When I think of today’s message, I am drawn to an incident that happened in the Palmer household.
I was told by my family to no longer place them in my sermons or my messages. I hope that they will let me slide this one time. I am afraid if I do it again the cease and desist letters will come.
Some years ago when my son Chris was barely four or five who is 11 now, I was working as an HIV/AIDS educator and trainer and in my possession were many red HIV Awareness stickers. One day Chris got into my stash and soon we had HIV Awareness ribbons through out the house and vehicles. So Chris and I had a little talk, during that talk he asked me what the stickers were for and I explained that they we wear those to show people living with HIV/AIDS that we care about them and want to do everything we can to help them.
Chris looked at me, paused for a minute and said, “Daddy I don’t think I am doing enough”. I told him that he was doing enough.
Can the same be said for us who have the resources in our hands to help those who are impacted negatively by social issues. As individuals and as those unified in bodies of religious thought and/or believers in common goals we must ask ourselves are we doing enough.
Am I doing enough? Are we doing enough?
As we who have found safety, shelter, love and inclusion, have we forgotten that our work is not finished. There are others who may not look like us, talk like us, may not be in our social economic, sexual orientation whose desire to live their lives and to be treated with decency, love and respect and yet they are met with oppression. Be it the denying marriage for our lesbian, gay, bi and transgender brothers and sister, be it the denying a living wage to our brothers and sisters who have been caught in the cycle of poverty. And even though we elected our first multi-racial president, this country is still plagued by racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and discrimination against the disabled.
It is time for us to step out the comfort of our own inclusion and privilege and be the voice for those whose voices are ignored.
We must understand that we are all connected. Beyond our race, beyond our social economic statuses, beyond our career choices, or even religious beliefs we are connected, we are neighbors.
There was a man who taught this same lesson to his followers and even those who were trying to disprove him. In one of his teachings Jesus spoke on loving thy neighbor as thyself. Who’s the neighbor one listener asked?
And the response came in a parable.
30 Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
There is a population in our country that in every turn they make they are met with obstacles. These are our brothers and sisters living in poverty. Poverty is the lack of adequate resources to be able to provide the basic needs of food, water, clothing, housing, medical care, and education.
The shame, the stigma, and the red tape they are met as they try to receive services from our federal government, add to the negativity they face in their lives.
Whenever we see images of those caught in the cycle of poverty from the media we often see the so called innocent victims; children and the elderly. However when it comes to able bodied men and adults of color, no matter their stories, it seems as though the blame is on them.
So we show no and have no compassion for them because they brought it on themselves. The church is truly guilty of this mindset. We are still caught in the Puritan thought process that if you don’t work then you don’t eat. Will we also go back to the work houses and the poor houses of the 19th century?
The truth is no one is immune from poverty.
Like the man in this parable many of us have taken a wrong path in our lives. Some of us made it through okay while others like this man have been caught up. The path from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous; everyone knew that you just didn’t travel alone.
There were thieves and robbers waiting to attack, rob and kill.
Poverty is also a thief, it attacks your physical health, tries to steal your future and kill your spirit. Some were born into the cycle of poverty while others stumble into poverty through decisions of their own making or by . Just like the man featured in this story the church has abandoned those impacted by poverty, especially those we feel as though they brought it on themselves.. They are left to defend themselves from those entities who oppress them and seek to take advantage of them. It is no surprise that poverty is a billion dollar industry. From those public agencies designed to help them leave poverty (which actually due to the hoops that those they serve have to jump to get services) keep many in poverty; to those businesses that make a profit off of the disadvantage.
If you want to identify a neighborhood impacted by poverty just count these businesses; liquor stores, payday loan business, and count the lack of grocery stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables.
These businesses take advantage of those of poverty, especially pay day loan businesses. In this zip code there are 25 payday loan businesses in a 3 mile radius
According to the state Department of Finance, in the year ending Sept. 30, 2008, in Missouri the average annual interest rate charged by these companies was 430.58 percent. On average, loans were recycled 1.7 times.
Where is our collective voice against these heinous acts of greed?
Have we turned into the priest who saw the man lying on the side of the road and thought “Well he is already dead and I must not defile myself with him”.
We think that about those who may live in housing projects. Well I must not associate with them; I must not even get involved in this addressing poverty thing because those in poverty need to pull themselves up from their bootstraps. Or do we think they must have done something terrible for Karma to hit them like this. (The priest must have thought “The man must have really sinned to get suffer like he did or he brought it on his self.)
Now there is another group of us who are like the Levite. At least he stopped and looked at the man. Yes he stopped, but he offered no support, no prayer, no medicine, he offered nothing but his judgment.
He stared for a minute and kept on going. He believed just looking was enough?
Don’t you think we have been looking long enough?
Even though a war on poverty was declared by then President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, we seem to be on the losing side as poverty continues to take prisoners of war.
We see it today in the quest for a decent living wage The living wage is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year). Here in Kansas City the living wage for a single parent with two children is 46,465
Minimum wage is not enough, in fact the current minimum wage is 55 cent under poverty wage. We may say that those caught in poverty need to apply themselves more, go to college get a different career, get a decent wage (I did). For many there is a desire to improve their lives via education but there are so many hurdles that they must jump. A new hurdle is that those who do not have at least a GED are no longer able to receive Federal Financial AID to pay for their education. This sends many further into the deep clutches of poverty.
We speak about loving our neighbor and yet we love from a distant.
We don’t want to get ourselves dirty, don’t want to get involve or don’t have the time.
It was no accident that Jesus mentioned the Samaritan in this parable. The Jews despised the Samaritans for they thought that they were unclean, heathens, etc. And yet those who thought of themselves as so holy were not Jesus’ example of a real neighbor.
A loving neighbor; it was the “sinful” Samaritan who stopped when he saw the man, took care of his wounds, made sure that he was taken care of and showed him compassion.
As I look around this body of believers: Believers that we all should be treated with love decency and respect I am reminded that all of us here are also looked on as Samaritan by those with traditional religious views. Many of us have been scorned because we have decided to love and take or spiritual views outside the box. We are the Samaritans and it is up to us to stop and pick up our wounded neighbor and bring them to safety and healing.
We do that by collecting our voices and resources and standing behind organizations such as More2 who are made up of people from different backgrounds and beliefs united for a common goal that is to be the voice of the voiceless.
As individuals we take the first step by looking past our differences to see that yes we are all connected. And by doing that we will develop a true sense of compassion and no matter if we use our voices or our resources to speak out against the social injustice; we will indeed be heard as neighbors concerned for their fellow human.