Each week, as I’ve prepared my sermon, I find myself doodling, writing, drawing… anything that moves my thoughts and emotions from my head and heart out into the world where I can see it. This week, I drew a sketch of Jesus. Well, a blob with hair and a hand… Hand-held out to those that needed healed. The power of his presence, right there, ready to heal.
Then, I drew a group of people and a path from them to Jesus. Then I drew a wall. A wall between Jesus and those that needed healing. As I pondered the wall, those things that come between people that are seeking Jesus, and Jesus, I realized that this wall belonged to the disciples…
It jarred me. Shook me a little to think that those closest to Jesus might be the very ones from stopping healing…
Mark 10:13-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
How am I like the disciples? How do I build walls between Jesus and people? How do I turn people away that are seeking the life that Christ offers? What are the ways I keep people from the gift of Gods live and grace? I am pretty sure, it is not kids I turn away. I mean, children? Really? That wall that the disciples built …it was to keep children out? Really?
There’s been a viral video this week of two preschool boys. Best friends, a black child and a white child. They see each other from forever away (in preschooler’s world!) and ran, RAN into one another’s arms. The world has not gotten to them yet. The world has not yet told them that they aren’t the same. There is an innocence. A joy. A beautiful piece of heaven in their embrace. I can see it. I am drawn towards it. It doesn’t make me want to build a wall. It doesn’t make me want to reject them. Turn them away.
So if not children… who is it that I reject. Where do I build a wall? Why did that moment when I was drawing that image, pull me in so deeply. So thoroughly. Why am I called to struggle with that moment?
Well. It didn’t take me long to know think of the exact moment, not too long ago that I turned someone away…
Some of you might’ve been here. Just a couple of weeks ago. Or maybe you were online and knew SOMETHING happened, but you weren’t really sure what.
Well, Lance a man that is around the church on occasion, I’m guessing his home is on the streets, and I’m sure he has some mental health issues. He introduces himself as God. Or Jesus. Often both. And as we were getting ready for service that day he came and laid in the parking lot, right about where the first car would park.
I chatted with him a bit as we got ready. But not much. As service began he was at the back of the parking lot, not a big deal. Then I started preaching. I was preaching on these words of Jesus. “Woe to you who turn peace away when it comes knocking at your door. “ And here comes Jesus, I mean Lance, stomping up between the cars. Clearly on a mission. And you know exactly what happened. My heart started beating faster. adrenalin started rushing through my body. I started asking myself questions: How dangerous is this moment? Should I be scared? How uncomfortable am I? How scared am I? I quickly started running options though my head. Should I turn and run? Should I hold my ground? Should I keep preaching? Should I pause? What should I do?
I told Lance that I wasn’t going to give him my microphone. I stayed calm. I’m lucky we have an amazing security team here that kept the moment calm, and he invited Lance inside for coffee. I said a prayer. All of this while I was so aware that I was in the middle of preaching “Woe to you that turn the peace of Christ away when he comes knocking at your door.” It was a tense, uncomfortable moment. Maybe a little scary.
That’s it. That is the moment when I built the wall. Maybe not with my words of my actions. But with my thoughts, my fears. My deep internal reaction…
But why? Why do I react like this? Why is it that I turn my eyes away when I see someone that struggles that intensely with mental health, or physically finding a home? Why is it that I look away when I see people holding signs on street corners? What is it that it makes me so nervous so afraid look into the eyes of people during these moment?
Brene Brown encountered a similar question one night at an event where Anne Lamott was going to speak. An Episcipal Priest was up first, raising money to help fight homelessness in the Houston area, when he said, “When you look away from a homeless person, you diminish their humanity and their own.” It grabbed Brene’s attention, held her tight, and would not let her go. Because she is committed to being brave, she paid attention to that feeling, to that nudging, to that knocking.
She acknowledges that she looks away. A person that studies connection. Studies why people look away. Studies that damage that does to people and societies, she realized that she looks away. And over the course of the next nine months, she continues to encounter these intense, uncomfortable moments with homeless people in her area…
She tells the story of her family being in extra special church clothes for the day they were to join their church and take new member pictures. Feeling proud of her new church, she starts picking up some trash that is laying around the church property including a newspaper. It wasn’t long before she realized it was filled with human waste…. After that moment she could not see a homeless person without wondering about all the easy, normal things we take for granted.
And she thought she was struggling because she was not doing enough.
She tells the story of encountering a man that that scoops up food with his hands from a buffet. She talks about how uncomfortable that moment was. She asks herself why she didn’t do something to help him.
Again she thought she was struggling with guilt because she was not doing enough.
She has another encounter where she tells a third story of a man getting kicked out of a restaurant and running into him again in the hospital lobby, playing a piano. And she is frustrated because she knows at this point that it isn’t guilt she is struggling with, but she doesn’t know what it really is. Why, she asks, do I turn away? Why can’t I look that kind of pain in the eye?
She visits her mom, who was in the hospital at the time, and says, “I’m seeing homeless people. They’re trying to teach me something but I don’t know what.”
After talking awhile, Brene’s mother told Brene a story. Reminded her of her childhood. Reminded her of how much her grandmother helped other. Of how much she needed help herself during her life.
Brene tells us a story of her grandmother. She brings us right into the evening when she was the one scheduled to stay home with her Grandma that was suffering from Alzheimers. She was no longer able to be home alone but they had not yet found her a memory care unit. And Brene realizes that her grandmother had stopped bathing. Then not long later she realized that her grandmother was not going to be able to bath without her help.
That’s when that fear settled into her body. So uncomfortable. So afraid. So much need.
But her grandmother wasn’t afraid. As Brene started to undress her, and get her in the bath, and bathe her…She did not build the wall of discomfort, and exclusion, and fear. And Brene makes it clear that it isn’t that her grandmother didn’t that night, no, Me-Ma NEVER built that wall. She never looked away.
[My mom and I] both understood exactly what Me-Ma had that we didn’t: the capacity to receive. My mom and I aren’t good at asking for or receiving help. We are givers. Me-Ma loved receiving. She got excited when friends dropped off fresh-baked pies or when I offered to take her to the movies. She didn’t mind asking for help when she needed it. It also went without saying that at the end of Me-Ma’s life, when dementia had ravaged her mind, the kindness of others kept her alive and safe.
She goes on to say:
Of course, the dementia made her less inhibited and even childlike at times, but it wasn’t her failing mind that made her unashamed; it was her huge, giving heart. She knew the truth: We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to. As I thought back to that moment in Me-Ma’s bathroom, I knew exactly why I looked away. I was so afraid of my own need that I couldn’t look need in the eye.