Monday, November 9, 2009

What I Preached for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

Sermon for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week
Preached at Pacific Lutheran University Chapel, November 9, 2009

A reading from the book of Exodus.

But Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But Moses said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.”

Word of God, Word of Life:
Thanks be to God.

I picture Moses at the burning bush, alone.

He stands there, barefoot, and I imagine that his legs have turned to something roughly approaching the consistency of raspberry Jell-O. Moses is overwhelmed, and he is overwhelmed not just because there is a bush that burns without burning and a voice that comes from out of nowhere. The greatest wonder, really, is in what this voice is saying.

First of all, God: I am God, the voice says. Listen up.

Second, the Israelites: They are suffering in Egypt, this place that is not their home. They hunger for justice, they cry out for it. And God says to Moses, these people, these hungry and homeless people are, God says, my people. These hungry and homeless people are God’s people.

Third, I will come down. God has not only seen the hunger and the homelessness of God’s people, God is doing something about it. God has come down to bring them up into a new home. This is about as good as the good news gets: God has heard the cry of God’s people, God’s hungry and homeless people, and God is acting to save them.

Now, if God were to stop here, Moses might well have sang a song of praise and continued on his way except that then God gives Moses this last part, and it’s this part that turns his legs to Jell-O and dries his tongue so that he can barely speak.

So come, I will send you to Pharaoh.

So come, I will send you to Pharaoh. So come, I will send you to the President. So come, I will send you to the Governor. So come, I will send you to the Senator, to the Representative. So come, I will send you to the Mayor… of Tacoma. I don’t care what you call him or her, Moses, I am sending you there, to speak on behalf of my people, my hungry and homeless people, to be their advocates.

Oh my Lord, please send someone else.

Oh my Lord, please send someone else. Have you read my resume, Lord? I don’t have the right skill set for that. It’s a public speaking gig, right? Yeah, that’s not for me. Moses looks at his own talents, looks down at his hands, sees his reflection in the flickering flames, and he says, “This is not going to be enough.

And he's right.

Fortunately for Moses – and fortunately for us – God doesn’t expect it to be enough. God’s work doesn’t depend on our skill sets, it depends on the One who created them. And then, having created us, having sustained us, having sent us, God sends people to help us, people whose talents complement our own, people who speak and in so doing teach us to speak.

And sometimes these people are the very people we thought we were helping. That is what happened to Moses. Aaron, Moses' brother but still one of God’s own hungry and homeless people, is the very person God sends to help Moses. The very people we think we are rescuing end up rescuing us. Look, Moses – even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad.

Together you will walk to Pharaoh; together you will speak; together you will walk to freedom. You and your brothers and your sisters. For you there will no longer be us and them, only us. No longer will you walk alone. Your journey and their journey will become one. Your journey and their journey will become one.

For the last few months I have had the privilege of working at the Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State. As a branch of the church, rooted in the church, we go to the halls of power, in the state capitol, to plead the cause of the least among us whenever and wherever important policy decisions are being made. As representatives of the church, we urge lawmakers to fund food banks and shelters, to improve childhood nutrition, to increase the availability of low-income housing, always in pursuit of a more just and compassionate society.

But we do not do this alone. When we go to the halls of power, we go with coalitions of social service agencies and community partners, including organizations of the homeless and the formerly homeless. And we go with faithful advocates in churches and missions and universities across the state, advocates whose journeys once upon a time intersected with the journeys of God’s hungry and homeless people, and whose journeys were never the same.

I recently heard a story from one of these advocates.

She had gone to speak at a public hearing, where policymakers were deciding whether or not to fund a network of homeless shelters. She was very nervous. There was a large crowd, and she had to face a panel of powerful people. But she drew up her courage, and she pleaded with the policymakers not to cut the funding for those who needed it.

As she finished her testimony, there was a burst of applause and loud cheering. She turned around. An organization of the homeless had gathered to support her, and they let their presence be known. As she left the hall, they thanked her for speaking up for them. She never forgot it, the day that their journey and her journey became one.

In our hymn for today we will sing: Un pueblo que camina por el mundo, gritando: “¡Ven, Señor!” Un pueblo que busca en esta vida la gran liberación. The people walk throughout the world together, and cry out, “Come, O Lord”; the people who long to claim the promise, God’s liberating Word.


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