Many years ago, on the exit ramp of I-90/94 in Chicago, I encountered a woman with a sign saying something like, “Unemployed homeless mother with three kids. Need food and money.” A car or two stopped and offered money, but many cars drove by without stopping. With my two young children in the car I felt compelled to give her all the cash I had on me, it wasn’t much. I don’t know why I was so moved by this woman, maybe it was the first time I had seen a young mother asking for a handout? I thought of her many times over the years, and wondered how she was, although I didn't see her again for a very long time.
Some ten years after I first saw that woman on the exit ramp of the highway, I saw her again, with the same sign, asking for money. Ten years later and her life remained unchanged. Or so it seemed. I was startled and a bit dismayed.
A few years later a wild woman appeared at the church I was serving. It was during some event and the place was crowded. This woman, intense and a little abrupt, did not respond well when I told her we had nothing, no gift cards left. She stormed out making a bit of a scene. I was left feeling badly, as if Jesus had come to me and I had not cared for him.
I remember a sermon a friend of mine preached in seminary. She used two illustrations of people she had encountered in AA. One was a man who told a story about his homelessness and addiction, and how – because of the assistance of others giving him money and help – he was able to go into recovery and rebuild his life.
The other was a story of a man who, when homeless and actively alcoholic, no one gave him money or assistance. He hit rock bottom, and in his words, “no one enabled him to continue in his destructive behavior.” His realized life had to change, and from that desperate place he went into recovery and began to rebuild his life.
And so I ask myself this question, “Lord, what does it mean to see you? What does it mean to help?”
You remember this joke: There was a terrible flood and the people in the town were leaving in droves. One man stood in the doorway of his house watching the water rise. A women came by and offered him a pair of boots so he could walk with her through the flooded street to safety. “Oh, no,” he said,” God is going to rescue me.”
The waters rose and the man had to move up to the top of his stairs. A man in a row boat came by and offered him a ride in the boat to escape the waters. “Oh no” said the man, “God will rescue me.”
Soon the waters rose more and the man stood on the roof of his. A helicopter flew over and the crew called out to grab the rope ladder and climb up! But the man once again said that he was waiting for God to rescue him.
Unfortunately the man drowned in the flood. When he arrived at the pearly gates he said to God, “I thought you were going to save me!” And God said, “First I sent you a woman with boots, then a row boat, then a helicopter….”
Not only are we considering what it means to help, but also, what it means to see God. To see the face of Christ in one another and in the people we meet. And, what it means to know that at times we will fail to do this well, even when we are trying.
Jan Richardson, in her blog The Painted Prayerbook, offers this thought:
“….. I think of how my deepest regrets—what few I allow myself—are most often attached to occasions when I didn’t see. Didn’t know how to see, didn’t yet have the eyes for seeing. The realization of it—the dawning knowledge of where my vision was lacking—is itself a kind of punishment. But an invitation, too. To learn to look more closely. To take in what I have rushed past.(The Painted Prayerbook)
When was it that we saw you?”
Today we celebrate the last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King Sunday, the Reign of Christ, and – as Christ Church – our “Feast of Title” day . It is the day we celebrate who we are and whose we are – We are Christ Church – shaped and formed by Christ, through baptism, through prayer and the Eucharist, through our relationships with others, through coming to this place, through a relationship with God and Christ, which gives us our identity as a people of faith. On this day we are invited to look carefully at who we are, and how we are living out our faith. It’s a call to do three things – to seek to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world, recognize how it is that Christ comes to us, and how we can be more attentive to being, doing, and seeing Christ.
As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ in the world through all this food we are generously giving to Crossroads , not just today, but every week, so that others may have food on their table. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we participate in the soup kitchen at Spirit of Hope in Detroit. We are the hands and heart of Christ when we give of our treasure so that I can purchase gift cards to Kroger and offer those who come looking for assistance, a chance for some food or gas. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we open our doors and welcome the many groups who use our building. As Christ Church we serve as the hands and heart of Christ when we host the Alternative Market today – inviting in thirty artists and local vendors to sell their merchandise. We are not taking a penny in commission – we are offering people a free place to advertise and sell their art, food, and merchandise. (I hope a lot of people come and do their Christmas shopping! And that the artists and vendors have a good time here!). As Christ Church we are hosting this event, greeting people and working to ensure that everyone has a good time. Much work has gone into this event, from many different people. It seems appropriate that we have this event on this day, Christ the King, the Reign of Christ.
There are many ways that we see Christ in others and offer love, compassion, and a helping hand. There are many ways that Christ comes to us and invites us into a deeper relationship – whether it is through the people we know and meet here, or the music and worship we participate in, or some other experience we have.
Regardless of who attentive we are, there are always ways that we can deepen this experience. The liturgical seasons of the church year offer an opportunity to be mindful, attentive. Next Sunday we begin the season of Advent, a season that asks us to ponder how Christ is coming to us anew this year, and how we can be Christ to the world around us.
As we journey through Advent let’s be attentive, wondering -
Lord, when did we see you – and - when did we miss you?