There’s a song that has been running in my head since we were at Camp Victory this year and we sang it like this:
Forget your perfect offering
Just ring the bell that you can ring
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in.
We didn’t sing this song with the children as I recall, it was something we sang with and for the adults. For many of us, Camp Victory is a ministry. We will be persistent so our campers know that camp will always be there for them.
Since I was using these lyrics, I Googled them and found that they come from Leonard Cohen and I even had the opportunity to listen to a recorded live performance of the song. The tune and the lyrics were altered but they mean the same thing as the chorus from his song, Anthem.
In the Jeremiah passage, God promises the people of Israel will not be abandoned--some day God will make sure they prosper. Some day God will assure that they don’t pay for the sins of others. Some day each Israelite will know God’s word in his or her own heart--will have a personal relationship with the One. In that day, it will be like the Psalmist described and Eugene Peterson paraphrased: “Your words are so choice, so tasty, I prefer them to the best home cooking. With your instruction, I understand life…” The people of Israel are encouraged to be persistent in their wrestle with God.
Persistence: Jesus told the story of a persistent widow who petitioned a cold-hearted judge. Jesus told the disciples that God would certainly hear their cries for justice and would step in to assure they got it.
Canon Ousley applied these principles of persistence to stewardship in his email this week. He wrote that stewardship is “persistent use of our time and God-given abilities for ministry and persistent gratitude and generosity in response to God’s providence and grace.” I really like that, “persistent use of our time and God-given abilities for ministry...”. Just ring the bell that you can ring.
He also wrote, “Our persistence in living and teaching the Good News that has been taught to us without wavering from the truth no matter how counter-cultural it may be.” I am thinking of the infant ministry, Chaplains on the Harbor, which is beginning as conversation. Yes, we are serving a lunch of sorts, but it is about the conversations with the people who eat those sandwiches. Looking someone in the eye, smiling because they came, introducing ourselves and asking them who they are is counter-cultural. Homeless people, drug addicts, and inebriated souls are the people we normally ignore. We look the other way because they might ask us for something. We look the other way because we are embarrassed for them, for ourselves. They scare us because we could end up homeless, sick and on the streets and addicted. We could end up exchanging our “appropriate” addictions: shopping, the latest electronics, nice homes and cars, coffee, food, whatever it is--trading it for alcohol, heroin, and meth.
I’m not saying this to make you feel bad--it is okay for us to consider what we need to do to take care of ourselves. On Wednesday I was running late to get to a meeting for Chaplains on the Harbor and I realized I had not taken a shower yet. As I was showering I kept thinking of the people on the street who don’t have the option of jumping into the choice of three different showers to get ready in the morning. One of the largest sources of angst for people living on the street is the inability to keep clean, to wash their clothes. Yet, I needed to take care of myself to the best of my ability.
Without people like us who have what we need, what would happen to people who need help? Who would help them? Who is my neighbor?
Now, when I go to Aberdeen, I am noticing the people who live on the streets. On Thursday afternoon, I went out to hold campaign signs for one of our port commissioner candidates and I noticed a group of people sitting at a table in a park. I realized I know two of them. Two men we have given sandwiches and socks and, yes, hugs. They watch out for one another. As I stood with my sign, I saw others I knew. These are my neighbors. I know their names and faces as well as the people who live next door. I don’t know their individual journeys yet but I hope to learn. I don’t know their individual addictions but I can still pray for them, pray with them. I can still tell them I care about what happens to them. I can still look them in the eye when they talk to me and sort out what they need from the world. I can remember they each are someone’s child--that each of them is a Child of God. I will just keep ringing the bell I can ring, though it is cracked and imperfect.
It is just like at camp. We lead with our hearts with the kids--but it is about what they need from us, not what we need from them. I hope we can keep this same attitude with Chaplains on the Harbor. Sarah has dreams for this ministry. Bible study, conversation, hospital visits, and real relationships. But, most of all it is respecting what dignity people have left and listening to the needs expressed and creating an atmosphere that nurtures all of it. It is counter-cultural to do this but Jesus came to bring Good News to the poor, to set the captives free, and to abolish indebtedness.
And, I just have to say, the ground is not littered with used needles--where has anyone seen that in Aberdeen? Used needles are a must to EXCHANGE them for new ones--you don’t turn in five and get 15. And no one has ever disturbed my vehicle in the Gateway Mall parking lot. I have seen no increase in police reports of such things happening. I am just going to keep ringing my cracked bell until people start listening to the poor, because if you truly see someone they will hear the Good News we are asked to share.
That is the counter-cultural message: the homeless are not the enemy--they are beloved by God just like you and me. Well, God may have a bit of a preference for them over you and me--I’m just quoting Jesus here.
Jesus had a parting comment after telling his story of persistence, “But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” [The Message-Peterson] And, Canon Ousley asks it this way, “How persistent are we in expressing our faith to God through faithful stewardship in all that we are and through all that we have?” Forget your perfect offering, just ring the bell that you can ring. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Amen.