As I reflect on an experience I had today – one that impacted me greatly – I realize that it is time for me to resurrect my blog. It has been four months since I started full-time parish ministry and I am finally settling in, establishing a routine, and may now have a little more time to write and reflect. Of course, I make no promises about the frequency or regularity of such posts, but I am compelled to share today’s experience.
The title of my sermon this morning was “Practice What You Preach” based on Matthew 23: 1 – 12. In the two preceding chapters, after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his authority is questioned and the religious leaders engage him in conversation in an attempt to test and trick him. Jesus handles their questions competently, then in chapter 23, turns and addresses the crowds. He tells them that they should listen to the teachings of the scribes and the Pharisees, but not act like them because they do not practice what they teach. He then outlines the ways in which their actions are hypocritical. The implications are clear – our words and actions must be aligned; we must practice what we preach.
After church today, I made a quick trip to the store to pick up a few items. With my sermon still fresh on my mind, I was confronted with a situation that tested whether my actions matched my words. When I turned my car into the store parking lot, I saw a scruffy man holding a sign that read “Homeless. Any little bit will help.” As I parked my car, I heard an audible voice say, “So Robin, you just preached about this. What are you going to do? ARE you going to practice what you preach?” I sat in the still silence of my car for a few moments, then grabbed my wallet to see how much cash I had available. I decided on an amount, folded the bills and stepped out of my car. I approached the man and quietly handed him the money, and then, almost as an afterthought said, “God bless you.” I entered the store, gathered the necessary items and paid for them. As I exited the store, the man looked at me and said “thank you.” I smiled, said “you’re welcome” and proceeded to my car. As I started the ignition, the audible voice I had heard earlier boomed at me, “You hypocrite. You are just like the scribes and Pharisees.” The cash I had given the man was not going to change his situation. It might help him buy some groceries or put gas in his car, but it would have no long-term effect. I sat again in the still silence of my car for a moment, then got out and approached the man again. He looked at me with curiosity and tightly gripped the money I had given him. I wondered if he thought I was going to ask for it back. I asked in a quiet tone, “Would you be willing to tell me your name?” He said his name was Joe and for the next several minutes, he shared his story with me. He told me how he had lost his job and was subsequently evicted from his apartment. He talked about the difficulties of looking for a job with no permanent address to claim and no place to really get clean. I didn’t say much. Nothing I could have said would have really helped, but I just listened. He told me about his fiancée, Lucy, and that she was expecting a check soon and they hoped it would help them secure an inexpensive apartment. I told him I was sorry for all he had been through and together we had a few moments of sacred silence. With tears in his eyes, he then said, “Thank you for talking to me and caring enough to ask my name.” I told him I would pray for him, which, quite honestly felt very trite to me, but I had no other words to say. He again said “thank you,” and I turned and walked away as my own tears began to flow.
I drove home thinking about Joe and Lucy, praying for them and the millions of others who are homeless … and praying for myself, asking forgiveness for my hypocrisy and the times when my words and actions are not aligned. There are no quick fixes for the systemic complexities of homelessness, but there is power in listening to another’s story.
Until next time, peace …