Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
When you host a feast this Thanksgiving or Christmas, don’t invite your friends or family. They will expect to do the dishes, or to bring something, or invite you back to their place next year. Instead, invite the homeless, the refugees, those in nursing homes, the mentally ill, because the only reward you could expect then would be from God.
And when you go to a feast, don’t boast about all the things you did this last year, your great accomplishments, and don’t expect to be honored. If you insist upon yourself, you will be a boor, and everyone will ignore you and try to interrupt you. Instead, sit in the corner and say nothing. Then your host will note your silence and ask you, “What do you have to be thankful for this year?” and you will be given honor.
Don’t demand respect, or else you will be rejected. Be humble and you will be given greater respect.
The blind man had wept and cried, shouted and mourned, and finally he had Jesus’ attention. Jesus smiled at him and said, “Your faith is great.”
Jesus recognized the poor man and was ready to give him justice, just as the prophecy said. He had done this again and again. He sees and loves and is ready to grant what the poor really need.
I have to admit, if I were there, facing the blind man, I might have said,
“I know a program that would be just right for you.”
“Do you want me to help you get on disability?”
“Let me take you to the church elders and have them pray for you.”
“Let’s take you to a doctor and see what they can do for you.”
But none of these are what Jesus did. Because Jesus knows how to establish justice for the poor. He is the King, ready to grant equity.
He said, “What can I do for you?”
Although he was the King, he didn’t take authority for the man’s life on himself.
Although he knew all things, even men’s heart, he didn’t assume he knew what was best for this poor man.
As Jesus often did, he placed himself below the poor one, and listened.
The man said, “Lord, I want to see.”
And because that was what he wanted, Jesus gave it to him.
Because that’s the kind of king Jesus is.
May we be servants of the poor like Him.
Eugenia has been coming to Redbarn for a few months with her son, Aaron. She is in her sixties and disabled, able to walk slowly only with a walker. They had been staying by a barber shop (with permission) most nights to keep out of the rain. Last month, a policeman approached them and told them they had to vacate the premises, because even with permission they are not allowed to camp. She responded sweetly, because that’s the kind of person she is, but the officer insisted that she was not excluded from the city of Gresham for thirty days. If he found her in Gresham, for any reason, he would arrest her.
She was in contact with all the agencies that might be able to get her housing or help, but the waiting lists are long and there is months before they will get to her.
That evening she came to Redbarn literally shaking. She didn’t think that she could take care of her dogs without a regular place to stay, without Anawim providing support with the day shelter. I told her that the police officer couldn’t legally exclude her from the city. That he didn’t actually give her a ticket, just a threat.
But for the last few weeks, her health deteriorated. She started staying overnight in Portland, and then returning to Gresham during the day, and the extra travel took it out of her. Last Saturday her legs were bloated and she couldn’t keep her eyes open, exhausted. I spoke with her, but she couldn’t focus on the conversation. A couple people noticed her condition and offered to take her to the hospital, but she refused, saying that she would be okay, she just needed to sleep. She left our facility walking slowly, with her son and dogs in tow.
She only made it about a half mile away from Redbarn before she collapsed from her exhaustion and died.
I write this for all the grandmothers who are desperately trying to get off the street, but can’t seem to find a way. I know of a couple that were snatched from death, but just as many who didn’t make it. Disabled people should be gotten off the street. Today.
When the Son of Man comes, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne and divide the gentiles before him, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He shall say to those on his right, “Blessed are you, chosen of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you! For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you invited me into your home. I was sick and you came to me. I was in prison and you visited me. Enter into my rest.” And they shall reply, “Lord, when were you hungry and thirsty and we gave something to you? When were you naked and we clothed you? When were you a stranger and we welcomed you? When were you sick or in prison and we visited you?” The King will say, “In as much as you did it to one of these, my brothers, so you did it to me.”
This is a pretty familiar passage. And we are pretty sure we know what to do with it—give food and clothes and shelter and healing to people. To visit people in prison. The church has been doing these things for centuries, millennia, so we don’t need to learn these lessons, right?
Well, if that’s all we get out if the passage, we still have something to learn. We need to learn that Jesus is a ninja master.
- Jesus is among us, now.
No, don’t bother looking around the auditorium. You wouldn’t recognize him. But he is here, possibly right next to us. Not just in spirit, either. He is a person whom you recognize, a person you have met. It’s just that he doesn’t have the classic Jesus look. He might be an old man, a little girl, a smelly street person, a beautiful woman, a black pastor, a Hispanic immigrant, a single mom. All we know is that Jesus is in need. That’s the only clue we have. And he is looking at our response to him.
- Jesus is in disguise
Jesus is not going to be who we think. We may look at him and think he’s a drug addict, a lazy bum, a person who takes advantage of the system. We may think he is a false teacher, a liar, an alcoholic, a party animal, a sexual deviant—because that’s what some people thought he was the first time he came, so that’s still what some people think. Some will listen to the rumors and think he is a thief, a secret wealthy person, a con man, or the face of Satan himself. All these rumors and speculations are part of his disguise to make you think that you need to keep your distance from him. The fact is, he is helpless. He makes himself helpless. For your sake.
- Jesus is the master trainer
Jesus lives in disguise among us in order to train us to be people of mercy. The weapons of our battle is free food, clothing and water. Free rooms to host those who can’t pay. Our time given to those in the most desperate circumstances. And these weapons must be given to the most unlikely people—desperate drug dealers, prostituting paupers, illegal immigrants, travelling preachers with no shoes and a bad speaking voice, woodsmen. People who can’t budget, whose money runs through their fingers like water, who couldn’t make ends meet even if they had twenty feet to spare, people whom even Oprah would have a hard time liking. Why are we helping these people? Because they might be Jesus. Just maybe. Probably not, but you never know. Because Jesus has shown up in more surprising places than these, and we can’t be too careful. In this way, because of his disguise and his demand to help him in whatever disguise he’s in, we learn to live generously to whomever comes in need. We learn to be merciful to the undeserving, to be less judgmental, to be open-hearted people.
- Jesus is a master plotter.
The odd thing, is that Jesus isn’t doing all this for the sake of the needy, although that doesn’t hurt. He isn’t training us for our own sake, even, although he loves us and wants to see us be the best we can be. In the end, Jesus is doing this for his kingdom. The stunning point of Jesus’ mission is not that he is creating a whole nation of open hearted, generous people. He separates people based on their ability to be generous to those unlikely to deserve it. Open your mind, for a bit, and consider the imagination of Jesus.
He has in mind a huge nation full only of the most giving, merciful, compassionate and thoughtful people. A whole nation full of people ready to give their own plate of food at the first sign of a person in hunger. A kingdom where every individual is open to give a space in their house, if they have it. Can you imagine what a population like that would be?
- A nation without hunger, because everyone is ready to help the hungry, without selfishness.
- A nation without nakedness, because everyone is willing to give or to make what other’s need.
- A nation without homelessness because every home is open and the owners welcoming to anyone in need.
- A nation without sickness, because all are willing to set their own time and knowledge and power to those who are sick.
- A nation without prisons, because the selfish are banished and the needy have all their needs met—even people to spend time with them.
- It is easy to mistake Jesus’ purpose
Jesus’ ultimate purpose is to establish a kingdom of generosity and mercy and love. We can so easily lose the game, because we never understood the ultimate goal of the game.
Suppose that Monopoly had a special rule, that anyone who went broke during the game would instantly receive all the money from the current winner. Those who played Monopoly normally would end up losing the game, because they would think the purpose was to get more money, when really they’d progress better if they had less money.
That’s how most people play Christianity—a game only roughly based on Jesus, but with a different purpose in mind. Some people play the game Christianity as if those who believe the right things win. Some people play the game as if those who go to the right church win. Some people play as if they can obey the right laws, then they win. Some actually play as if they could be successful in this life, they will win the game. Others as if they have enough faith, they will win.
But Jesus… and the rest of the Bible, interestingly enough… say that God judges only on deeds, not on religious ritual or even faith. And the kind of deeds he judges on aren’t this or that law, but actions of mercy and generosity, especially to those in need. The final rule of the game of Jesus is those who display the quality of mercy, compassion and generosity to the needy are those who win. No one else does.
- So anyone who is generous only to those who are not in need, they didn’t give to Jesus, so they lose.
- Those who judge those in need, for whatever reason, they judged Jesus, so they lose.
- Those who ignore the needy because they have better things to do, they ignored Jesus, so they lose.
- Those who spend days studying the scriptures, teaching them, but fails to help the poor, they failed Jesus, so they lose.
- Those who praise God day in and day out, but can’t find time for the needy, they didn’t have time for Jesus so they lose.
- Those who give everything to a church who somehow fails to give to the poor, they failed to give to Jesus, so they lose.
- Those who have suffered all their lives and kept everything they had to themselves so they could survive, they kept everything from Jesus so they lose.
- Those who used their smarts and energy to build up a kingdom for themselves and those who were smart and strong enough to work with him, and never needed anything—they lose.
The only ones who win are the generous.
No matter what religion, if they used their religion to learn to be more giving to those in need, they win.
No matter what theology, if they use their theology to be more generous to the poor, they win.
No matter whether rich or poor, if they surrendered all they had to those who had less than they, they win.
Be a winner. Use what you have been given to help those in need.
I have a number of friends who are activists for various causes. And I love the causes. We are in a water crisis when corporations sell water back to those in drought. Black men are being attacked by U.S. society. Indigenous peoples have always been oppressed and attacked. We live in an age of information and openness, and the realities of racism and sexism in our society are finally being revealed and we are speaking out and taking action.
My plea today, however, that no matter how serious and important your key issues are, you should also be talking about homelessness, and standing with the homeless community. Again, I’m not saying your issue isn’t essential. It’s just that the homeless are the focus of abuse of today’s American society.
I’m going to keep this short, so let me just give you a few statistics.
- The homeless are seen as worse than any other social group
Sociologists have studied the reaction of different social groups to American minds, using an MRI. They have determined that we have a “disgust” response in our brain to certain social groups, including welfare moms, undocumented immigrants and Arabs. But the social group with the strongest and most pervasive negative automatic response is the homeless. Dr. Susan Fiske says that the homeless are considered “inhuman garbage piles”.
The homeless are constantly feared, distrusted and the cause of anger of the far majority of housed people. Cities criminalize the very existence of the homeless, disallowing them to sleep, receive food or finances, and they arrest them for having bedding. This is due to the overwhelming response of the housed who, without cause, blame the homeless for the ills of their society.
- The homeless are life-threatened than any other group
The average life span of an American is almost 79 years old. The average lifespan of a homeless American is 48 years old, 36 percent lower than other citizens. This is a result of stress and trauma, more than anything else. 90 percent of all homeless men suffer from PTSD or other stress disorder. 100 percent of all homeless women suffer from PTSD.
Although most people consider this the fault of the homeless, it is not. Most of the homeless find themselves on the street through no fault of their own, due to job loss or no cause eviction. They are thrust into an impossible economic predicament and then treated like criminals, and due to the stress and poor health conditions, they die young.
- The homeless are severely attacked
About 64 percent of all women are assaulted in their lifetime. About 92 percent of all homeless women are assaulted. All kinds of homeless suffer attacks, and the number of attacks have risen 23 percent in the last few years.
Although the actual numbers seem small, this is because very few attacks on the homeless are reported, because there is such a distrust between the homeless and the police. If they report a crime, they believe that they will be accused of something.
- The homeless can’t hide
The majority of citizens can feel a certain amount of security from the oppression of society if they go into their home and lock the door. The homeless don’t have that luxury. Even those who live in cars or tents are just as vulnerable their shelter as they are outside of it. They are sometimes dragged out of their shelter, only to have it taken from them, because their shelter is not seen to be their possession or to be under the protection of the fifth amendment.
- Truth brings freedom
We can change this, if we all work on it together. The primary source of the suffering of the homeless is the false idea that all the homeless are criminals or immoral. There are two ways that effectively change this point of view. The first is spending time working on a project with the homeless, for then the homeless are seen as equals. The other is if a loud minority continue to speak of the humanity of the homeless. Not just their pitiable state (like I did here), but about their common humanity with us, the shared citizenship, the joy of life, their hope for the future.
- Every Tragedy is Made Worse by Homelessness
Black men live in oppression. That oppression is made worse by homelessness. Women’s rights should be upheld– but women on the streets have no rights even to survive. LGBT rights are worse when they have no home to protect them. Sex slaves are more frequently raped and suffer when they have no safe home to go to. Poor children find it more difficult to make it to school when they are homeless. For every cause, homelessness is the worse tragedy behind every cause.
Please, alongside your important issues, please speak about the homeless. You can help give them the humanity they lack.