First United Presbyterian Church
Rev. Amy Morgan
April 22, 2018
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
1 John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
17 How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
It’s cold, and Denise is late for a meeting. Okay, she’s not really late, but she believes if you’re not ten minutes early for something, you’re late. And at maximum she’ll be 5 minutes early. And so, in her haste, she does not even register the figure of a man, wrapped in blankets, huddled in the stairwell of the municipal building as she races past him.
Andrew figures he has plenty of time. An extra five minutes at least before the meeting begins. He’s just gotten a new job with a pay raise, and he’s thinking about how he’ll budget the extra funds. He’s grateful. To God, to his new boss, to the whole universe.
When he comes upon the man in the stairwell, his heart swells with empathy. It’s cold out. Who knows how long this guy has been out here, suffering in this frigid weather. He approaches the man and asks if he’d like a cup of coffee. The man looks up slowly. For a second, Andrew isn’t sure if he’s going to answer, or swear at him, or just sit there and stare. Finally, the man nods slightly and returns his gaze inward. Andrew dashes over to the coffee shop around the block and orders a large coffee. He delivers it to the man, who simply nods again and sinks lower into his blankets. Andrew arrives just as the meeting is getting underway.
Patrick is ticked at the world today. He and his wife had yet another fight this morning about - what? - he doesn’t even know. It seems like all they do is fight anymore. He doesn’t help out around the house enough. He doesn’t spend enough time with the kids. He doesn’t make enough money. He’s put on weight. The criticism is endless. And then his boss reamed him out the minute he walked into the office for not giving 100%. He’s not focused enough, ambitious enough. He wants to see improvement in the next quarter, or else. And now he’s got this pointless meeting, a total waste of time. With all the other demands crushing down on him, the last thing he needs is to spend two hours in a meeting that will accomplish exactly nothing.
As he approaches the building, he spots two men crouching in the stairwell. “You gotta be kidding me,” he grumbles through his teeth. Not one more person who needs more than he’s got to give. Patrick changes course and heads for the other stairwell into the building.
Claire is walking her dog in between meetings. They both need some fresh air. As she comes out of the building, she sees that a man has settled in there among a pile of blankets. He looks up when she and her dog, Pepper, exit the building. She notices that he looks at Pepper and almost smiles. Claire pauses in her rush to squeeze in a quick walk. “Would you like to pet my dog?” she asks. “He’s really nice.” The man nods happily, and as his hands caress Pepper’s face, a look of contentment comes over him.
“I had a dog once,” he says quietly. “Oh!” says Claire. “What kind of dog was it?” “Just a mutt,” the man says with a chuckle. “Ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. But sweet. Loved to just sit next to you and have her belly rubbed.” Claire smiled. “Pepper loves to have her belly rubbed, too. She’s a Portuguese Water Dog. Same kind of dog the Obamas have.” “You don’t say,” the man replied. The conversation stalled there for a minute. They held an uncomfortable silence while the man continued to pet Pepper and she occasionally licked his fingers. Finally, Pepper seemed ready for her walk, pulling on her lead toward the park. “Um, well, nice to meet you,” said Claire. “Thanks. You too,” the man replied, beginning to wrap up in his blankets again. Claire started toward the park, then paused. “Say, um, do you know about the local homeless shelter? It’s just a couple blocks away. I think you can go there when it’s cold like this, and…and I think they have some other services and stuff.” “Yeah, I been there. Thanks,” the man said, and then closed his eyes. Claire and Pepper enjoyed a quick walk. When she returned to the building for her next meeting, the man was still there, holding a cup of coffee.
Adam is not looking forward to this meeting. He knows it’s going to be an uphill battle. He’s been at this for years and seen so little progress. But there are going to be some fresh faces around the table this time. Maybe some new ideas. Maybe some hope and optimism and creativity. He’s felt this way before…and he’s been disappointed before. But he has to keep believing things can change. As he approaches the building, he sees Lenny in his usual spot. Adam recognizes the blanket his grandma made in the bundle. “Hey Lenny, how’s it going?” Adam asks as he approaches. “Alright,” Lenny mumbles from under the blankets. “You been over to the Spot lately?” Adam asks. The Spot is the local homeless shelter where Adam volunteers. Lenny comes in to pick up his mail and talk to the social worker. Adam knows Lenny will head down there in a few hours when the shelter doors open for the night. But for now, Adam is glad his grandma and her friends make blankets for the homeless to keep them warm outside of shelter hours. Adam plops down next to Lenny. “So what do you think our chances are tonight?” Adam asks. “Slim to none,” replies Lenny. “Always the optimist, Lenny,” says Adam. “It’s not the same old guard. We’ve got some fresh blood. I don’t know. I’m feeling a little hopeful.” “We’ll see,” Lenny says. “Yeah, I guess so. Well, I’d better get in there.” And Adam stands up and heads into the building.
Denise is annoyed as she looks around the table. Six o’clock, and only three of the five members of the City Housing Commission have arrived. Adam is looking pious in his yarmulke and worn-out sweater, and Patrick is looking surly as he jabs at the buttons on his phone. Just as Denise is about to call the meeting to order, despite its absent members, Andrew comes bouncing through the door like he’s just gotten a new puppy. In fact, Denise asks, “Did you get a new puppy or something?” “Nope,” says Andrew, “just feeling like all is right with the world today.” Adam sighs. Maybe this kid won’t be as much help as he’d hoped. “Well, if you’ll take your seat, we’ll see if we can make it even righter,” says Denise. Andrew isn’t sure how to interpret her tone, but he sits down next to Adam. “And now,” Denise begins, “I’d like to call this meeting to-“ but she’s interrupted by the entrance of a Portuguese Water Dog. “Pepper!” Claire exclaims as she tumbles into the room. “So sorry! I was putting her in my office and she ran off. Sorry I’m late. I’m just..sorry…” Claire trails off under a withering look from Denise. “I’ll…I’ll just go put her in my office and be right back.”
When Claire returns, Denise says, “And now, I’d like to finally call this meeting to order. Now, the proposals are all in your packet, which I hope you’ve reviewed thoroughly. I thought the submission from Armand Developers was particularly well-done and has a lot of potential.”
“It also ensures that no affordable housing will be built into the new plan,” interjects Adam.
Denise manages to contain her sigh, but her eyes do roll just a tad. She knew Adam would bring up low-income housing, but she thought they could at least get ten minutes into the meeting first.
“Adam, we’ve discussed this. Low-income housing holds no benefit to the city, to its taxpayers. There is affordable housing in Mayville, just ten miles away. There’s no reason our city plans need to be held hostage to your utopian pipe dream where everyone lives together in perfect harmony.”
“Honestly, Adam,” groaned Patrick. “Do we have to go over all of this again? I really don’t have time for this tonight. If your homeless people need housing, there are shelters, or they can move someplace affordable. I really need my home value to go up right now. I do not need someone opening up a crack house next door.”
“There are not adequate shelters to meet the need in our city, and we can’t just push people out,” Adam insists. “Mayville has cheaper housing because there is no transportation and no jobs. We have to make a plan to provide housing for ALL the city’s residents, not just the well-to-do.”
Claire jumped in. “What do you mean we don’t have adequate shelters in the city? What about that one around the corner – what’s it called?”
“The Spot,” Adam said. “They only have enough resources to open up as a night shelter during the coldest months. From 7am until 9pm, folks are on the street unless they’re coming in to meet with the social worker. The shelter is packed to capacity every night, and they’re only open December through February.”
“So, for most of the year, and all day, folks have nowhere to go if they’re homeless?” Claire asked.
“Exactly,” replied Adam.
“So open another shelter,” said Patrick, exasperated. “Maybe closer to the bus station, out of the main downtown development area. Nobody wants to move into a city with homeless people begging on every doorstep.”
“Then let’s get them into homes!” said Adam. “Homes they can afford on disability or low-wage jobs.”
“And have homeless people as my neighbors? No thanks,” said Patrick. “Look, my church helps the homeless. We serve food and give money to the Spot and have clothing drives. We are doing enough. We don’t need them moving in with us.”
“I get doing stuff to help people in need,” said Andrew. “But is that really enough? I mean, they’re people, right? With needs and hopes. They live in our neighborhood. They’re our neighbors, and they need dignity and a safe place to live.”
Denise was not happy with the way the conversation was turning. “Look,” she said, “we’ve been over this. No legitimate developer is going to consider a plan that includes a requirement for low-income housing. And at this point in the city’s development, we need to decide if we want to be a thriving city or a sinking city. Low-income housing is going to take us in the wrong direction. We’re not doing it.”
“But, wait a minute,” Claire spoke up, courageously. “I think you’re wrong. Lots of other cities have incorporated affordable housing into their planning, and great developers want to work with them. I used to work for the city of Fairland, and they successfully built up their downtown with a combination of luxury, middle-income, and affordable housing. I think we could do that.”
“I think we have to do that,” said Andrew. “Listen, I don’t know what you all believe, but I think we’re supposed to show love for everyone. And sometimes that means we have to sacrifice, give up some of what we want so that everyone can have what they need. Maybe our home values don’t rise quite as fast, but at least that guy huddled up in the stairwell out there will have a place to live.”
“What guy in the stairwell?” Denise asked, not sure whether she was upset that someone was hanging out in the stairwell or that she hadn’t noticed him.
“Larry,” said Adam. “His name is Larry. His story is long, like most, but suffice it to say he’ll never be able to hold down a full-time job. He gets disability, and he can do a little part-time janitorial work. He could pay a few hundred dollars a month for a place if such a thing existed. But $1000? $1500? No way. Not ever.”
Andrew shuffled through the stack of proposals in front of him. “What about this developer? Shepherd Brothers. Their proposal looks like it includes everything. And they have great references. Looks like a quality plan.”
“Shepherd Brothers would cost the city way too much money. And we wouldn’t be getting nearly the amount of tax revenue as the other plans. That is absolutely the worst plan for the city,” Denise declared.
“I don’t know,” said Claire. “If we negotiate with them a bit, I think we could do it. It’s a solid plan. Maybe not quite as profitable, but better than another homeless shelter in the city.”
“I agree,” said Andrew. “I think the Shepherd Brothers plan lets us develop a downtown for everybody to thrive.”
“Shall we take a vote?” asked Adam, looking directly at Denise.
“I think we need more time to consider these proposals,” she said.
“Really?” said Patrick, frustrated. “We’ve been considering proposals for over a year now. I don’t have time for this. I honestly just don’t care anymore. Let’s just vote and get on with it.”
“Fine,” said Denise. “All in favor of the proposal from Armand Developers?” Denise and Patrick raised their hands. “And for the Shepherd Brothers proposal?” Adam, Andrew, and Claire raised their hands.
“All right then. If that’s the way you all think this city should go, I guess that’s where we’re going. You can look for my letter of resignation next week. Meeting adjourned.”
Denise left in a huff, and Patrick cleared out while continuing to punch at the buttons on his phone. Adam sat there for a moment, dumbstruck. He looked at Andrew and Claire. “Thank you,” he said, filled with awe. “You have no idea how long I’ve been fighting for this. The people on the commission before you were all just like them. I thought we’d never do this.”
“I’m so fortunate,” said Andrew. “How could I walk by people in need every day and not help?”
“I had no idea our city had so few resources for folks,” said Claire. “Everybody deserves to have their basic human needs met – food, clothing, shelter. And everybody needs love, too. And love means we have to do something, not just talk about it. We have to sacrifice sometimes. I’m glad we could help. This makes me happy to work and live here. In fact, this makes me feel like I’m really living.”
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.