Serving the community has been the theme of my sermons for this quarter. I am using “community” in a geographical manner. I am urging the church to serve the people that comprise our town. We are what one writer calls a “rurban” town. We are not rural but we are not urban either. But we are fairly eclectic group of people. In that line of thought, a comment from a friend reminded me that I overlooked a key lesson that needs to be conveyed during this series of sermons.
My friend directs a shelter for the homeless in her community. Under her capable direction, the shelter is doing some innovative things for the homeless population they serve. It’s not an easy job. There are no simple answers to homelessness. There are layers upon layers of concerns to address.
Earlier this week she received a call from a man that lives in their community. During the course of the interchange he repeatedly made reference to the “bums in their community.” His comment was striking to me on two levels.
First of all, it’s easy to refer to various groups of people in a derogatory way if you have never interacted with them. If you choose to live your life in a small world, one of the consequences is that you will have a skewed and inaccurate view of all kinds of people. I have spent a fair amount of time with homeless people over the years in a number of different contexts. Each of their stories are unique. I always walk away from those encounters reminded that every single one of those people were created in God’s image. The consequence of that is fact is: they are deserving of the same respect I would demonstrate to any other person.
Secondly, I failed to share with the church during this sermon series that they will encounter people that don’t want serve the most vulnerable in our community. There are people that don’t care if some of the children attending our public schools go hungry over the weekends. (That is an area that our church has committed to help with.) And there are people living in the community we are trying to serve that don’t care if an elderly lady gets her electricity turned off. Sometimes we are able to help such individuals on an emergency basis. There are people who see the effort to provide an annual summer camp for abused and neglected children as a total waste of time and resources. And there are people that view those that are homeless as “bums.”
The man’s comment was a reality check. There are people out there that just don’t care. There are individuals that don’t respond well to reason. And there are the ignorant among us that paint entire groups of people with the same brush.
How did my friend deal with the guy that inquired about the “bums” that the shelter she directs serve? She finally had to end their conversation. He was beyond reason. I suspect the conversation went longer than I would have allowed it to go. And I know for a fact she was nicer than I would have been. A warning for those that choose to serve their community: there are unreasonable, selfish, and bigoted people out there. You will encounter them. There is no doubt about that. Be reminded: you are serving people that have been created in God’s image. That’s their primary designation. It really doesn’t matter what anyone else calls them.