Archive for the 'Least of These' Category

Doing Jesus’ Laundry

“…that was me—you did it to me.” Jesus,Matthew 25:40 MSG

“…Let all the brothers [and sisters] preach by their deeds.” Francis of Assisi

Fifteen-year-old Caroline Gowan had completed all the requirements for her Girl Scout Gold Award except her community service project. (The Girl Scout Gold award is roughly equivalent to a Boy Scout Eagle badge). Community service came naturally to Caroline and her mother Michelle. For example, they regularly donated some of their home-made laundry detergent to their church’s food pantry. Clients welcomed the detergent because doing laundry at a laundromat was often the only available option–and an expensive one. (Take a moment to go stand by your washer and dryer and thank God for the resources to have your own laundry facilities.)

Caroline thought and prayed about those folks and their struggle just to have clean clothes. Soon an idea took shape. She arranged to use Chuck Mollenkopf’s “Git R Dun” laundromat the second Friday afternoon of each month. She put flyers announcing “Loads of Love” in local convenience stores and in every bag of food from the food bank. Her church, Bonaire United Methodist Church, began supporting “Loads of Love” with donations, volunteers, and additional publicity. On the second Friday in June Caroline and her crew used $115 in quarters to do 30 “Loads of Love”. In July they did 88 loads for $266.50.

Shakika Sneed is a single parent who’s discovered this ministry. “I spend anywhere from $20 to $30 washing clothes,” she says, “and for it to be free is a tremendous blessing to me because it means that money can go on to another bill that I have.”Jesus Laundry Each month church and community volunteers come to visit with those who are doing laundry. Some bring refreshments. Musicians play and sing.  Often a spontaneous singalong erupts. Members of Caroline’s scout troop and the church youth group entertain children with games, bubbles, and sidewalk chalk. “I was just expecting (clients) to be playing on their phone,” Caroline says, “but they really do get into the music. They come in with dirty laundry and leave with a renewed spirit and clean clothes…I feel like not only am I doing something for the people around me and that I am doing something for people I don’t even know, but that I’m doing something for the Lord. I am doing Jesus’ laundry!”

Caroline had heard the story in Matthew 25:31-46 dozens of times at church. But Loads of Love brought it to life! In this story Jesus describes a Final Judgment. People are separated into two groups. The difference is their treatment of the Son of Man (Jesus) whom none of them recognized,“When did we see you…?” “I was hungry…thirsty…sick…in prison…”  “…as you did it [or failed to do it] to the least of these…you did it to me.”

OMG Caroline! You aren’t serving Shakika, John, or Betty on laundry day. You’re serving Jesus! You’ve followed him far enough to have your eyes opened wide. Now you see him clearly in “the least of these”. You and all the folks at “Loads of Love” join a long line of servant disciples with “eyes to see” the image of God in unexpected places and faces. Mother Teresa ministered to the poorest of the poor in India. She described her experience as meeting Jesus in his “most distressing disguise”. As Caroline and others serve in “Loads of Love”, their spiritual vision grows sharper. With increasing clarity they see Jesus in his sometmes “distressing” disguise as an ordinary human being.

Caroline and all who serve alongside her stand in the tradition of St. Francis. He was a spoiled rich kid who finally got over himself and decided to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. He chose a life of simplicity, humility, and poverty. Priests who join the Franciscan Order, from the 14th century to the 21st, embrace that same lifestyle. You’ve probably heard that Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.“ Scholars today doubt that those are his exact words, but they express the spirit of his ministry. Most agree that Francis told the Franciscan brothers “…Let all the brothers [and sisters] preach by their deeds.”

A couple of years ago the newly-elected pope chose Francis as his official name. This new pope was a Franciscan who took his simple lifestyle seriously no matter how high he rose in the church hierarchy. Pope Francis continues to stay true to his Franciscan vows of poverty and simplicity and to stay in touch with “the least of these”. He knows they help us see Jesus in his “most distressing disguise”. You’d think a guy who’d been chosen for the highest office in the Christian world wouldn’t be doing anybody’s laundry. But whenever he gets the chance, Francis grabs his box of detergent and his roll of quarters, heads for the nearest laundromat, and starts doing Jesus’ laundry.

Pope Francis has been consistent, insistent, persistent, some would even say obnoxious as he advocates for the poor. We more affluent folks don’t always welcome that message. Nevertheless, more and more of us are listening. Francis earns the right to be heard one day at a time.He’s not perfect any more than you and I are. But his Christian life is more consistent than most folks I know, including me. His wordless preaching  and his  words carry the same message.

I could make a good old-fashioned three-point sermon out of Francis’ “wordless preaching”:

  1. If nobody seems to be listening or paying attention to our Christian talk, try talking less (even about Jesus) and more action to recognize and serving Jesus in his various “disguises” within our reach.
  2. Care less about being “relevant” and “trendy”.  Care much more about being as faithfully countercultural as Francis, Jesus, and countless others!
  3. Resist the seduction of church busy work and “good deeds”. They make us feel better but don’t really change the world. Spend the time and energy you used to waste on busy work doing Jesus’ laundry!

 

francis world-god
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter–Right Before Our Eyes!

Recently we learned of the sudden illness and death of a good friend. She was the organist in the church I served immediately before retirement. Her husband is also a good friend. Marti’s death was the third significant loss for that congregation in a relatively short period. First was the announcement of the pastor’s imminent reassignment (after four years) to another church; the second was the not-unexpected death of a long-time church member whose daughter is also a long-time active member.

I emailed Pastor Jen to encourage her as she made her way through this difficult period, and to let her know my wife and I would attend the memorial service that would be held the afternoon of Palm Sunday.  “It’s a good thing Easter’s coming,” I commented, “because we really need it.”

Dianna and I arrived home early last week to find Spring enthusiastically springing forth in our yard. From a distance we saw our huge Palo Verde tree gloriously shouting “YELLOW!” . When we got closer, we saw that the green-leafed Oleanders had turned pink and white. These signs of new life proclaimed “…the Word of Life…right before our eyes…” (1 John 1:2 MSG)PART_1428255890142_20150405_101636

Early Easter morning our dog Rufus  woke me for his daily walk. Along the way I wondered how our neighbors would spend the day. A  few houses had more cars than normal, likely a sign of company. But we didn’t meet any of the humans or dogs we usually see. Had those humans overruled their dogs? Gone to a Sunrise service? Stayed home to fix Easter brunch? Traveled to be with family? Like that first Easter, it was a very quiet morning.

As Rufus and I turned toward home (and the rising sun), I found myself reflecting on people who really need Easter this year.  I thought of those whose burden of grief included multiple losses–our friends in that congregation; others whom we knew in other places; countless others whose names I don’t know—but God does, thank God! I thought of victims of disaster and violence whose stories fill the headlines—for a little while.  I thought also of others who are footnotes that go mostly unread and unnoticed.

I thought also of people already at work that early Easter morning. Las Vegas’ 24/7/365 culture encourages both locals and tourists to believe we should be able to eat, shop, gamble, be entertained, pampered, transported, whateverwhenever. The good news is that people are working, especially as economic recovery continues. But much of this work is in demanding, draining, dead-end jobs. Many of those jobs come with long hours and (for two-earner households) conflicting schedules that play havoc with family life, sleep, and any semblance of normality. But it’s the best they can do. If they complain, they’ll be gone and the next interchangeable human part will take their place.

“It’s a good thing Easter’s coming, because we really need it.” Our hyper-connected world keeps us (over)-informed of our brokenness—broken people, broken lives, broken minds, bodies and spirits; broken rules, relationships, systems, and covenants; broken communities that don’t know where healing begins; a broken planetary ecosystem that may already be terminal. If Easter’s coming to all these broken places, let it come soon!

Which brings up the role you and I play in redeeming our world. Now that Easter’s come, HOW DOES THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH KNOW? If we’ve truly been raised up to a new way of living (as our pastors told us yesterday), CAN ANYONE TELL THE DIFFERENCE? If we’re “Easter People” and “Every Morning Is Easter Morning“ as the song says, HOW IS THAT REVOLUTIONARY NEWNESS OVERFLOWING OUR OWN LIVES TO TRANSFORM THE WORLD WITHIN OUR REACH? How does the Good News of the death of Death (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 MSG) become as in-your-face inescapably real as our Palo Verde tree brilliantly proclaiming “…the Word of Life…”?

The Good News of Easter in your life and mine might look like:

  • Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9) Instead of the polarized yelling-past-each-other that has become the norm, let us learn and model a different style of political and religious conversation. Let us honor the other, with whom we disagree so intensely, as a child of God and thus our brother or sister. Let us listen more deeply and speak less divisively.
  • The earliest church got in trouble with the Roman government because it took such good care of “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40, 45). Let us offer the same revolutionary care to those in our own communities who are “hungry…thirsty…homeless…shivering…sick..in prison”. (Matthew 25:35-36 MSG)
  • The earliest Christians soon found themselves breaking well-established boundaries as the Good News of Jesus spread from Jewish society to the Gentile world. (Cf. Acts 10:1-11:18)Let us identify and lovingly but firmly break unjust (unholy) boundaries in our world that separate people from God and each other.
  • Early Christians understood idolatry with laser clarity. (An idol is whatever takes first place in your life; anything or anyone you award that absolute first priority that belongs only to God.)The Father of Jesus Christ is the only true and living God. All other gods were/are inferior and completely powerless. New believers coming out of various pagan backgrounds were taught clearly that they had to choose between the one God of Christian faith and the impotent idols of their former life. When Roman emperors began asserting claims of divinity and demanding the loyalty oath “Caesar is Lord!” followers of Jesus responded “Jesus is Lord!” The two statements are mutually exclusive. That profession of faith cost countless Christians their lives. Let us be laser-clear about the rampant idolatry, celebrity worship, and consumerism in our culture. (Sounds like fuel for a future post!)

Palo Verde yellow is our 2-year-old granddaughter’s favorite color—at least this week. What if we made Palo Verde/ “…Word of Life…” yellow our favorite color. Let it call us to live bright, colorful new lives. Our neighbors who need Easter so badly just may begin to discover along with us “the Word of Life…right before our eyes.”

Recognize Anybody?

?????????????????????????????????? 

Recently my wife and I spent a week in a large RV Park/campground just south of San Diego, CA. Officially we went to watch our grandson play in a baseball tournament. Truthfully, summer in San Diego is The Promised Land for summer-weary Arizonans. Any excuse will do! It was our first trip in our new-to-us travel trailer. The “RV lifestyle” had a fairly steep learning curve at first. But the closest we came to a major crisis was a brand-new water hose that burst our second day out.

A fence separated the park from the river that ran along one side of the park. During the day a gate allowed campers access to the river bank. It was a popular place to run or walk, with or without a dog. Carson (by his own account the fiercest, bravest 17-lb. Shih Tzu on the planet) and I walked the bank daily. We met both two-legged and four-legged neighbors from the park. We also met  folks for whom that river bank was their freeway. While we vacationers walked or jogged along, they pushed their shopping carts and rode their bicycles along the bank to get to work and do whatever it took to survive. Under the bridge we saw evidence that some of our neighbors slept there regularly.

That campground accommodated everything from tents to sophisticated RVs worth as much as our house. The total value of the rolling stock in that large park was well into the millions. A few campers were long-term park residents working far from home in construction or other jobs. But most of us (in July in San Diego) were “on vacation”. We had comfortable, spacious homes awaiting our return. Our camping “equipment” represented substantial “discretionary spending”. Yet literally within a stone’s throw were neighbors whose worldly possessions fit in the shopping cart they pushed everywhere. They biked to work out of necessity, not the pursuit of fitness or an environmentalist ethic. They slept under the bridge at night out of necessity, not because they enjoyed “camping”.

The stark contrast has stayed with me. What’s wrong with this picture is not merely that some of us have more than others. Life will always be like that. What bothers me is a nagging question: Did the folks in in the campground recognize their neighbors? If so, what did do about the gap between our abundance and their need? I said a silent prayer for the guy who went past on his bike and the woman (and children) pushing the shopping cart; smiled and waved when I saw the same person at the same time each day. Since I’m home, I’m feeling nudged to address this issue I can’t even name in a more substantial way than just blogging about it. But I’m convinced that lasting change will come when many of us recognize the other person as a person. He/she is a human being just as we are. Therefore we are family. We are neighbors with responsibility for each other. Once someone asked  Jesus,, “Who is my neighbor?” His answer was, in effect, “Who isn/t?” (Read the story in Luke 10:25-37.)

Another time Jesus told a story about a rich man who saw a poor on his doorstep–but never recognized his brother:

“There was once a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped at his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.” (Luke 16:19-21 MSG)

For weeks, months, perhaps years, that rich man stepped over Lazarus every time he left his house. Maybe he used another door so he didn’t have to pass that disgusting sight.  Or maybe he just developed a blind spot. Lazarus was so desperately poor and disease-ridden, the rich man thought to himself, that he wasn’t merely at the bottom of God’s list. Lazarus had been deleted from God’s list! The rich man may well have prayed every time he stepped around Lazarus, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like this miserable wretch.”

Eventually both men died. Lazarus wound up in the lap of Abraham (heaven). The rich man found himself “in hell and torment”(16:23). When he complained, the response was, “You enjoyed your life and ignored that poor soul on your doorstep. You didn’t recognize your brother in need, your neighbor. Now the tables have turned. How does it feel being as anonymous and unrecognizable as Lazarus was to you?”

Imagine Jesus walking the river bank with us. After we’ve passed a few folks, he asks us, “Recognize anybody? That guy on the bike? That woman with the cart? Those folks sleeping under the bridge?”  “No, Master,” we reply. “Never seen them before.” I hear Jesus sigh with disappointment. Then he takes a deep breath and retells another one of his stories(Matthew 25:31-46) . We obviously didn’t get it before. At the day of judgment folks are lined up and sorted into two groups. The difference between the two groups? How they treated the most vulnerable people within their reach: “…as you did it (or not) to one of the least of these…members of my family, you did it to me.” ( Matthew 25:40)

Look more deeply at the folks you meet on the street today. “Recognize anybody?” Your brother, your sister? You’ll soon discover a family resemblance with the most unlikely folks.If you dare, let Jesus’ story play in the background: “…as you did it to one of the least of these members of my family, you did it to me.”


Categories