Every time I pull into one of the clearly marked CLERGY PARKING signs at either of our two hospitals, I grimace. I can hear Jesus adding to his list of horrific behaviors exhibited by the equally horrific religion scholars “the love to park in designated parking spaces.” Can’t I hunt for parking like everyone else, right?
The truth is, by designating parking spaces for clergy the hospitals are acknowledging that clergy are a part of the healing team—that they want us there a LOT—that we actually are there a LOT. In a crisis, they do not want us to spend an hour looking for a parking space. On the other hand, in a crisis, do we want anyone spending an hour looking for a parking space? However, to THAT person who is desperate for a parking space, the clergy space looks, well, special. And there are days where I feel, well, special--and special isn’t the goal.
Every other year I participate in what’s called BOUNDARY training. It’s required by my profession. I must constantly reflect on how I use my power. You see, as a clergy person, I have power. I am invited into your personal life, into the life of your family members including your children, and into the life of the community where I have more access to people. The question is “What motivates clergy as a professional group? Is it privilege and status, or is it service?”
Of course, Jesus is using the professional clergy to throw the conversation WIDE. Jesus is asking every human being to reflect on their own personal power, and every congregation to reflect on their corporate power.
“Power,” you might ask, “We have power? “ I feel so small”, you might be thinking, or “We feel so poor.” However, every person and every group has resources. Some resources are internal qualities—wisdom, peace, joy, kindness. Some resources are external—material possessions including money and space, food and clothing, talents and, well, time. Some resources are quiet, such as the ability to listen, and some resources are loud, such as a large, up-to-date facility.
According to Jesus, it’s what we DO with what we’ve got that matters. Not what we stand FOR, but who we stand WITH; not what we think about Jesus, but that we DO JESUS ourselves. “Let God tell YOU what to do,” says Jesus. “Listen, and do.”
This past week two AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers brought faith communities and service providers together at an event called Faith Engagement; faith engaging the community. The purpose was to find solutions for Billings’ poorest and most desperate citizens—our neighbors. The service providers present---Tumbleweed, Montana Legal Services Association, HRDC, Billings Food Bank, to name but a few—were SO surprised by the turnout. So were the clergy and other leaders from the over one hundred churches and synagogues that dot the Billings landscape. And why were we there? We were all there because we love our neighbors—all of them—and have a huge heart for the poor.
The church leaders heard from the service organizations that they couldn’t exist without the support they received from the churches in our area. “Oh how we love the surprise gifts of hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars,” we heard. We also heard that money was just one part of the need—these service organizations, some of which the church created in Billings, are desperate for volunteers. For example, Friendship House needs persons to cook and serve meals. The Crisis Center is thankful for a volunteer who loves to write, and spent time with the clients at the Crisis Center helping them write their story—which helps those persons struggling with mental illness to heal. “Spend a day with us at the Crisis Center,” she said to the leaders present, and through whom she wanted to reach the worshippers in the sanctuaries, “And see what we do and who we love—and where you might make a difference.”
Another service director said, “You know, you don’t have to leave Billings to make a difference. You and your youth group can make a difference HERE. Come and see us! We’ll teach you how to serve and love the poor. You know, they are our friends.” Talk about job shadowing!
In Matthew’s gospel we hear Jesus says, “Be a servant.” By servant he means “Live to meet the needs of others--the least of these—live to bring honor to the poor.” This isn’t one of many things Christians are called to do; it’s the main thing. We’ve got to keep bringing honor to the poor FIRST and FOREMOST in our hearts and mind—which means we are constantly reorganizing our life together to fee up resources. That’s what Jesus did. He owned little so others could own much.
This is our life together, too. We are called to own little so others can own much. Do you remember Jesus’ job description? We need to, because his job description is our job description. It’s found in Luke 4:8: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Every time I read this I think “Which part of this job description can we take on as a church—and which part of this job description can I take on as an individual?” At the end of the day Jesus wants to know what we DID and what I DID, not what we believe about Jesus or what I believe about Jesus. It’s not good enough to worship God’s kindness, we’ve got to BE God’s kindness. (A nod here to Mother Teresa.)
Early on in Tuesday’s presentation at the Faith Engagement seminar the director of Tumbleweed told this story: “We had six kids sleeping outside when it was minus 20 degrees. One was sleeping in a cave, and one had a plan of killing himself.” To help the homeless teens the director went on the Big J radio show and Big J invited her to meet his pastor Rev. Kalen Brown at City Church. Brown asked the director what she needed. “I need a house where youth can stay,” she told him. He found her one. “Literally that saved the day,” she told us.
Guess what? Tumbleweed needs another house. And the Montana Rescue Mission needs mens socks and underwear and Family Promise needs donations of diapers. The Crisis Center needs a larger facility and more volunteers. Friendship House is enlarging their facility, but need more volunteers. The need goes on. Jesus wants to know why you and I are Christians, and why we are a church. Are we using our power, our resources to serve people—or are we turning our resources in ourselves. And if the answer is that we are turning our resources in our selves, how did that happen—and what are we going to do to get back on track—the servant track—the disciples of Jesus track?
Prayer: Merciful God, May your compassion for the least of these become possible IN US. Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Central Christian Church in Billings on November 2nd.)