Our Pastor Speaks of Faithful Response to Homelessness
“Our Pastor Speaks of Faithful Response to Homelessness”
Barbara Blaisdell – Associated Ministries – Quarterly Meeting on Homelessness
September 21, 2017
To Speak for Those Who Have No Voice
31The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
2No, my son! No, son of my womb!
No, son of my vows!
3Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.
4It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to desire strong drink;
5or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed,
and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
6Give strong drink to one who is perishing,
and wine to those in bitter distress;
7let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
8Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
9Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Thank you, Valerie and Mike for this opportunity. Today’s information has been overwhelming, hasn’t it? It’s tempting to hide our heads in the sand and hope someone else will take care of it. But for people like us, that just won’t do. I feel a bit awkward speaking on this subject when so many in this room know so much more than I do and so many are doing more than I am. But maybe the most helpful thing I can do this afternoon, is to remind you of a story about a mother. It’s an ancient story but her advice for her son could be from almost any mother to any young person. She warns him not to waste his life on addiction,
- Not on sexual addiction,
- Not on substance abuse,
- advice we might predict.
But then she gives the reason for her advice which is much less predictable. Why not just party down? Because, his mother says, over-indulgence will lead us to pervert the rights of the afflicted. Instead of self-indulgence, she tells her child, “speak out for those who have no voice, to speak out for the afflicted, the poor, the needy.”
The son’s name was Lemuel. We know his name but we don’t know who he is. Some scholars think he may have been an ancient ruler in northern Arabia. But then, when you read the text, you know he could be one of the privileged and powerful anywhere.
Whoever he was, he was apparently having a lot of fun with wine and women and worldly ways. And his mother gave him some straight talk, some very straight talk, some “this-is-your mother-talking-and-you-had-better-listen” kind of talk. And his eyes probably rolled and then glazed over— but he did not forget her words. In fact, he wrote them down. Now maybe she was standing over him saying, “You write this down–twenty times over, you sit and write this down!” But, being a mother myself, I hope that Lemuel wrote them down of his own accord because he came to see the wisdom of her words.
Many of you will recognize that this story comes from what my faith tradition calls the book of Proverbs, a collection of writings known and quoted by scholars of many faiths. While this teaching transcends any one faith, in this country, we respect those who have no faith equally with those who do. By quoting this passage I am not trying to impose my faith’s norms onto everyone. But may I say that in our country today, many, too many are ready to easily quote “what the Bible says.” And “what the Bible says” about generously caring for the immigrant or stranger, the poor and oppressed far outweighs warnings about “wine, women and worldly ways.” I’d also point out, particularly to public servants that claim a “Biblical” faith, this teaching is not aimed solely or even primarily at clergy or congregations of any faith. This teaching is aimed at public officials who also would claim faith.
To be a faithful believer in God, whatever one’s vocation is to be an advocate for those who are needy, to speak for those who have no voice:
- to advocate for the ill and against those who would isolate and persecute them;
- to advocate for the fatherless, the motherless, the homeless, the helpless and against those who would name them criminals for their situation;
- to advocate for the immigrant or stranger and against those who
- And we are called to do more than speak: to put our money where our mouth is; to put our feet and hands in the same place our prayers are.
That is NOT to say that the details are easy. And, having been in urban ministry for thirty years, I am well aware that faithful people trying to help can do more harm than good.
We need to focus our work on what we know best, making connections between people and building relationships out of the understanding that all people are God’s own beloved. And we need to cooperate where we don’t know best which is why we’re so hopeful about this new initiative of Associated Ministries. We need this partnership. We must speak and act and respond for those who have no voice.