Tag Archive: Poverty


A Gut-moving Experience

This was the sermon I preached on June 9 on the “Widow of Nain:” Luke 7:11-17.

Jesus has just come to Nain, a village southeast of Nazareth.  He’s traveling with his disciples and a large crowd after successfully healing a centurion’s servant.  As they come up to the gate of the village, they encounter a funeral procession.  There are crowds shuffling slowly and people weeping for the man who has died and is now being carried out of the city on a bier.   In the heart of the crowd, Jesus sees this man’s mother and tells her, “do not weep.”  And without another word, he touches the bier, halting the procession in its tracks.  The widow and the crowds are waiting, silent and tense, not knowing who this man is or what he is doing.  What might he do?  Might he actually have the power to do something?

Jesus stands next to the bier and says in a clear voice, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  Suddenly the man sits bolt upright and begins to speak!  As Jesus hands him over to his mother, the crowds begin to glorify and praise God, calling Jesus a great prophet and saying that God has looked favorably on them.  From that small village of Nain, stories of a great prophet ripple out, eventually reaching John the Baptist.

This morning’s Gospel reading is a very short story.  There’s very little dialogue and, although a man is raised from the dead, it’s not one of the better-known stories we hear in scripture!  But as I was reading this story again, I was struck by the phrase, “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her…”

Now, if there’s one thing you all should know about me, it’s that I am a huge language nerd.  Actually, I’m a huge nerd in general, but let’s just focus on the language part for now.  I love learning different languages.  I enjoy learning about where words come from and the ways in which languages reflect cultures.  So when I heard this phrase about having compassion on the widow, I thought back to Greek class.

You see, there’s a really fun Greek word for what gets translated in our Gospel reading as “to have compassion on.”  The verb used is splanchnizomai – if you’d like, I invite you to try saying it because it’s really fun!  Splanchnizomai.  This fun foreign word connects to the word for guts.  That’s right, Jesus saw her and his guts were moved.  Weird, right?  Well, in many cultures of the day, the guts were thought to be the place of deep, tender emotion.  Love, compassion and affection were not matters of the heart, but matters of the gut.  I think “I ❤ New York” works much better than “I gut New York,” but I digress.

Jesus is walking in the village and he sees a sight that hits him in the gut.  It stops him in his tracks and causes him to reach out and to address the people and the situation in front of him.  He sees not only the widow’s sorrow, but also her glaring need.  He knows perfectly well that in his culture a single woman without a husband or son to care for her would lose her place in society and would have to rely upon charity to survive.  He knows that she not only weeps for her son, but also for the dire straits she’s now in – for the uncertainty that lies ahead.  He sees this and it hits him hard.  And so he acts, speaking a word of hope and promise, telling her not to weep.  And then he raises her son with only a few words, restoring not only his life, but the widow’s as well.  Both of them are restored to life and also to their places in the community.

Jesus’ response to the situation – the compassion he feels upon seeing this sad sight – isn’t just a miracle story.  It helps the people of Nain, the people hearing Luke’s Gospel, and us, today, to identify Jesus with God.  Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God is described as being a God of mercy, compassion and faithfulness.  God’s character is one of love and justice – of caring for the poor, the orphan, the widow and all of those who have been marginalized.  Jesus’ compassion on the widow signals that he is connected with God.  Through Jesus’ movement of love to the very center of death and the miracle of raising this young man, the villagers identify him as a great prophet, as someone who is bringing God’s favor and mercy to them.  God has visited them and all of them have in some way experienced not only God’s favor, but new life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus’ encounter with the funeral procession.  They were on their way, participating in a difficult part of every day life, when they were stopped.  They were interrupted by God enfleshed.  But even Jesus was powerfully impacted by what he encountered.  His compassionate, divine gut told him to get involved and to act.

I know there have been times in my life when I have seen situations and felt compelled to reach out.  But I also know there are just as many times I’ve ignored these promptings.  How often do we go through life, checking off things on our “to do” lists, moving along and doing our own thing, ignoring, intentionally or not, the widows around us?  Ignoring those in need of tender care and also justice?  What does it take for something to hit us in the guts and cause us to sit up and pay attention?  Do the situations we see around us or in the larger world – the poverty, problems with bullying, lack of clean water, malaria, violence – move us with compassion to do something?  Or do we walk on by?

A few weeks ago, a photo posted online hit me in the gut and stopped me cold.  It was a picture of a couple embracing in the rubble of the garment factory that had collapsed in Bangladesh in April.  It was a shocking picture because they looked peaceful, like a couple in love with the backdrop of a horrific tragedy.   It was a picture that saddened me, but also made me upset that so many, 1,100 people, died due to unsafe working conditions.  It was also a picture that made me uncomfortable because the garments made there could easily be the ones on my back.  As I was looking at the photo of the couple buried in the rubble and now thinking about the gospel for today, I wonder, how might God be calling me to respond?  Might God be calling me to a greater awareness of the high price of my clothes? Might God be calling me to speak up for better working conditions at garment factories?

“A Final Embrace” photographed by Taslima Akhter on April 25, 2013

Like the widow and the crowds in Nain, God through the Holy Spirit interrupts us along our way, inviting us to participate in what God is up to in the world.  The difficult thing is being open to being interrupted – letting ourselves be moved by compassion to do something that maybe was never on our radar screen.  Letting ourselves be moved by the Spirit to take risks for the sake of the gospel.  Letting ourselves be moved out of our comfort zones and beyond our fears to follow Christ, the one who gives abundant life.

The young man in this story is not the only one who has died and been brought back to life for a second chance.  In some ways, we may be dead to what is going on around us in the world, hesitant to get involved because we fear we do not have the skills necessary, or because we wonder what others might say if we stepped outside of the box.  Maybe we doubt that we could even make a difference.  But just as Jesus brought the young man back to life, he stands before us, beckoning us to rise and to live in the fullness of the life he longs to give to us.

Every day we can remember that, in baptism, we too, have died with Christ and been raised to new life in him.  We have been marked with the cross and gifted with the Holy Spirit.  We have been given the incredible opportunity to go out, led by the Spirit, to participate in the work of sharing life and hope with others, especially those in need like the widow of Nain.

And one of the fantastic gifts we’ve been given is that we’re never in this alone!  We have the community of faith to help us discern how God may be leading us individually, as a congregation, and as a larger church to respond to those stirrings of mercy and compassion we feel.

With stories of violence in the news or the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma we know all too well that we will see and hear difficult or even downright awful things in the world that hit us in the gut and move us.  The question is, how is God calling us to respond? Is it with prayer? Is it with donations of clothing, food, water or money? Is it by giving of our time? Is it by learning more about the situations and discerning with the community how to respond?

Christ has given us new life through his death and resurrection.  And we have been generously invited to share that gift of life with others in his name.  What an amazing opportunity!  May the Holy Spirit continue to interrupt our lives, to shake us up and stir in us, moving us with compassion and driving us to actively participate in God’s work in the world.  Let’s just say I’ve got a good gut feeling about it.  AMEN.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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Mad World

I was just going through my “favorites” on YouTube and I ran across this dance (see below) from the most recent season (I think!) of So You Think You Can Dance.

This contemporary dance piece set to Gary Jules’ “Mad World” depicts a meeting between two very different men. One is poor, broken down, homeless and on the fringes of society. The other is a powerful business man in a tailored suit, who clearly has a purpose in his steps. Their situations are reflected in their dance styles and, in addition to the artistry of the dancing, there is a moment in the piece which speaks volumes about all of us. This moment shows us two men who have been in their own worlds, caught up in their own strikingly dissimilar stories, coming face-to-face only to realize that they were once friends.

After initial shock, they begin to dance in step, uniting through their shared past and in their common humanity. Only a short while thereafter, they go back to the way they were at the beginning of the dance – separated by situation, class, and economics.

How often do we turn a blind eye to others we encounter, remaining focused on our own “mad world” and situation? Do we ever dare to come face-to-face with others, or are we frightened of seeing amazing similarities in the face of someone apparently so different from us? Are we afraid to see ourselves in the face of someone we would prefer to keep at arm’s length (or even further away)? How can we begin to dance with others, uniting in love for one another as fellow humans?

Just a few thoughts before I head to homework land! 😉

© 2011. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Treasures in Heaven

Matthew 6:19-21
“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'”

I just read this the other day and it got me thinking about a few experiences I’ve had this summer. Being a chaplain intern this summer in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education), I’ve been able to speak to many different people. In doing so, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to hear about and learn from their experiences and life stories. It’s made me realize that in the end, these stories and experiences are often the last things we have left. It’s not our wealth or possessions we have with us, but our thoughts, feelings and what we can share with others. When we have lost the gift of speech or can no longer speak for ourselves, the stories others tell about us and the memories they have of us help us to live on in the hearts and minds of others.

In our society, we spend so much time seeking to amass wealth, to build up our homes and establish ourselves, but to what end? When we pass away, it’s not the money or things that people will be mourning. It’s the loss of a person whom they loved and cherished. Society tells us to climb the social ladder, to make more money, to buy bigger houses, to purchase flashier things and to make a name for ourselves. We all have that urge to etch our names into the fabric of history – to leave a legacy for those who come after us. But God points us in a different direction.

In this passage, Jesus urges us not to put our trust, our time or energy into products or goods, but to trust and rest in the God of abundance, whose bounty knows no end. In God, there is only the richness of love and life, not the poverty of things that past away. When we’re racing about, trying to make more money or buy more stuff, we fill our lives and our hearts with the things that fade away, leaving no room for God who would fill our cups to overflowing.

We want so much to hold on to everything, to hoard things and lock them away for ourselves, that we forget that there is far more joy and happiness to be experienced in giving and sharing. And, far more than in stockpiling riches on this earth, we have incredible joy, comfort and security in knowing what God has done for us – “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.'” (John 3:16). Why on earth would we want to trade that for an iPod or a bigger television?!

© 2010. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Hoarding

Overflowing Cup

Gifts in Disguise

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything, but I feel it’s important to write something today. A while ago, my coworker sent an e-mail to everyone in the office, asking for blankets, coats, hats, gloves and gift cards to distribute to the homeless people in our community. I thought this was a great idea, so my boyfriend and I gathered some clothes and I brought them to the office. Since I wanted to do something more “hands-on,” I offered to help my colleague pass out bags with gloves, Cosi gift cards and other items that had been donated.

We set out on yesterday with only eight plastic grocery bags between us, thinking that we’d be back to the office in a half an hour or so. We went to every place we had ever seen homeless people and we were shocked that we didn’t see anyone. It must have been so cold, that most people were already in shelters. We walked quite a bit, checking all of the places we could think of – street corners, bus stops, parks.

We were able to talk to two men, one of whom was the man with the poncho mentioned in my previous post. When my colleague approached him to ask if he needed warm clothes for the winter, he said “No, thank you. I really appreciate you offering, but I have enough already. I would like to extend my hand to you and wish you a Merry Christmas though.” I was completely and utterly shocked.

The next man we spoke with was sitting on the cold sidewalk, next to a shopping cart filled with what I can only assume was everything he owned. He, too, thanked us for the offer and said that he was fine.

My colleague and I were baffled. What about helping the needy? What about making someone’s day? I had set out thinking that I was going to help people in the community, hoping that I might make a tiny difference. Instead, I learned a much more valuable lesson.

I had always looked at homeless people skeptically, wondering where my change was going when I did decide to give to them. I had thought that most of them suffered from alcohol or drug abuse, or had mental illnesses. Perhaps this is true for many homeless, but in thinking about these things, I had somehow managed to shut out their humanity. I grouped everyone together, neglecting that these could be people who in another time and place, might be my friends.

In speaking with these men, I was jarred out of my misconceptions and back into reality. At the core, we all have the same needs, wants, desires. In my eagerness to help, I forgot the person I was trying to help – his pride, dignity and where he was coming from.

My colleague and I ended up donating the bags of clothing and gift cards to a nearby church which has an outreach in the community. On the way home from work that evening, my coworker handed out the two remaining gift cards to people he saw on the street. One of them was the man in the poncho. He accepted the card and, as a thank-you, pulled a Christmas card out of his backpack, signed it and handed it to my colleague.

We had expected to give of ourselves and out of the extra things we had, but generosity and thankfulness turned up in unexpected ways. Yet again, my perceptions were shattered. The one we thought had nothing gave us something of his along with a glimpse into a different side of homelessness – a very personal side. And so, I can only say “thank you, John,” for bringing things into perspective.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

Signs

Today, driving along Rockville Pike, I witnessed a tragic paradox. As I waited, stopped at a stoplight, on one side of the street I saw three men twirling bright yellow signs in order to draw attention to some new condominiums. These men smiled and danced, tossed their signs in the air and spun around in order to draw attention.

On the other side, I saw a man in dirty clothes standing alone and holding another sign. He stood with his head hanging and his eyes downcast. His sign was old and worn, made with scribbled writing on rough cardboard.

On one corner, an invitation to strangers to come and buy. On the other, the humility of asking strangers for help.

One corner flashes a welcome and appeals to the needs and wants of others. The other quietly beckons for a listening ear and a little help – for the scraps from the drivers’ tables.

On one corner, the men stand in a group, socializing with one another in a socially acceptable job. On the other, a man stands as an outcast, left to fend for himself.

© 2008. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.

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