Embracing Those Hiding On The Margins!
Jesus was in a crowd. A big crowd. People were pressing against him and He was on His way to help an important man, a synagogue leader named Jairus and his very sick 12-year-old daughter.
There was a lonely woman in the crowd who was also very sick; she'd been bleeding for 12 long years herself. She had spent all her money to find a cure, but the relentless bleeding wouldn't stop. Then we read this in Luke 8:44-48....
She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
When Jesus was still saying these beautiful words of acceptance and healing to this marginalized woman, one of Jairus's people approached him and told him not to bother Jesus anymore; his daughter had died. Jesus turned his attention to Jairus and told him not to worry, but believe, as she will be made whole. He went to his house, told them she was just sleeping, they mocked him and He raised this little girl from the dead.
My focus this morning is not going to be on Jairus. Even though the love and compassion Jesus had for this father and his daughter is beautiful, I want to focus on how Jesus responded and showed love and compassion to this bleeding woman; this quiet woman who'd been cast aside, viewed as unclean and unworthy due to her constant bleeding.
When I think of this lady, I cannot but think of when we first opened our men's shelter back in 2001; there was this one man who entered our doors who challenged my faith and my love in a brand new way.
Over the years, there have been many people who've challenged me in different ways, but this guy stood out from the rest, which is hard to do in a homeless shelter! I'd seen him before, often wandering around the streets by himself, dumpster diving and being picked on by the public. He was a loner, who looked "homeless", had a stench and often didn't know how to look after himself!
In the evenings, as the guys entered the shelter, there was a routine; they were often chatting to their buddies and would sign in for a bed. They'd approach the table, quickly write and sign their first and last names, along with their age, and then hurry to set up their mats for the night. But this particular guy was different, he'd slowly limp up, get his face really close to the paper and take an eternity to write just the 4 letters of his name: N I C K! That's all he'd write; no age, no last name and he'd never get those 4 letters between the lines.
Nick was his name, and he was alone in this world. I don't know much of his history, but I think he was Polish and Italian, been homeless for many years, had rotten health, bad eyes, an inability to read or write, no money or home and a severe mental illness. Nick's mind was young, he reminded me of a 5-year-old boy, trapped in a rapidly decaying adult's body.
Nick possessed something special though, he had this beautiful child-like faith; he loved Jesus, he believed in Jesus and always wanted to know more.
We tried to help Nick in many ways, we tried to make him feel part of the Cornerstone family, we tried to make him feel loved and I believe he felt it! He found love, not just with us, but also with those who were homeless with him; who slept on the mats next to him. We all tried to lift him up, and he found love amongst a bunch of people living on the margins.
Even though Nick was invisible, alone and marginalized throughout his life and death, we can now rejoice, because I have no doubt, Jesus has lovingly accepted Nick into His eternal family and Kingdom. That pain, suffering, and sorrow he struggled with are now gone!
I'm telling you about Nick because I believe his life and death changed and challenged me in new ways. My eyes were opened in new ways with a new sense of urgency. All homeless folks are marginalized, but there are some who are even more marginalized and Nick was one of those; he was the least of the least, the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor! He was a modern day American outcast.
When I think of this woman creeping up and touching the fringe of Jesus cloak, I could imagine Nick doing the just the same, wishing to be healed from the many things that plagued him! The crowds would have pushed him aside; they would have told him he was dirty, stinky and wasn't worthy. But just like this woman, Nick was relentless, had a strong faith and was determined to find healing through Jesus!
Nick's life and death challenged me to change how I view those around me; to be like Jesus, to follow in His steps! Jesus could have ignored this woman, let her go freely, she was healed, but He didn't, He stopped and focused all His attention on her! He was busy, He was being told to rush because He had something very important to do, there was an important person down the road that needed His tender loving care, but instead, He stopped and focused all His attention on her! He didn't do this to embarrass her, but because He loved her and He wanted her to know of His love, He wanted her to feel that love, He wanted her to feel accepted into his family, He wanted her to know that she was so important to Him and His Kingdom!
Our busyness, our chaos, cannot get in the way! We can't let the "so-called" power players and important people occupy all our time. We can't let anyone other than Jesus dictate how we should love others. I've done that too many times! We can't let our friends or the crowds stop us from seeing the needs around us. I've done that too many times too! Jesus stopped everything for a moment and focused all His attention on this marginalized woman. This was plain and simple to Him; she needed Him and He knew it!
What Jesus did here is a glimpse of one way He wants us to live out His Kingdom, He calls us to take notice of those around us who are rejected and marginalized! The Kingdom of God calls us to see and love those who the world bullies and ignores. The Kingdom of God doesn't want us to just respond to powerful and rich people like Jairus, the Kingdom of God needs us to respond to those who are weak, fragile, poor and despised. The power of the Gospel is actualized when we reach out to those quietly hiding in the shadows.
God used the tragic death of Nick to help me take notice! He opened my eyes to how people with political and financial power can affect a person like Nick. His death could have been prevented. His tragic story inspired me to notice those in my life who are marginalized, are ignored and forgotten and reach out to them.
Walking down the street in this neighborhood is always an experience for me! All day, every day, I have people coming to me, needing help. I love it, it's part of my job, it's extremely busy! Most people who approach me are louder, more confident and eccentric. It's a similar challenge that a teacher has, where certain kids always get their attention and some can easily be forgotten. I constantly have to challenge myself to see past the rowdy ones, trouble makers and needy ones, to notice the invisible quiet ones hiding in the corners; they need just as much help, if not more, but are too shy, too afraid and too embarrassed to ask!
Over the years, I've had many Nick's come into my life and to be brutally honest, most times it would be easier to ignore them, and too often, I've done just that; ignored them! Despite my selfishness and laziness, I have to be reminded again and again; "love your neighbor as yourself, and that person standing over there, in the shadows, on the margins, is your neighbor; go to them!"
The bleeding woman reminds us that there are always those suffering in the crowd, needing the healing touch of Jesus. The bleeding woman reminds us that loving the marginalized can actually be energizing, fun and exciting. Loving the marginalized can invade our lives; our time, our money. The bleeding woman reminds us that it's a risk and it can be difficult when we live out the Kingdom of God, but if we do it In our weakness, with Jesus empowering us, there's a reward and joy.
What strikes me about this story is Jesus could have just kept on going. The bleeding had stopped. She was healed. He didn't need to stop, but He did! Jesus always stopped, didn't he?
He didn't need to talk to the woman at the well, but He did.
He didn't need to invite Himself to the house of Zacchaeus, but He did.
He didn't need to stop and free the man living in shackles from his legion of demons, but He did.
He didn't need to stop and help the blind man Bartimaeus, but He did.
He didn't need to help the woman about to be executed for committing adultery, but He did.
He didn't need to speak to the man dying on the cross next to Him, but He did!
I have enjoyed watching God's Kingdom in action right here in Uptown. A lot of Tent Cities don't have people stopping to help them. But right here, loving people notice these folk living outside and stop! They halt their busy schedules and bring them blankets, tents, sleeping bags, gloves, hand warmers, socks, hats, coats, hot food and so forth.
People's lives, fingers, and toes have been saved because of these acts of compassion. When I talk to these men and women, they share how random strangers would stop and flood them with love; they, in turn, thank Jesus for not forgetting them in such a hostile and life-threatening environment.
All our stories are different, our gifts are different, our locations are different, our abilities are different, but a reality remains; there will always be people around us who are depressed, lonely, lacking food, in abusive relationships, bullied and struggling to get around. The needs are numerous. Some cry out loudly, others cower in their corners, while others just try to get on by!
We can't forget our neighbors. We can't forget to listen to the cries around us. We can't forget to listen to the silent screams. We can't forget to stop! Jesus knew how to do that, He did that all the time, He heard the silent cry of the bleeding woman and stopped in meet her need. We live in a place where there are ample needs and opportunities to bring God's loving Kingdom into our midst!
We don't just the encounter the bleeding woman in Tent City and at Cornerstone. The bleeding woman reminds to look out for neighbors, our seniors, those who come into our coffee shop and who eat our dining room. The bleeding woman reminds to notice our classmates, who we bump into at work and who's on the train next to us.
The bleeding woman reminds us to drive that disabled friend to an appointment, to visit that depressed brother or to write to that lonely prisoner. The bleeding woman reminds us to do loving deeds to those in need; whether it's cooking a meal, changing a tire or giving someone a hug.
These actions may seem small and insignificant, but they are huge in the Kingdom of God.
There was another guy who challenged my faith and love in a new way. His name was Walter, he was quite frankly the grumpiest, most stubborn, most hostile senior citizen I've ever met in my life; and I've met a few! He would swear at you and wanna beat you with his cane for being nice to him. This hostility caused him to have no one, and I mean no one! I believe God whispered to a few of us at CCO with his still small voice "he has no one, be his friend and love him" Life would have been a lot easier if we had ignored him, but the Kingdom of God calls us to remember lonely grumpy old men like Walter and to love them. I remember driving him to some appointments one day, frustrated by all his endless ranting, hatred and complaining, then all of sudden he surprised me by saying, "Thank you, Jeremy, for being a friend!" I couldn't believe it, those words gave me goosebumps, they gave me joy. I believe God used our feeble, and oftentimes, reluctant efforts to touch this man.
Then I think of Thomas, who is very different from Walter! He is quiet! He is extremely humble and polite! People wouldn't know he existed; he blended into the background and never asked for help. I watched a friend, a coworker, notice this abandoned, lonely Vietnam veteran and take him under his wing! I watched the Kingdom of God in action. Thomas had been homeless for 30 long years. Ignored and forgotten for 30 long years. He'd been invisible in countless shelters and on the streets for 30 long years until he came to Cornerstone and met my friend and co-worker! He knew Thomas needed to get housing, so he figuratively held his hand and took him to countless appointments, which he never would or could have done on his own. The good news is, Thomas was seen and has now moved into his own apartment.
God doesn't call us to choose between what's comfortable or hard, He calls us to represent His Kingdom right here on earth. He calls us to respond when we see the need. He wants to take risks. He wants us to take leaps of faith and leap into the unknown. He calls us to be strong and courageous. He calls to do all this, but He doesn't leave us alone, no, He's got our backs and He's given us His Holy Spirit to strengthen us, guide us and empower us!
What does Jesus tell us in the book of Matthew: "When we see someone hungry, feed them. When we see someone thirsty, give them a drink. When we see someone who's a stranger or homeless, take them in, house them. When we see someone lacking clothes, clothe them. When we know someone's sick, visit them and comfort them. When we know someone's in prison, visit them and write to them." This is the power of Gospel, using us in our weaknesses for His glory!
Each and very one of us is called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We all know people who are like this woman who quietly crept up and touched the fringe of Jesus cloak. We all know people in need, who are marginalized and need to be touched by the love and compassion of Jesus. And just like Jesus, we all need to stop when it's time to stop, so the Holy Spirit can use us, in our frailty, for the good of His Kingdom!
I encourage us all to look around and take notice of our families, communities, workplaces and schools! Look around and I wanna encourage us all to take a leap of faith, pray for courage and leap into the unknown. I want to encourage us all to think of those neighbors, schoolmates, and friends who would enjoy a hot cooked meal, a shoulder to cry on or someone to drive them to a doctor's appointment. I want to encourage us all to think of people who need a little more love in their lives. I want to encourage us all to not forget about those who live on the margins and love them with an unconditional love....