Rooted in Faith
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
July 16, 2017
Scriptures: Psalm 119:105-112 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
It was quite a week on the mission trip in Detroit! We saw rocky soil, weeds galore and much fertile, fruitful soil, both in the work of Cass Community and in the work of the volunteers like us. Not only that, but I witnessed the story of the good Samaritan in action. I’ll tell that story last.
Cass Community United Methodist Church was a very wealthy church back before white flight to the suburbs. Once the moneyed people left it became a missional church to the poor and homeless of Detroit. It has persevered through the decades, offering food to the hungry, shelter to homeless, warmth in the winter, and as time has progressed it has grown and diversified its helping agencies. The visionary leadership of Reverend Faith Fowler over the past 22 years has continued this work and made a positive impact, not only on the poor of the neighborhood, but also on the many mission teams like ours who come to help do what needs doing. In the process, they have the opportunity to share meals with people of vastly different life experiences and work side by side with people from all over the U.S. – some of them residents of the shelter and some of them other volunteer teams.
Cultural differences and various levels of maturity led to some interesting moments, which became learning experiences – some were what not to do. We stayed nights in the Cass Social Services building, across the street from the church. During the day, that building is a day learning center for 120 developmentally challenged adults, aging from 17 to 88. Their program leaders teach them at whatever level needed and provide outings and life experiences they would not have otherwise because their families are ashamed or find it difficult to take them out in public. They take field trips and learn their rights as human beings. They are taught how to introduce themselves and the interaction with mission teams give them new people to meet and stories to hear. Our time with them Friday morning was a blessing.
The challenge at the Center came more at night as we negotiated sharing sleeping on the floor with two other teams and sharing two showers and five toilets between 27 and then the last night nearly 50 people. We all came to work with the homeless, but the lessons that hit home often came as we dealt with other mission teams, who were also total strangers.
It was as if Jesus’ parable of the sower came to life right before our eyes. We witnessed people who claimed to be Christians, but their roots weren’t very deep. When we were tired and sweaty, not having had enough rest, we became selfish and territorial, not wanting to be inconvenienced. The scorching heat of close proximity, dirt and fowl smells left us feeling little compassion for one another. It was strange how there seemed to be a differentiation between being kind to the homeless, but not to each other.
The seeds of faith have been cast upon all of us, but not all had deep roots that were needed to help us cope with stressors, allowing us to handle the heat, the dirt, and the need to be flexible as situations continually changed, placing demands upon our already tired bodies.
Conversely, we saw many who quietly did whatever needed doing and never complained. We benefited with another large team joining us in the Monday project of cleaning out a warehouse filled with piles of donated building supplies. We had to get it in shape for a fire inspection, which it never would have passed as it was. Bold leaders from amongst our teams took initiative and directed the willing hands to sort and move tons of things. Together we accomplished the task in one day. It had been a project that the Cass volunteer directors thought would take three days. Many hands working constantly together made it happen. It cannot be classified as many hands making light work, because nothing was very light, but we got ‘er done!
When I was younger I always read into the parable of the sower something that came out of the protestant work ethic I was taught, but this week was evidence that my early interpretation was wrong.
I had thought that if one worked hard enough, studied hard enough, and practiced enough, your soil would be well tilled and your roots strong and deep. Success would be guaranteed. I was taught, indirectly, that poor people were poor because they were lazy, and homeless people were largely homeless because of a combination of laziness and addictions. I thought of them as the people born on the path, the rocky soil or amongst the weeds of society. What I saw this week was that sometimes this may have been true, but it is not universally true. We should not make assumptions because we don’t know their story.
We saw homeless moms with their children eating at the shelter where we ate our meals. Those moms worked hard with the little they had to keep them sheltered and fed, bathed and entertained. We saw men who longed for meaningful work, but because they had once been in jail they were not eligible. Cass provides opportunities for some of them to prove themselves good workers and helps them start a new life.
It is true that some are born into rocky soil places. It is true that some of us are born into privilege, deep, rich soil kind of lives. It is true that evil and temptations enslave some, snatching away the seeds of faith and hope they might have once had.
The good news is that God keeps sowing the seeds of grace everywhere, to everyone. All are invited into relationship with our creator and when we learn to love one another we can clear the weeds, and connect with new possibilities that create community, welcome the stranger and put down roots that connect us to our source.
Jesus was absolutely right. Not all people get it right away, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get more seed cast their direction. God never stops casting the seeds of grace. How we live together in community, as families and people who become like family to us, can create an environment that becomes fertile and fruitful, transforming lives and giving hope to all.
This is the dream of the tiny homes at Cass. When they are all built, they will create a community that works together, sharing life and looking after one another as family. Residents who get chosen to receive a tiny home will be required to take home ownership classes, to teach them things like basic fixit skills so they can avoid high repair bills, how to manage money, and how to work together to create a safe, respectful environment. The 190 applicants don’t know yet if they have been chosen. At this stage 1 phase there will only be 25 tiny homes. The process has been managed by a third party, scoring applicants based on a series of measurements. All are under the poverty line on income, but those chosen will have to pass a background check to make sure none are sexual predators, they must be credit worthy with a history of paying rent on time, etc. Soon the first six houses that are complete will be awarded to the top scoring applicants.
We worked on touching up paint, cleaning, and placing microwaves in each house. It was fun to see the different layout of each little house – most only big enough for one or two people. By the grace of God, these new homes will offer a chance to get off the rocky path where hardship and despair has kept beating them down, and now they have a chance to work at least a minimum wage job and in seven years own their own home that they have rented-to-own.
If it weren’t for the vision and lots of donated time and materials, these homes would not have been possible. We were privileged to be a part of this seed-sowing of God.
On Thursday night, after worship, we all headed to Greek Town for dinner with Rev. Faith Fowler and Sue Pethoud, the Deacon that organizes all the volunteer teams. Dinner was delicious and afterwards, we returned to our car which was parked in a ramp across the street. As we began to back out of our space, we saw a woman walking quickly, looking very distressed because there was a man following her, gesturing angrily and saying lewd things to her. A modern-day enactment of the Good Samaritan took place.
I confess that I was the cleric who passed by on the other side, out of fear in my case. I chose to wait in the car. Kate Marsh, on the other hand, sprang into action. She was fired up to help the distressed woman who couldn’t find her car and was being menaced by a stranger. Kate was joined by her husband, Kyle, and the rest of our carload of people as they jumped out of the car, and walked over to the woman, surrounding her with a hedge of protection, while another onlooker – a man whom we didn’t know, headed off the very drunk, offending stranger and persuaded him to go away and leave her alone. I watched as our team, for whom I was praying intently, walk the now much calmer woman to her car.
I have never been more impressed with the younger generation who have learned the lesson “if you see something, say something,” or DO something in this case, while I had been taught to stay out of danger by minding your own business. There was strength in numbers, and as more onlookers saw the courage of our team in action they came to help.
As I say, it was quite the week! It was a week that gave me hope and fired me up to serve the Lord. My husband will tell you that I came home as excited as a kid home from camp, telling stories of all that had happened for an hour. And that I promptly fell asleep after dinner, sleeping for 11 hours.
God is still casting seeds of hope and grace. Let that seed take root in you. Let it give you courage to do the things that scare you, or at least to support and pray hard for the younger generation who leap into action, building community and creating alongside God as they offer their hands and feet in God’s service. Amen? Amen!