By Pastor Wes Poole
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.’ – NRSV
This past Sunday, we celebrated Faith Formation and Congregational Renewal with a picnic at Kirby Park. It was a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon with good friends, good food, and for me…a personal epiphany. We talk a lot in the church about charity, good works, caring for the poor, etc. How often, though, do we regard the subject as anything more than an abstract. Yes, Christ commanded us to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the marginalized. Hardly anyone would argue with that…but how often is it truly real to us? Well this past Sunday, I experienced that “realness” first hand.
Jesus reminds us in Mark 14 that “the poor will be with you always”. That’s not meant to be a cop out, but a reminder that the need is always there and always great. So, back to Sunday. We’re all set up. The food was out and ready to serve. I’m at a table, tuning my guitar…and the first homeless person walks up. Julia leans into me and says, “Time to be the pastor, Papa!” I confess, I sighed a bit in resignation that the afternoon just got a bit more complicated than I was expecting. Still, I asked him to sit down, and he did. After talking to him for a few minutes, told me his name, and just started talking to me about any number of things. He never asked for anything. He just wanted to talk, and I guess he figured the pastor was a guaranteed “listening ear”. He wasn’t wrong. In that moment, he became quite real to me. Regardless of whatever else was going on in his life, he was just another child of God trying to connect with someone else. Who among us hasn’t ever felt that way before? Then one of his friends showed up. Shortly thereafter, a couple walked up. She was pregnant. I had to gently ask her significant other not to smoke under the pavilion, which he accepted without complaint. Of course, we shared our food with them, and I realized that they all had smart phones. At one point, one of them picked up his phone and said, “Pavilion #3”. More people started to show up. That’s when I learned that these folks had all banded together in a rather loose confederation to share resources and help each other out. They have regular meetings at the pavilion we had rented for the afternoon. We were basically displacing them, but no one complained. Julia boxed up some more sandwiches and I was able to pass them around to an unfailingly grateful gathering. Shortly thereafter, I met their titular leader, who though dealing with his own issues, proceeded to tell me about their community of the needy and marginalized, and how they were banded together to help each other survive. The “realness” was now in excruciatingly high relief. It was while talking with him that it really hit home for me how easy it is to pretend these people aren’t really there; to render them comfortably invisible. Or worse, to disregard them by blithely blaming them for the situation they’re in. Jesus’ words from above in Matthew’s Gospel have rarely meant more to me than they did in that moment. A little over an hour earlier, I had been presiding at the Eucharist, where we believe that Christ is truly present. Now, I was looking him in the face…several different faces in fact…several very poignantly visible faces! I couldn’t fix any of their problems, but I could listen, and share our food with them. In that moment, it was all I could do. I’d like to go back some Sunday soon and look in on their community again. I don’t know exactly what I can do for them personally, but I want to learn more, and I don’t want the “realness” to fade.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” We spend a great deal of time in the church fretting and wringing our hands over money or property issues or dwindling church attendance. Experiences like this past Sunday remind me…not so gently…that the church finds its strongest expression not in buildings or worship services or even sacraments, but in one person connecting with another; meeting their needs just as Jesus modeled for us in his own ministry. For the modern day disciple of Jesus, there are no invisible people. May the Holy Spirit inspire us to keep our eyes and hearts open, so that we continue to see Jesus in the faces of our neighbors…all of them!
Let us pray…
God of all Creation, you formed us in your image and commanded us to love and care for one another. You regard all of your children equally. We ask that you help us do the same. When we look into the face of our neighbor, we see the face of Jesus. Make us ever more accepting and generous, even in the difficult spaces of life; that we may regard everyone with the love you have shown us in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Be well, be kind, and be safe!
Your partner in Christ,
Pastor Wes Poole †