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January 17th and 18th was no ordinary night for me. It was a night when the message of James truly came alive for me. It was a real moment where I had to choose between whether I would be a doer or hearer of the Word. In the moment I had so many thoughts running through my head on what should happen, but in the end I wanted to make sure I could look in the mirror and know who I saw. So let’s start from the beginning.
January 17th was a cold night unlike any other we had experienced on our 2 week Immersion, and a handful of us were helping out at the Hypothermia Shelter overnight at Rising Hope. Now for those of you who do not know the Rising Hope Hypothermia Shelter can only hold 25 people, and Sherry is quick to make sure that we do not go over that number. Once we reach that number we cannot take anyone else. During orientation she suggested that when we fill up that we try to get them to go to the Kennedy shelter as they would most likely have room for them there.
Now that night we filled up rather quickly, and we had a couple come by after we were full. However, they all immediately took the offer to go to Kennedy Shelter. Then at about 2:30 in the morning as the group of us were sitting in the office at Rising Hope were just messing around trying to stay awake. Then the doorbell rang. I went to answer the door and it was a fellow who I had seen on numerous occasions at the noon prayer services and lunches at Rising Hope, lets call him Joe for anonymity sakes. Joe had left the shelter in the middle of the night the night before and had left all of his stuff at Rising Hope. Joe stood there on the stoop of Rising Hope shivering, and visibly cold. I could knew right off the back this was not a night one should be staying in the woods. It broke my heart to tell him that we had no room left for him inside. He could not come in. “But why not?” I mean his stuff was in there why couldn’t he be in there. I apologized and let him know we were at capacity. We could not take anybody else. So i offered up the Kennedy Shelter I told him he could go there and have a place to stay…but he denied it. He did not want to go.
This is where James’ message begins to comes alive, because in James the author is talking about being doers of the Word and not simply hears. He wants us to take The Word, Jesus, Jesus’ teachings and use them to help those around us. The writer of James is speaking to a primarily Jewish audience who believe that by their faith alone they can be saved, but James is telling them that those who are truly blessed are those who actually do God’s work. Now here it is important to note the authorship of James…or at least the supposed authorship of James. James is believed to be written by James the Brother of Jesus. The idea that he wrote this letter brings to light this idea of the favoring of Jesus’ teachings. It is clear that the writer was very familiar not only with Jesus’ teachings, but also with Old Testament writings.
James’ letter calls us to an uncomfortable place much like the teachings of Jesus do in the Gospels. In fact I like to call James the uncomfortable gospel for this reason. When we read James it makes us think more intently and authentically on the Gospel of Jesus. In this passage we have this imagery of a mirror. James writes for not doing is like looking at your face in a mirror, then walking away and forgetting what you look like. By forgetting what we look like we make it seem like what we see in the mirror was not worth remembering, so we forget it. Much like when we hear the teachings of Jesus and we do not do. When we just hear we make it seem like the teachings we hear are not worth doing. Because without this doing our religion and the teachings of Jesus become almost meaningless. For me, my moment was in this time, it was ensuring that Joe had a place to stay that wasn’t out in the woods. It was ensuring that he could get something to eat. All of this was rattling in my mind as Joe stood there and shivering from the cold. But Why?
Well because of James, but also because I know James is referring to Jesus’ teachings. And Jesus teaches us to love the least of these. This leads us to our gospel lesson. This teaching of Jesus is clustered within a bunch of other teachings that Jesus gives during the last days of his life. We are told that one day all the nations will be gathered together and divided like a shepherd divides his flock between the sheep and goats. Now throughout the Bible we have all kinds of parallels involving shepherds and sheep and goats and in most all of them the sheep are the ones that are blessed and the goats are the ones that are cursed. And we have the same theme here. However, Jesus enlightens us.
In this parable we find out that the separation is over those whom most people often forget. The least, the last, and the lost. Jesus says “Then the King will say to them ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
That I believe was the point of our Immersion. Our task was to immerse ourselves with the least, the last, and the lost. Those that society had forgotten. Those like Joe. You see these people are living among us. They are the people sitting on the bus next to us. They are the people standing at the corner while we are at a red light or sitting next to us in traffic. They are the people who are working next to us. They are humans and we never know what they are going through, but Jesus calls us to help them. Our Immersion was called Hidden Cultures in Suburbia. Now one might think Suburbia…Oh Suburbia that sounds like a nice place. However, we quickly learned that it was a place of a lot of hurt and pain. The population of this immediate area is considered one of the outliers for Fairfax County. It skews the County numbers, but even with these numbers Fairfax County is still one of the richest counties in America. This makes people even more forgotten by society. When despite your existence you still can’t make a difference. However, they have created a community where they are not forgotten where they can make a difference. A place where people reach out to help the least, the last, and the lost.
As I stood across from Joe on the porch I kept having James and Matthew running through my head. I knew the right thing to do was to help him. To ensure he had a place to stay. To ensure he could get something to eat. So I kept talking with him for a few minutes trying to convince him to go to the Kennedy Shelter. And finally I convinced him to go there. I even offered that we take him. I even told him we would get him something to eat before we drove him. I told him that I would bring him his stuff so he could be reunited with his possessions. Reluctantly he agreed to go, and I knew that one of God’s children was safe for another night. As we stood there having the conversation I was running through my mind, “When I look in the mirror who do I see?” This needs to be the question that hopefully runs through all of our minds. Who do we see when we look in the mirror? Are we going to look and then forget? Or are we going to see someone who does?
As I said James is speaking to “Jewish Christians”. These are people who already have faith, thats not the problem. They know what it means to believe in Christ. However, James tells us it is not enough to just believe in Christ. We must be able to hear the teachings of Christ and actually enact them in our everyday lives. We must be able to go out and take action. There are so many opportunities that we are all offered on a daily and weekly basis carry out Christ’s teachings. Ways in which we can further the Kingdom of God. Ways in which we can help those who need it. But at the end of the day can we look in the mirror and see. Someone who does and doesn’t just listen. Someone who cares and doesn’t just forget. Someone who loves and never likes hurting. Someone who is blessed and shares their blessings. James wraps up his first chapter by telling us, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Religion…Our Religion…Christianity. The point of our religion is care…care for those who are less fortunate. This is such an uncomfortable message. It pushes us in ways that are difficult to wrap our minds around. But we must be able to answer the question “When I look in the Mirror Who Do I See?”