Proper 18, Year B, RCL
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
On Wednesday night, a member of our Senior High Youth group and I were standing on the sidewalk outside the doors of our church. It was getting late in the evening and we were waiting for a ride from a parent. While there, we were approached by a woman who obviously needed some help. She was poorly dressed, and half mumbled to herself as she addressed us, asking for some food. She was hungry, and as she was speaking to us, she was saying, please Jesus, asking for something to eat, some sort of assistance. It was one of those moments where several thoughts ran through my mind at the same time.
Are we safe? Is this woman alright? How will this youth react? How can we help? What does she really need? What is she really asking for? Do I have anything to give? How do I respond?
This is not a new experience for me, but it surprises me every time. I think because I can’t imagine what it would be like to be hungry, and to have no resources with which to feed myself. I can’t imagine how hard it must be, and what kind of life experience it has taken to get to a point where you are willing to ask anyone on the street if they can help you.
Even with all of those questions happening at once, the response was immediate. You say that you are hungry? I know that we have some food. We had leftovers from our dinner, all wrapped up and waiting in the kitchen. Of course we can help with some food. You wait here, and we’ll be right back.
I could tell there was fear in the eyes of the woman as we said, “wait here.” And I wondered how many times she had heard that before, never to be helped, never to be returned to. I thought to myself, I have no way of knowing what this woman has been through, or how she has come to this place in her life, and at our doorstep. All I know is that she is here, and we have food. And our only option was obvious. We would feed her.
The youth who experienced this with me, Jessica Taylor, wrote about this experience on her facebook page this week. She titled her note: Hunger is here too. In it she wrote,
i feel lucky to have been in the right place at the right moment to help someone out, and i can only pray that her life gets better. it's just one of those things that you can't get out of your mind, the look of relief on the woman's face when she had finally found food, and the satisfaction of knowing, that one more person in the world will have a meal tonight because i was just waiting on a ride.
The moment was there and then over in an instant, and yet, it had the impact of a lifetime – a lifetime of prayerful thoughts for those who are hungry – those right here in our midst, a reminder of thankfulness for the sources of stability in our own lives, and hope that this small act will lead to a greater understanding of the importance to always remember we have neighbors in need.
In our scripture text James challenges his listeners to keep this important and difficult task. Challenging the community not to give preferential treatment to those whose clothing obviously points to a status of a member of a higher class. It’s an easy sin to commit – the desire to separate one’s self from the rif-raff, to keep our hands from getting dirty by staying in places where we feel safe, and comfortable. But the comfort and stability that is known to us, the restfulness that is found in our individual and family homes should not be taken for granted, or taken as a shelter from the harsh realities of the world around us. Rather in appreciation for what we have, in thanksgiving for the benefits of security and prosperity, a desire to make that sense of safety and freedom known to others should come, should be the response.
I’m not saying that one ought to trade in their homestead for a cardboard box – though there is a lot to learn from such an experience, and it has been done before. But I am saying that even though we have a place to come home to at night, there are those who do not, and our rest should be uneasy. Our hope in the kingdom of heaven, of bringing about that kingdom here on earth is tied to the truth that our faith in Jesus calls us to action.
--If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:16-17)
As individuals, as a community, as Christians, our call is to share in work of feeding our faith by feeding our neighbors. We come together in this place to share in a sacred meal, and to put ourselves in the position of awareness of those around us in need of a share in our daily bread. Our sleep may be uneasy, and our prayer lists long, but as our awareness and our willingness to face these needs in the world around us, and to stand together in community and take action, we have the power to bring about that kingdom. We have a faith that is alive and well. And we have to ability to move mountains.
But the work is hard. The message doesn’t change much. And we can grow weary and irritable, and distracted along the way. We sometimes lose focus on the need that we are called to respond to due to our own needs, our own lives, our understandable desire to close the doors of our private homes and let the weight of the world rest on someone else’s shoulders tonight.
Jesus himself had a moment of weakness, a desire to rest from responding to the needs of others. In our Gospel text we learn of his attempt to hide himself, if only for a brief respite, even in a foreign place so that he might find some rest. Yet a woman recognized him, a woman outside of his ethnic and religious group, and therefore, one who had no business approaching him, called on Jesus to heal her child; to respond to her need.
His first response is one that seems surprising to we the hearers, as he seems to brush her off and even compare her people, her need to those of dogs. And yet she rebuts his comment, challenging him to remember that even the dogs, even those for whom the meal was not first prepared, are deserving of their share too, even if it is merely the crumbs of the children. Her lesson to Jesus was a reminder to him of the law of love – a reminder that he took in stride and even learned from. He noted her faith in the teaching that all deserve to be loved, to know the good life. He told her that her daughter was healed and awaited her return at home.
Perhaps this was a moment of Jesus’ own theological perspective being expanded – a moment of realization that his message, his teaching, his love was not just for the chosen ones but for all people who came to him, for all who proclaimed his name. As carriers of that love, as doers of Jesus’ word, we must remind ourselves and one another that– even in the dark moments when we ask ourselves – Is this safe? Do I have anything to give? Why are you asking me? Jesus is with us, even when we’re just standing around, waiting for a ride home. Amen.
Delivered: Sunday, September 6, 2009