Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sermon for June 17, 2007

Lessons from the Saints: Solanus Casey
Psalm 84

A bizarre criminal odyssey began at a 7-Eleven store in Lake City when police say a man wielding a pair of scissors and claiming to be Jesus tried to rob a garbage truck. It ended a short time later in front of the Bank of America Tower in downtown Seattle with the man’s arrest. Police say that the 25-year-old Seattle man couldn’t get the garbage truck he initially had tried to rob into gear. So the suspect car jacked a pickup truck, then led patrol officers on a short chase. When I read this story, I thought of the love of Jesus. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? After all, what does a homeless man who steals garbage have to do with the Savior of the world? Bear with me as I tell you another story:

David Harris speaks softly and eloquently, each word chosen with the care of a true poet. This beautiful voice does not fit the rest of the picture. His face is dark and weathered with carefully guarded eyes. His large glasses are held together with a safety pin. An oversized jacket covers multiple layers of sweaters and shirts. More telling is the defeated hunch in his shoulders, his hesitance to make eye contact. David’s intelligence and kindness are never realized by most of the world because he is homeless. David grew up in a middle class home in Maryland, complete with middle-class American values. He would go to work in DC every day, uncomfortably passing by homeless people on his way to work. David eventually had a stroke that left him unable to speak for a while. Since he had no health insurance, the enormous medical bills were too much for him to pay. He decided to move to the streets of D.C. with the city’s 117,000 other homeless people. Even if he got two 40-hour/week minimum wage jobs, David probably would not have enough money to afford housing in D.C. and pay for insurance. He told me about the people who helped him along the way, from a homeless woman he used to look down on, to a caring social worker at a shelter. David was a poet in his previous life in the working world. He is writing again. Listen to one of his poems:
This drunken bum
Looked into my eyes
Into a place inside me …
No words passed between us,
Only a steely glare.
Just five words burned
Along the edges of my mind:
“I am not like you.”

Can we ever understand people like David as God’s children instead of as problems to society? Can a homeless man teach us about the love of Christ.

There are a lot of titles for Jesus in Scripture, but there is one that doesn’t get mentioned much. Jesus was a homeless garbage man. Jesus himself said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) It was Jesus who took the sins of the world upon himself as he was crucified near the city garbage dump.

When we look to see the face of Christ in those around us, we begin to see that God does not just reach out to the privileged. In Christ, God has dared to dwell with the “rubbish” of society. Quiet often we, as children of God, seem to separate ourselves from each other by determining some as garbage and others as not. Some here today may even think of themselves as worthless garbage. Are you ready for some fabulous news? God is the ultimate “garbage” collector! God likes the job so much that we are invited to join along. Those who believe themselves to be unworthy of God’s love and grace belong in the welcoming embrace of God’s of arms. We are called to challenge those who are determined to set barriers between people. We confront those who want to keep grace and love away from certain kinds until they change or prove they are worthy of God’s amazing love.

Meeting David Harris reminded me that there are times when we all feel alienated. We all have times when we realize that our lives are overflowing with emotional trash. Sometimes we are emotionally and spiritually separated from those whom we love. We’ve all felt shame over events of the past and done things to deflect the gaze of God to avoid the embarrassment of our poor choices. At one time or another, we feel like people don’t understand us. We’ve felt rejected, powerless, and unjustly criticized. When we’ve wanted someone to reach out to us in love and concern, we’ve felt that all we’ve gotten cold shoulders, icy stares, and condemning criticism. As difficult as this all can be, it can be a positive condition. As Christians, we remember that this world is not our final home. The Bible refers to God’s people in many ways: strangers in the world … pilgrims … exiles. We journey through this world to find our home in God. Like David Harris, we are homeless as far as the world is concerned.

The good news is that we are homeless, but we have a home. Let me tell you about one of my heroes of the faith. His name was Barney, but the people of Detroit knew him by the name he took when he joined a monastery: Solanus Casey. When he joined the priesthood in 1904, his knowledge of theology was judged to be too week. Church officials didn’t think he had what it took to be a full priest. Officials realized he had high moral character, though, so they ordained him as so that he could perform duties in a monastery. Even though he was a priest, Solanus Casey was never allowed to preach or hear confessions. After seminary, he took a job as a porter, first in NYC and then in Detroit. That means his job was to open the door of the monastery to visitors. Guests to the monastery soon realized that Solanus Casey was the best person to visit. People waited in lines just to speak to Father Solanus. He shared in their concerns and worries. He prayed for them, and inspired them, and spread the message of God’s love. All could sense his wisdom and his special gift of prayer. Father Solanus spent his entire ministry at the front door of the church.

This Summer marks the 50th anniversary of his death. On July 31, 1957, Father Solanus died in Detroit. The whole city seemed to mourn his passing. His funeral Mass was celebrated in the chapel of St. Bonaventure Monastery where Father Solanus had lived for some 20 years. The chapel was packed. The streets outside were closed to traffic and a spillover crowd jammed the sidewalks and streets in front of the monastery. As mourners gathered, people realized that he never complained about his lowly position at the monastery or his treatment from church officials. Throughout his life, Father Solanus kept extending God’s welcome, showing generosity, and being God’s doorkeeper.

Solanus Casey and David Harris remind me of the words of Psalm 84. We all have a home in the presence of God. Listen to where to psalmist has found his home:
· Verse 1–how lovely is your dwelling place. My soul faints the courts of the Lord.
· Verse 4–happy or blessed are those who live in God’s house.
· Verse 10–one day in God’s house is better than a thousand in any other place. I would rather be a doorkeeper at the gates of the Lord than live with the wicked.

Our home is in the presence of God. God sends us people homeless poets like David Harris to remind us that he all have times when we feel like restless wanderers without a home. God sends us humble doorkeepers like Solanus Casey to remind us that God always turns on the lights, throws the door open, and welcomes us into the warmth of God’s. Just ask, and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.

God sent Jesus, our homeless Savior, to remind us that God loves us so much that God sent the Son to live among us. He experienced our pain. He felt our shame. He died for our sins and failures, symbolically nailed to a cross in the town dump, surrounded by the evidence of wasted lives. Yes, it took a homeless garbage man to remind that God has a home prepared for us, if we would only accept this gift of grace.

As this week unfolds, may we be constantly reminded that no matter what happens, we have a home in God’s presence. That is where we belong. We have a God who takes the trash away from us and gives us a new start. We have a God who warmly welcomes us, even when we feel like we don’t belong anywhere. We can find a new joy in seeking God’s presence, instead of feeling alone. Remember, we are homeless, but never without a home.

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