Lamentations 3:19-24 and Mark 5:21-43 – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2012
One week ago this morning, this congregation commissioned 14 young people and 5 adults to go forth from here to learn about and to serve the poor and homeless in the city of Boston. We returned home yesterday afternoon. There is no way we can possibly tell you about all the events of this past week and how we were impacted, but we’re going to try to summarize.
Several of the people who went on our 2012 mission trip are here this morning, hopefully a little more rested than we were throughout this past week, and ready to share with you not only how their understanding of poverty and homelessness has changed, but how we have all been personally transformed as well.
The program in which we participated is offered by the City Mission Society of Boston. Founded in 1816, it is the oldest multi-service social justice agency in New England. Its purpose is to meet the educational, economic, social, and advocacy needs of impoverished residents in Boston neighborhoods. And this past week we got to help.
Throughout several of Boston’s neighborhoods, we prepared meals, served meals, stocked and organized food pantries, filled food baskets, sorted and organized a room full of donated clothing, made friends with some 40 children through their inner-city summer program, participated in the community organizing efforts of a service workers organization by canvassing door-to-door, assembled children’s books in Braille, interacted with guests in several day shelters, and handed out sandwiches on Boston Common. We worshiped together, prayed together, played together, sang and danced together, ate together, and reflected together on the significance of what we had done and how we would put into action what we had learned. And with the exception of two of us who transported food by car one afternoon, we did it all on foot using public transportation.
And, like those in our scripture reading this morning, we met people desperate for touch, desperate for healing, and desperate for miracles. And we met people who have devoted their lives to serving the desperate and changing the system that contributes to making them so.
Our eyes were opened as we learned that homelessness is an equal opportunity condition affecting anyone without regard to gender, race, education, work history, marital status, family size or age. The average age of a homeless person in Massachusetts is nine. We learned that there are no simple answers, that homelessness is a complex problem involving many factors. And with all we witnessed this week, we learned the importance of coming home again and sharing our new awareness with others and getting involved in efforts toward solution.
During coffee hour immediately following our service, our mission trippers will remain to engage in conversation with you about their experience. Our posters designed during reflections will be available to spark those conversations. And we will draw from the prayers composed this week to form our Pastoral Prayer this morning.
I can tell you now that the reflections shared by our young people this week were insightful and inspiring. Yesterday morning we considered Jesus’ invitation to the weary to come to him with heavy burdens and when asked to name some of the burdens of the people we served this week, they named these:
· The burden of differences in language as a hungry woman was unable to effectively express her needs
· The burden of bureaucracy as that same woman was denied food because of a systemic requirement
· The burden of loneliness and shame as those with whom we interacted perked up upon realization that they were valued enough to spend time with and visit
· The burden of alcohol and drug addiction as a result of that loneliness and shame
· The burden of violence surrounding those living on the streets
· The physical burden of carrying one’s belongings around all day
· The burden of mental and physical illness both as a factor in homelessness and as a result of homelessness
· The burden of dehumanization as those crying out for help on the sidewalk are repeatedly ignored…
…and the faith in God that keeps them going day after day after day.
Our gospel story this morning is but one of the many we know depicting the throngs of people who clamored for Jesus’ healing – hemorrhaging and feverish women, sick and dying children, paralytics, the blind, deaf, mute, lame, demon-possessed, ashamed sinners, poor widows, the list is very long. This week our young people witnessed the throngs of people who still suffer and whom Jesus told us to minister to. But not only did they witness, they served. And not only did they serve, most importantly, they were transformed. They see the world differently now. Biases have been broken open. Myths have been busted. Stereotypes have been erased. And 19 people now understand a little bit better that the desperate folks who just want to touch the cloak of adequate food and decent shelter and clothes on their backs and basic human dignity are no different from you and I and find themselves clutching after that cloak most through no fault of their own. And it is up to us to stop and turn around in the crowd and notice them and to help them, from the individual level all the way up to the policy level.
We were touched this week and blessed to be able to stop for six days and turn around and notice the need for healing. We thank you for your blessing and support and pray that all of our faith will continue to move us to make the world well. It’s good to be home again. Amen.