A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon where I quoted statistics about homelessness in our community:
- Steele County has the 3rd highest level of homelessness in the 20 counties that make up southern Minnesota.
- Recently in a single week, Community Pathways distributed food to over 725 families, totaling over 31,000 pounds, and the “Unique Finds” clothing bank area served over 225 families. Both of these were records.
- The Owatonna Public Schools have identified 145 students in the district who are classified as homeless. Of course, some of these are siblings. But still, that must total perhaps 60, or 70 families?
In the sermon, I talked about things that break our hearts. These statistics break my heart.
After the sermon, one person came up to me and said “Pastor Todd, that sermon…those numbers…they make me really uncomfortable.” And then she paused, with the beginnings of tears forming in her eyes, and she said “I think maybe it’s good that I’m uncomfortable.”
I’ve been thinking about that statement a lot. Whenever I’m in an uncomfortable situation, I try to resolve it. I don’t like being uncomfortable. Typically, there are three ways we might do this:
- We ignore whatever it is that makes us uncomfortable, pretending it doesn’t exist.
- We deny whatever makes us uncomfortable, pretending it isn’t real, so we don’t have to deal with it.
- We try to fix whatever it is that makes us uncomfortable.
Human nature, I think, moves us towards one of the first two options. It’s easiest for us to ignore or to deny whatever it is that we don’t like to hear. We push the problems away from us…keeping them at arms length, and they don’t affect us.
And, this does make us feel better. For awhile. Of course, we know that it does not resolve the problem. In the case of the statistics about people on the margin that I mentioned, the people are still there; kids are still sleeping on borrowed floors, or are couch-hopping, or worse.
It is time for us as a congregation and a community to lean hard into option number 3. It is time to put our energy into solving the problem of homelessness in our community.
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ “Matthew 25:34-40
Jesus is quite clear: We are called to love, to care, and to serve in his name. And Jesus places deep importance on caring especially for those who are in need. When we serve those on the margins, we are serving Jesus.
I think that we are all going to need to learn to become comfortable with our discomfort. It is our discomfort that is going to motivate us, move us and nudge us to a deeper level of care for those around us. As long as there are families who do not have a place to live or call their own in our community, I don’t want to be comfortable. I want to keep these problems within my vision. I don’t want to forget, or to ignore, or to deny that this is a reality in Owatonna.
We are going to be a church that works through our discomfort, and that moves forward out of Jesus’ love to bring care and compassion in the name of Jesus.
It’s uncomfortable work. But it’s the work God calls us to do.
I’m excited about the possibilities. I pray that you are too.