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Confessions, unanswered questions, and a prayer

May 4, 2020

Sherry would come by the church office once or twice a week, sometimes on a beat-up bike, sometimes on foot.

 

For a long time, she would never come inside. She knocked on the door – the knock was distinctive and we always knew it was her – and then she would quickly retreat to the side of the building and wait until I came out to see her.

 

She usually asked for a few dollars and a prayer.

 

I always struggled with how best to help Sherry. I would try to explain to her that I could not give her much money because we had other people to help. But she always asked, anyway. Once we started offering food in our “Little Pantry” across the street, Sherry would come along and clean it out.

 

Sherry wasn’t homeless but was among a number of people who lived right on the margin, and who visited the church office regularly. We knew she had health needs and tried to connect her with agencies that might be able to provide care.

 

 

Over time, largely due to the compassion of my administrative assistant, Sherry began to trust us more. She accepted invitations to come into the office and sit awhile. On hot days, we would supply her with bottles of water and snacks and hygiene items that were donated by the church. She stopped emptying out the food pantry. (At least not all the time.) My assistant took steps to get Sherry’s bike repaired, and with the help of a local bike dealer, we eventually got her some new wheels.

But there were always more needs – more, I think, than she ever felt comfortable telling me about.

I began to pray with her more regularly, and our relationship changed. She shared a little more of her life with me. She often wanted me to pray for her health and safety. I did, and I always reminded her that God loved her very much. Though once reluctant to come inside the door, she started ending our visits with a hug. The first time surprised me! She even began to come to worship sometimes. I prayed about how best to help Sherry and others in similar situations who came to the church. But I never felt that I did all that Jesus required.

 

The truth is, we would sometimes become frustrated by Sherry. But it is also true that we grew to love her more. She changed us.

 

I have been gone from the church a few months now. I find it difficult to shelter in place, so I take afternoon drives around town, pick up a coffee or take a walk in the park. Twice, I have seen Sherry downtown. I hate saying it, but I kept driving. Something within me wanted to stop, but I knew I would want to give her a hug, and she would want to give me one, too, and that should not happen right now. And I was not sure she would understand.

That is what I told myself, anyway.

 

But was I simply acting out of fear instead of love?

 

Placing myself within a biblical story, I don’t come out too well: I was the priest and the Levite – not the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

 

I worry about the health risks associated with “opening up” our community and state too soon, especially when it is being pushed by politicians instead of medical professionals. I do not want to expose myself or others to illness. Yet I have to acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns being raised about those who face violence due to being “on lockdown” with abusers, for example.

This is troubling, and I do not know the answers.

 

And lately, I have been thinking about people like Sherry and others for whom sheltering in place and living more safely is not an option. Someone approached me the other day outside a convenience store and asked help. I usually try to listen carefully and be open minded and discern whether there is a way I can be of assistance. And my radar is on for fraud. In this case, though, I was not even willing to listen or have this stranger come within 6 feet. I wanted to remain safe from this dreaded disease.

 

I was not welcoming.

 

I do not have the answers. But I know that as many of us have been hurting, life must be especially hard right now for those who wander the streets, lack a home to shelter in, for we now hold them at greater distance than ever. At least I have. And yet, the Bible has not changed. These are still the ones for whom Jesus was anointed to bring the Good News (Luke 4:18).

The virus has not canceled the Gospel call to love and serve one another, especially the poor and the poor in spirit.

I want to find ways to do better.

 

Gracious God,

As we begin to turn our attention toward gradually reopening our cities,

we continue to be watchful and worry about our health and the health of our friends and loved ones.

Yet whether we are ready or not, businesses are beginning to reopen, as is your Church.

Grant, O God, that our hearts are reopened as well. Help us to bless the poor, remembering that you said the Kingdom of God is theirs. Help us to bring Good News to those who, already being outcasts from society, are in more need than ever. And let it begin with me.

God, give us wellness in body and in soul. Bless the first responders. Protect those who are afraid and who have been placed in dire circumstances by this pandemic.

Heal the sick.

Comfort those who mourn.

And help us to see the face of your Son in everyone we meet.

Transform us and renew us, Lord, make us to be people who love more generously than ever.

Amen.

 

 

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