January 31, 2005

In the Midst of Affluence, No Place to Sleep

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:23 pm

The sermon at my church yesterday was delivered by Karen Sisson, a seminary student and long-time member of the church. I found her sermon very prophetic, and in particular, her conversation with Marshall.

Marshall is a homeless man, and part of our church community. A few years ago, Marshall began appearing at our coffee hour after Sunday services. After our pastor and a few members of the congregation engaged with him, he began attending services, and his shopping cart became a common sight at our church. Marshall is clearly a troubled man, but I’m afraid I don’t know his story. However, I do know that he is a thoughtful student of the Bible, has a strong belief in God, and strong theological opinions.

At one point in her sermon yesterday, Karen recounted this story:

Last week, Marshall and I had an interesting conversation after the 8:30 service. I had been the assisting minister and, as he often does, he reminded me of the biblical teaching about women speaking in church. [Good-natured laughter from the congregation.] We began a conversation. I asked where he slept and how he was doing. We talked about our worship service and its style and the nature of this community and he made an interesting observation. “I’ve been coming here for a number of years,” he said “and nothing much has changed. I don’t see much progress. Everyone goes into worship and goes through the rituals, the spoken prayers (just like the Pharisees in the temple) and the Lord’s Supper, they listen to the sermons but things don’t change much, I don’t feel much progress.” “Look at the building,” he said. “There are people like me that need a place to sleep yet the building is empty all week. I’m a member of your community, but no one has offered me a place to sleep.” “You’re sitting here talking to me and you are a hypocrite.”

I wanted to respond that things are more complicated than that, but in the end, I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know quite how to respond, because there is a lot of truth in what Marshall told me. I’ve never offered him a place to stay or even offered to get him help of any kind. I’d like to think someone in the congregation has, in fact I’m sure someone has—but Marshall still has no place to sleep. The most striking part of the conversation is that Marshall identified himself as part of our community—this community of disciples.

Many of us as individuals are faithful to the work of God; Pastor Tony mentioned many of them in his annual report to the congregation. As I stand here I see many of you who I know give of yourselves in various ways, selflessly, tirelessly, never seeking acknowledgment or recognition. And this congregation has done wonderful things. But as a community, in Marshall’s eyes, we have some work to do—are we committed not just as individuals but as a community of faith?

We have provided help to Marshall at times. He was arrested recently, and his shopping cart, containing all of his worldly belongings, was left behind. A member of our congregation went out in the rain searching for Marshall’s cart, and pushed it back to our church, where it was waiting for Marshall upon his release. Also, I know our pastor has tried to help him take advantage of the resources for the homeless that are available to him.

But still, Marshall’s challenge to us stands. In the midst of affluence, Marshall, and many others like him, still have no place to sleep at night.

1 Comment

  1. I think the story of the congregation member that went out in the rain to get the cart is a story of purest grace. Offering someone the resources of a community is the good and right thing to do. But going out to protect what he himself has deemed important just because he has deemed it important, that’s real community. Yes, the bigger question stands. He still has no place to sleep, but I just wanted to point out the part of that story that grabbed me.

    Comment by Susan — February 2, 2005 @ 9:36 pm

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