The poor are with us always.
(The following sermon was published today on the website of the Twin Cities Area Presbytery; the governing body of my denomination. Enjoy!)
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
The man at the bus stop was small, thin and shabby. His black skin pock-marked from an early infection, he stared at the ground in front of his ragged shoes and waited for the bus.
I’ve seen him many times. Sometimes he pan handles for bus fare; often I give
him a dollar or two to make it to his stop northeast of the city.
I don’t know him; don’t know his name or his history. All I know is that he needs my money on occasion and I am happy to pass him whatever I have in my pocket.
But yesterday I felt a connection that went beyond his begging and my acquiescence.
I asked him if he was okay.
He turned to me with fear and relief in his eyes and told me no. He is not okay. He is dying. He feared it for a long time; felt it, he said, in his bones. Yesterday he learned that his fears were righteous. He had, he said, a short time left. Enough time to organize his few things, distribute them to his few friends and prepare to die.
He told me this without hesitation, without pause. His eyes connected hard and fast to mine and I felt myself drawn deep into his pain.
I asked what anyone would; could I do anything for him? Could I cook for him, drive him somewhere, phone someone, buy him groceries?
He smiled. No, he said. There’s nothing left to do. Everything, he said, is in the past now. Everything is over.
“I’m going home,” he said, “to be free.”
He did so because he loved the poor. He did so because he wanted us to love them as well.
We have limitless opportunities to do so. On the bus, on the streets of our city, in our places of work and in our neighborhoods, the poor present themselves to us every day.
Some, like the man on my bus corner, are beyond our help. But Jesus came to Jerusalem to give himself to all of us. The infant in the manger was a gift to the world.
His requirement of us is that we do the same. This advent season, make a decision to release your fear and reach out to the unlovely and the unlovable. Open your heart to those who are hurting; open our homes to those who need the bounty that has blessed us, and open all our lives to the love of God which deepens our compassion, and makes us fit for ministry and service.
I may never see the man on the bus stop ever again. For all I know, he will disappear into the great darkness that poverty creates for those without resources. He will, I think, die alone without the attention every human deserves.
Jesus told us, “the poor are always with us.” And so I watch for our Lord in the faces I meet on the street; the hungry men and angry children, the battered woman and the aggressive, frightened teen agers who walk my city.
I watch for Jesus in the rough, the harsh and the rejected. When church bells chime, when Christmas carols assault the air, when tinsel and white lights line the desperate and tragic streets of my city, I watch for Jesus in the faces of the tired, stressed and weary who hurry home to their dinners and their families.
Like them, I understand that we are living through a hard, desperate and anxious time.
It is also a time of hope. Never before has our nation been so stirred and invigorated to move in a new direction, prepare a new future for the next generation.
At the heart of the hope is the ethic of outreach.
Look beyond the dirty clothes – the downcast eyes and your own fear. Look past the poverty and the filth, and into the soul and spirit of the person before you.
Don’t wait. Let Advent move you to touch and change the life of another creature of God.
Kristine Holmgren is a Honorably Retired pastor who lives in St. Paul.