Monday, March 12, 2012

Stacy Larsen's Lenten Service given at St. John's Episcopal Church on February 29, 2012

One of my friends from The River, her name is Margaret, once told someone that, “God don’t like ugly.” In reading the first chapter of Lamentations we realize that Margaret’s statement is true. Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, is a sad funeral song written for the destruction of Jerusalem. As God’s prophet, Jeremiah knew what lay ahead for Judah, his country, and for Jerusalem, the “city of God” because the ultimate consequence of sin is punishment.
The temple of Jerusalem is destroyed and its citizens are killed or taken captive all because of its people’s stubborn sinfulness. Jeremiah is referred to as the “weeping prophet” and his tears were tears of empathy and sympathy. He is weeping because the people of Jerusalem have rejected their God. In chapter 1 verse 13 he said, “He has sent fire from Heaven that burns within my bones; he has placed a pitfall in my path and turned me back. He has left me sick and
desolate the whole day through.” His heart was broken with those things that broke God’s heart.
What breaks your heart?
What makes you cry?
Do you cry because your selfish pride has been wounded, or because our world is
filled with injustice, poverty, war, and rebellion against God?

Like Jeremiah looking at the destroyed Jerusalem, our broken world must move us to tears and into action. As founding director of The River, a downtown ministry for women in need, I am blessed to work in the area I feel most called- serving women. But before we “ACT LOCALLY,” let’s think globally. Let me share some global statistics about the status of women in our wounded world:

1. 70% of the 2 billion poor in the world are women. (The United Nations defines poverty as a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households, and communities. It means susceptibility to violence and often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation. The World Bank defines extreme poverty and living on less than $1.25 per day and moderate poverty as living on less than $2.00 or $5.00 a day.
2. Women earn only 50 cents for every dollar that a man is paid for the same job.
3. 2/3 of illiterate adults are women.
4. 57% of the 72 million children who do not attend primary school are girls.
5. Young women aged 15-24 are being infected with HIV/AIDS 3 times faster than their
male peers.
6. On average, women and children travel 8 hours (6-10 miles) per day collecting
7. 1 in 7 girls will marry before they are 15 in the developing world.
8. Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least one out
of every 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or
otherwise abused in her lifetime.
9. There are countries where women are burnt for looking at a man or stoned to death or buried
alive for adultery.

Does this make you weep?
Break your heart?
Lose hope?
Move you to action?

Remember those bracelets everyone used to wear with WWJD? What would Jesus do? Well, if our broken world moves you to action, Jesus gives us the PLAN OF ACTION in His Sermon on the Mount. He provides instructions to His disciples, letting us know by what principles He would rule and what standards He expects to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth. Jesus shows
us how to live as faithful subjects in His kingdom. He pronounced “blessed” those who possess any of eight characteristics called the Beatitudes, which comes from the Latin word for “bless” and the Greek word for “happy” or “favored.”

The first group Jesus called blessed is the “poor in spirit.” These are people who have come to recognize their own spiritual poverty. They have learned that the goodness they have in them is from God. Also, they have an attitude of humility in coming to God with their needs. Those who see their need and lay it before God will find all their needs met. “Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The parable of the two men who prayed, found
in Luke18:9-14 provides the perfect demonstration.

“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: “Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.” But the
corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.” Let me give you a modern take on this parable.

Last week another River friend, I will call her Renee, made me cry like Jeremiah. She told me of an experience she recently had at another downtown ministry. Renee is a divorced mother who lives with her adult son who has special needs. They survive on a small SSI check
that she stretches to make ends meet from day to day. I admire Renee’s thrifty resourcefulness and the energy she puts into caring for herself and son. Even though she doesn’t have a lot, she is generous to others. Last week she donated 6 bags of new razors (she had discovered in The Dollar Tree’s dumpster) to both The River and the V.A . In the same dumpster she discovered 6
cans of ravioli that she gave to a neighbor whose food stamps had run out and was low on food.

One of the highlights of Renee’s week is attending a weekly dinner and Bible study. She enjoys the fellowship and prayers, and it helps to stretch out her monthly food budget. The dinner costs at least $1.00, but guests are allowed to complete chores allowing them to earn a dollar to pay for their meal. It is an amazing ministry enjoyed by many. However, that night the “regular” smiling-faced leader was absent and replaced with a substitute. When Renee and her son asked to perform a chore to earn their $1.00, the substitute asked, “Why aren’t you able to scrape up just $2.00 during the week to pay for the meals yourself? Do you just go from place to place to get stuff for free?”

At this point in her story, Renee started to cry, and I started to cry. I was crying because I know how hurtful and humiliating the whole experience must have been for her. But, then Renee surprised me. She was crying about the substitute and thought maybe she needed
some sensitivity training and she was afraid that others may have been hurt that night too. My friend Renee has a place in the kingdom of heaven. As do many of the women at The River whose
strength, courage, and faith amaze, bless, and teach me every day.

In James 4:11-12 it says, “Don’t criticize and speak evil about each other, dear brothers. If you do, you will be fighting against God’s law of loving one another, declaring it is wrong. But your job is not to decide whether the law is right or wrong, but to obey it. Only he who made the law can rightly judge among us. He alone decides to save us or destroy. So what right do you have to
judge or criticize others?”

How do you love?
Are you quick to judge?
Or quick to love?

Mother Teresa has a great quote, “If you judge people, then you have no time to love
them.” You often hear people say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Think of this
statement while I close with another River friend’s story (Shelia Hardin) and end with her poem, A Rock Was My Pillow.

I lived in the projects in Johnson City, TN. The reason I am homeless now is b-cause I helped a homeless man. I have a big heart and I was always helping the homeless and it got me kicked out. I slept a couple of nites in my storage in a chair. All I had was candles. Ice froze all around me. The first nites out it was very lonely. Then I stayed in a 1 man pup tent near the railroads by
a lil friend– a Raccoon! The tent had “no floor” just the ground, I put Trash Bags for my floor– a thin mat and my Blanket. I get so cold—no heat and in Bushes I cry a lot “pray” A lot. Some mornings I got so cold I’d have to get up at 4:30 am and just walk around and wait for McDonalds to open up. One morning I was so wet from a hard Rain storm. I was cold and blue
and shaking. Later I moved from a one man to a 5 man to a 9 man tent with my friends up near Buffalo Mt. To stay warm we curled up like “puppies.” We burned a big tree and roasted hotdogs and had cowboy coffee. I know where everyone sleeps– the homeless stick together. One man sleeps in the donation Box at a ministry. Another man sleeps in a Box with plastic. They sleep under Bridges. One man crawls in a hole at nite in a Rock Wall near some steps– down from the Salvation Army. A young 19 year old girl who just had a Baby slept out all night in a dumpster. I have slept on Boxes in tents on steps of churches in parks on Benches. I have never slept under a Bridge. I’ve slept in lonely woods. I’ve slept in cars and my storage. But by my grace of God– I pray that my life and things will get Back– Better and I will have a home a car even my VCR back and my flowers and my dog. God will give it all 2 me– I’m thinking positive.

A Rock Was My Pillow by Shelia B. Harden
A Rock was my pillow
A Box was my Bed
I knew Jesus Watched over my head.

There was days I had Blisters on my feet
And lots of days lonely on the streets.

We go to the “River” for a shower, a prayer
And Back to streets again

At the park in dark
Where all the homeless stay
Awaiting for another day.

With my “friends” at nite
In a tent, a fire, laughter,
Try to get warm and a good nite sleep.

Will I ever have a Home again,
a car, Even a VCR
Will I ever have a roof
over my head- Even a flower Bed

Yes a rock was my pillow
A Box was my Bed
I knew “Jesus” watched over my head.

Jesus is my “Shield” our protector, our guide-
With Him I will abide.
I will trust “Jesus” to see me through
When I’m sad and Blue
Ask Jesus- he knows what to do,
He keeps me warm at nite-
Jesus is my shield, my light.

There, but for the grace of God, go I. Amen

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