2014
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Letting Go Of Our Dignity
The summer between my junior and senior years of college, my best friend and I spent six weeks driving cross-country. We were traveling with a purpose: Kari had traveled to South Africa the summer before and I had travelled to Honduras and our eyes had been opened to poverty, hunger and homelessness in the third world. We felt called to try to share our stories and to try to make a difference throughout the country. We spent nine months planning; we raised money and made arrangements with churches, ministries and food banks throughout the country; we put together a presentation based both on research and experience; we printed directions off the internet (this was pre-GPS days); and about a week after finals, we packed up her Toyota Camry with almost 200,000 miles on it and hit the road.
We thought we were hot stuff.
The truth was, we were young and naïve and ended up learning far more on that trip than we ever could have taught.
And those lessons started very quickly.
One of our first stops was New York City, where we had arranged to stay with a friend of mine while visiting a food bank (which we did) and attempting to get some airtime on the Today Show (which we did not).
There were a few oversights when it came to our planning in the big apple; none more glaring than the fact that my friend David only had one key to his apartment; so that when we left in the morning we would not be able to return until he got out of work much later that night.
Which would have been fine.
If it hadn’t poured first thing in the morning.
So there we were, in the middle of New York City, cold, wet, tired and cranky. We had no place to go and not a lot of money to do anything while we waited for our host to return to our shelter. We were carrying all of our stuff with us and our arms were starting to get tired.
Eventually we ended up at a Barnes & Noble. I thought this would be the perfect solution, because we could warm up while we read a good book and – in my mind – people would see us as two bright young college students, taking a stand and making a difference.
The reality was that people likely saw us as the two soaking wet young adults who the employees had to keep reminding not to fall asleep in the Sociology & Anthropology section.
What a truly humbling experience that was for us.
I have to be honest; we returned to my friend’s apartment with a little less dignity than we left with that morning.
If you look at the Gospel as whole, there is an underlying theme in everything that Jesus called us to do and that is to maintain human dignity. Jesus called us to feed the poor, to heal the sick, to embrace children, to sit around a table with both our friends and our enemies, to embrace people of all traditions and nationalities, to fight for the oppressed and to reach out to the marginalized. These are all different and unique things, but at the core of every single thing that Jesus called us to do was create a world where all people – every single person who is created and blessed by God – are able to feel and experience human dignity.
And despite the fact that Jesus called us to create a world where all people have dignity, Jesus died in one of the most undignified ways imaginable.
Jesus died a painful death on a cross, practically naked and in front of a large crowd of people. There is no dignity in that.
But I think that if Jesus allowed himself to be humbled in such a significant way, then surely we can open ourselves up to be humbled in our lives if it means that we are going to make a difference in the world.
It is not easy to do what these youth did this weekend. For the first time this year, I was able to spend time with them on Saturday during the day; I stood at busy intersections and panhandled for money. I stood in the cold, chased dollar bills down a windy street and dodged traffic to retrieve the 41 cents that had slipped from someone’s hand when a person rolled down their window to donate a big handful of change.
It was not easy.
It is not easy to spend two days outside, to brave the cold and wind, to ask strangers for money, to rely on a fire for warmth, to not get a shower, to use porta-potties that 150 other people are using and and to work all day without a break. I would be willing to bet that there were times when our youth participating in Homeless Awareness Weekend felt less than dignified.
But they chose to do this.
And they chose to do this because there are people out there that do not get a choice.
And that is what it means to live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ: To give of oneself wholly and fully, to make personal sacrifices at the cost personal dignity and to allow ourselves to be humbled by an imperfect world that God is calling us to work in.
Thank you to everyone who participated this weekend. The rest of us have a lot to learn from you.
Thanks be to God!