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February 11, 2007 (The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany)—“You, Yes You”
Interim Pastor Steven Jensen
I recently heard from a seminary classmate I have not seen since ordination in 1973. His seemingly simple questions, “So... what have you been doing since you left Philadelphia? Where have you been?” prompted me to reflect on nearly 35 years of ministry and travel and life. How does one capture all of that in a simple e-mail response? Perhaps my own version of “The Gospel according to Peanuts” would better fill the bill.
Then there are the questions some of you are asking at this stage in the Intentional Interim and Call process, like “Where will you go when you leave LCH?”, “What was your most interesting ministry experience?” and “What do you think you will do next?” All have been cause for me to both think back and think forward. Where am I being led now? What do these life experiences enable me to do I could not have done before?
As I discuss with Intern Pastor Derek his current vicarage and his enthusiasm for the ministry opportunities that lie ahead, I regularly find myself reflecting on the excitement of preparation for the call to ministry I felt those many years ago and on how easy it is for me still to get caught up in his dreams and hopes and desire to be God’s instrument. Derek is already meeting so many needs of God’s people and has such a love for them and the Lord of life, it will be exciting to hear in the years ahead how God will use him.
As I reread Luke’s account of the Beatitudes and began the exegetical study, I remembered the fervor for ministry those words ignited within me as a teenager. “Blessed are you poor... Blessed are you that hunger... Blessed are you that weep... Blessed are you when men hate you because of me...” Night after night this week faces and experiences from past encounters have filled my thoughts and dreams.
Today I would like to invite you to share some of those experiences and encounters in short glimpses with me.
In 1970 Camarillo State Hospital institutionally housed people picked up off the streets who were deemed unbalanced at best. Locked wards housed the severely disturbed, heavy substance abusers, people with severe mental retardation, children who had experienced severe psychological trauma. Medication and electro-shock therapy seemed to be the treatments of choice. As a chaplain, it seemed to me in many ways that his was the place southern California chose to house its undesirables. It appeared at first this was a place devoid of love and basic human caring.
The disenfranchised, the abandoned, the poor in spirit, the lost, the grief-stricken—all needed to know if God, too, had abandoned them, if there was anyone left who could love them. One patient looked into my eyes after chapel and said, “You know, we’re just like you, only more so.” Another handed me a poem as her way of inviting my attention:
Walk among us.
Touch us with your faith.
Share of our loneliness.
Teach of your Christ.
And live as you would have us live.
As the Vietnam war wound down, refugee camps in California for Thai, Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotians, Cambodians housed those displaced by war and famine and death. Haunted eyes would stare vacantly as I approached. Gaunt, starving children with labored breath lay limp in a mother’s arms. Dark-skinned people of every age were missing limbs and recovering from wounds. Long lines seemed ever present as people were given food, clothing, and basic necessities—and encouraged to keep moving. Longer lines sought information about missing loved ones or possible location sites, often walking away day after day with no satisfaction. Barbed wire kept the separate groups safe from each other and military security kept away Americans who would prey on these victims.
Across the Pacific in 1977, internment camps in Kowloon housed Vietnamese boat people who had braved the dangers of the sea for the possibility of freedom—only to be treated as an undesirable class, a sub-human class and turned over to the authorities from whom they had sought escape.
Farther into mainland China a few years later, the secret police watched our every move and encounter and hustled away any we stopped to ask directions of or simply greet. People stepped back into doorways, crossed to the other side of the street, peered through cracks in the doors and shutters as we approached. The landscape was barren as were many market shelves. Fear and distrust smothered the spirit.
As our group trekked gingerly down an escarpment and wound our way through rocky, tree-less plains, the Negrito tribesmen of the Philippines warily welcomed us into their village. Skin and bones, wearing scraps of cloth, they walked us past emaciated yelping dogs and skittish children to the chief’s hut and the pitiful building that housed the school and health center. The government provided no assistance; instead they sent the soldiers to secretly but steadily annihilate them and steal their land. They had no rights, they were not considered human much less fellow countrymen. They were people without value or worth.
The first time I had to inform someone he was infected with the HTLV-3 (now HIV) virus, it was like announcing a death sentence. I remember the simultaneous shock and fear that came over this strapping young man. Then I told him that for his own safety, we would discreetly take him off the ship and relocate him to the hospital ward. His shipmates would be given no reason for his immediate disappearance and permanent transfer. The hug I offered was refused. The message I got was that he was damaged goods and did not know himself what unspeakable horror physical contact with another might cause.
The middle-aged man could not stop blubbering. Eventually I was able to piece together the cause for his guilt and shame. Standing beside the bed of his sleeping daughter, he had allowed himself to fantasize a sexual act with her. Coming back to his senses before anything ever happened, he confessed to his wife and asked for help. Authorities were coming now to arrest him. No help for this deviant would be offered. Child and family services would insist his wife prosecute or his daughter would be taken away. Their request for family counseling would be denied. He lost his family, his livelihood and his liberty. His family became homeless and his daughter suicidal.
As she sat in my office waiting room, her startle response was quite pronounced when I approached. She held her cell phone in a vice-like grip, prepared to answer instantly when her husband called to check on her whereabouts. Every action, every word, every thought was controlled by him and the punishment for disobedience was severe. She was nothing without him, she was told, and she believed him.
The dirty blonde (in more ways than one) asked if I thought God could ever forgive her. She had turned to alcohol and drugs as her way to relate to the world. She had a variety of masks at the ready. If you rejected one, she had another. So used to creating another at a moment’s need, she had no longer had any idea who the person was behind the mask. Her addictions had cost her everything—her livelihood, her family, her health, her mind, her soul. She wondered if God, too, had long ago given up on her.
Mom had caught him wearing her clothes. Screaming and slapping him, she loudly proclaimed he was no longer any son of hers and she was going to drag him to the pastor so he could proclaim God’s condemnation as well. Pervert! Scum! Pansy!
The faces, the stories continue. Today I’ll hear another. Tomorrow as I walk the block around our church, I’ll engage another. One or more may be sitting in these pews.
Who are they? What do they have in common? They are those who have been thrown away, excluded, and targeted as anything but children of a loving God and heirs with us of the kingdom of God. They are the people of Jesus’ day and the people of our day. They are those whom Jesus noticed, whom Jesus touched, whom Jesus healed, with whom Jesus ate, whom Jesus forgave, for whom Jesus wept, whom Jesus loved. They are the very ones whom the Son of God called blessed. Is it any wonder that there were multitudes who strained to hear his words, to see his face, to touch his robe? Blessed? Me?
Yes, blessed. Yes, you. The Lord of Life cared and cares so much he willingly sacrificed his life for just these people—and for the ones who added to their plight.
Some of us spend our entire lives seeking affirmation from people important to us. Some of us will never receive it, no matter what we do.
Blessed of God, you can do nothing to earn His love. It is yours. He gives it, and he gives it freely and he gives it abundantly. People and circumstances may rob you of many things in your life; but they can never take God’s love away from you or remove you from His care. You, yes you, count. You, yes you, are loved. You, yes you, were created by God and are made in His image. You, yes you, can share his love with another who desperately needs it. You, yes you, who personally knows how much his blessing means can bless another. You, yes you.
Copyright © 2007 Steven Jensen
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