Yesterday morning I woke to news that volunteers for the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count in Chicago were needed—desperately. Across the country last night, volunteers were fanning out to count people who were homeless—in shelters, in cars, under bridges, in tent cities. The annual Count is critical to planning and applying for federal, state and local funding. The need for volunteers was especially dire this year because the coordinators feared some volunteers wouldn’t show up due to the bitter cold. I am ashamed to say that each year when the request for volunteers comes out, I find a reason to ignore it. Too busy. Too tired. Too cold. Too something.
Even though Ascension has chosen to dig deeply into the issues of homelessness—the why and how and who and when and what can we do—it is easier to engage those questions from afar. Through a reading group. At a meeting. In prayer. From the comfort of my warm office in our beautiful building. If you were among those who assisted with the Count last night, God bless you for walking the talk. But if you were like me, feeling bad but not bad enough to drive downtown and help, what can I say? Though the Word of God and the needs of God’s people often move me, in this instance they could not move me from my zip code.
Sunday’s readings are all about being moved by the Word of God. To quote the prayer of the day, we ask God to help us “hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.”
In the Old Testament reading, thousands of people gather to hear the Torah read for the first time in two generations. (Nehemiah 8.1-10) As the ancient words fill their ears, the crowd leaps to its feet, raising hands in the air, bowing their faces to the ground and weeping. The Word, silent during decades in exile, both convicted and comforted them.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus goes to his hometown temple on the Sabbath, and stands up to read the scripture: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .” (Luke 4.14-21) It would have been customary for him to comment on the reading afterward, but instead he sat down. The congregation looked at him. He looked at them. The visual standoff was broken when Jesus announced that there would be no sermon, because there was no need of a sermon. He was the Word they had just heard. He was the one they had waited for. He would restore sight, free prisoners and feed the poor. The Word, standing among them, first moved them to applause and later to violence.
What does it take for the Word of God to move us?
What will it take to move us away from the destructive game of Chicken we are playing with the lives of federal employees? What will it take to move us toward meaningful, humane and lasting care for both our own citizens and the frightened immigrants who look to us for protection? What will it take to move us from talking about the needs of God’s people to actually meeting those people whom we name in our prayers?
To be moved by the Word of God. Not only in spirit, but in fact. What a concept.
On Sunday morning, in addition to Children’s Music and Godly Play and Worship, we invite you to stay for a discussion of our first “All Ascension Reads” book, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God. First recommended to us by our partners at The Night Ministry, many of us have been moved by this book about ministry with homeless people in Seattle. Join us for conversation and modest lunch after worship. If you’ve read it, please come talk about it. (We’ll offer another lunch discussion on February 10.)
I shared my frustration about my well-meaning-but-mostly-meaningless compassion with a friend who works in the city with homeless youth. She touched my hand and said, “Don’t kick yourself. It takes time. You’re doing the best you can.” Her words brought tears to my eyes. This—this writing and reading, praying and preaching—is the best I can do? She meant it as a kindness, but it landed as a kick.
Please join us Sunday. Move away from the morning news shows and the Sunday newspaper and the warmth of our own homes to hear the Word of God in this place. The Word of God moved ancient Israelites to their feet, and Jesus’ congregation to anger. Where and how might that same Word move us?
Pastor JoAnn Post