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4/26/09 - Easter III - Alexander Webb

posted May 21, 2010, 6:27 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:27 PM by Terry Brady ]
In the name of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

The writer of First John was a religious fanatic. He wrote for a small group of second century Christians who were being persecuted and oppressed. He called for their faithfulness, and labeled dissenters as the “antichrist” and children of the devil.

Yet, there is not a lot of fanaticism in today’s lesson:

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as [God] is righteous.”

These words do not appear radical because the lesson that was appointed for this morning stops in the middle of a paragraph. The rest of First John’s words were deemed too harsh for this joyous Easter season. Yet, there’s more to learn. First John has more to say:

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as [God] is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin,because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those
who do not love their brothers and sisters.”1

While these words are hard for our twenty-first century ears to hear, they would have been hope-filled for a band of marginalized Christians trying to endure oppression.

These words are hard to hear because we know that we are children of God, but we also know that we often fail the test. Do we always do what is right? Do we always love our brothers and sisters? No, at least I don’t. Yet, First John says that these very standards reveal us as children of God or children of the devil.

For a moment, picture yourself as one of the thousands of homeless people who live on the streets of Washington, D.C. You rest on a bench or grate, but the city’s rumble makes sleep impossible. You know hunger all too well, because the food you are offered is never quite enough. Your blanket is barely adequate, your clothes in tatters. You shiver in the shadows of the most powerful government the world has ever known, yet that government does little to help, it can’t even figure out just how many of you there are.

How does First John sound now?

“The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”

When I worked in New York, my commute was 43 minutes long. I left my apartment at a
precise moment, caught a certain train, and navigated the Manhattan maze in the same way. Herald Square to 34th Street, Madison to 37th, left on Park Avenue, through Grand Central, and there I was. 43 minutes.

The sights and sounds of the city were as predictable as my route. My 43-minute odyssey included some of New York’s most famous attractions, but it also included some of New York’s less picturesque realities. In particular, I remember a homeless family that slept in an alcove on one of the side streets. They had a routine as well: one man and one woman, always together,always in the same place, always with their dog next to them on the sidewalk. For the better part of two years, I saw them every day. Then, they vanished. I never saw them again.

In a strange way, I came to miss them. They had become part of my commute, just like the train conductor and the newspaper peddler. Yet, the rigidity of my 43-minute routine caused me to look right past these two human beings. I saw them, I could describe them to you in detail, but I never stopped to say hello or learn anything about them. They had become part of the scenery.

On 27 January of this year, a homeless man named Jose Sanchez was assaulted in Columbia Heights, barely a mile and a half from this pulpit. He lay on the street for twenty minutes before anyone called an ambulance, and he died four days later.2 People saw Jose Sanchez on the street, but no one acted. Jose Sanchez had become part of the scenery.

There is something inherently sinful about allowing human beings to become part of the scenery. Jose Sanchez, the family in New York, and the thousands of homeless people who come into this church for warmth and food would probably hear First John quite differently than we do.

“The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”

As individuals and as a parish, we are frequently revealed as children of God. Charlie’s Place is an incredible ministry, supported in large part by parishioners’ donations of time and money. We support the Transitional Housing Corporation, which offers an escape from the downward spiral that is homelessness, unemployment, and addiction.

Many of us remember the Fannie Mae Walk for the Homeless last November. On that frigid morning, we stood in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and raised millions of dollars to help meet their needs. We were revealed as children of God on the National Mall that morning.

Each of these acts of mercy is important, righteous, and godly. We should seek to do more. Yet, charity can only address the effects of homelessness on individuals. The sinister root of this problem is the reality that our society is willing to let some people’s basic needs go unmet. Charity puts buckets around the living room, but it doesn’t patch the leaky roof. As a society, we hold the unacceptable expectation that some people will be homeless. In this way, we fail both of First John’s tests.

“All who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”

People are people, and we sin if we allow ourselves to look past them or their needs.
I was not revealed as a child of God when I ignored my brother and sister on the street for fear that my commute would grow to 48 or even 49 minutes. No children of God were revealed in the twenty minutes that Jose Sanchez lay unhelped on the street.
We should be disquieted by the words of First John, and our homeless brothers and sisters should be encouraged by them. From across the centuries, First John speaks to them and First John speaks to us.

“All who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”

Our status as children of God is assured in our baptism. Our place in heaven is guaranteed through Christ’s death and resurrection. However, in this world, we must choose whether we will be revealed as the children of God that we are, or as the children of the devil that we are not.

If we want to be revealed as children of God, we must do something to end homelessness in our city, and in our time. One leading advocacy group says that it would only take a decade to end homelessness, and that our role as individuals would not be all that complex: Part I is advocating for better data collection and human services. Part II is helping people make healthy transitions when they leave hospitals, prisons, and the military. Part III is volunteering with and donating to
agencies that provide housing options, mentorship, skills training, and direct services to people who are homeless.3 The choice is ours. We can continue closing our eyes to the suffering in our midst, or we can do something about it.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. By our silence and inaction, we consent to the presence of homelessness in our capital city. It is time to withdraw that consent.

We withdraw our consent from the marginalization of thousands. We withdraw our consent from the belief that some Americans are not entitled to warmth or food. We withdraw our consent from the myth that the most powerful government in the history of the world is unable find a bed or a meal for all of its citizens.

In this season of resurrection and new life, it is time for us to be revealed as children of God. It is time for us to end our silence on matters of oppression. It is time for us to withdraw our consent.

Amen.

1 I John 3:7-10 (NRSV)
2 David Betancourt. “Attack Victim, Ignored By Passersby, Has Died.” The Washington Post. 1 February 2009, Pg. C04
3 More information is available from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (www.endhomelessness.org). The role
of individuals described above is based largely on the NAEH’s Explainer of September 2007, “What is a Ten-Year Plan
to End Homelessness?” This document is available electronically on their website.
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