Reflection – September 5, 2021
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
By Robin D’oyen
When I relocated to the Bay Area in the latter half of 2018 I came here almost literally with the clothes on my back. It was like something out of a movie or a novel. The protagonist setting off on an adventure into the unknown, restarting life not knowing where they were going or how they were going to live, but following one concrete desire, one dream, one guiding light. So, it was with myself, and to cut a long story short reality set in very quickly. Within a year I was in desperate straits indeed. I had no job except for a few odd hours of landscaping work and dog walks here and there. Money was running out. I had very little for food, zero for rent, almost none for transport to school in San Francisco. Things were at a very low ebb indeed at that point. Then, at one of the darkest moments of my life, in the pit of despair, my friends came to my rescue. For four months angels in the form of various friends assisted me financially, helping to carry me over the hump until I could secure a proper well-paying job. This was but one example where I have seen God’s hand at work and felt God’s presence. I have been through many crises in my life besides this one, and each time, when I feared I would not make it, when surely, I would break, He has proven my doubts wrong.
The past month has been one long litany of woe in the human family, near and far. Tragic, despairing, apocalyptic scenes that look like something out of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch the Renaissance painter. The cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti. The all too familiar hellish wildfires in the North. The devastation and flooding wrought by the storms in the Southeast and Northeast. The exodus from Afghanistan and the heartbreaking scenes of chaos we watched night after night, yet one more installment of misery in the story of that poor land. In the background to all this, the specter of pestilence stalks us all as the Covid pandemic continues to take its grisly toll. War. Disease. Disaster. All within one month, part of a constant drumbeat of human misery that we have all grown far too accustomed to.
The human psyche is a powerful thing. It can make us be our very best, or our very worst. We react strongly to terrible things that shock our system; yet when these disasters become frequent occurrences they become part of the background noise of our everyday lives. The sight of the homeless on our streets, of unending wildfires caused by climate change, of the sight of migrants fleeing for their lives at the Southern border; all of these things do not shock us as they once did. Like the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water we have become inured and indifferent to the sight and sound of these terrible things…not because we are naturally hard hearted, but because it is in our nature to do so.
A small word needs to be said about the Church in general and you, my fellow parishioners here at St. Albans in particular: all this is not to accuse you of indifference. St. Albans has done, and continues to do yeoman’s work in the cause of social justice and helping our unhoused brethren and sistren. This parish punches far above its weight, and I have been heartened by the work done by you here, and at other parishes here in the Bay Area that I have worshipped with. But a word of warning, however: the Lord’s work is unending. With every action there is a reaction. Disasters, be they man-made or natural, cause disruptions in lives. People who have lost their homes, their jobs, their families, their very countries are on the move all over the world. Some are close at hand; people who have lost their homes due to wildfire or eviction due to the pandemic are ending up on the streets to join the many who are already there. Others come from far away lands; refugees from Afghanistan are being resettled in California, to be joined in the future by others from war-torn areas who are in the refugee resettlement system, as well as the migrants from the South who make it here.
Now, more than ever, we all need to keep the words and teachings of the Master close to our hearts. In the reading today from Proverbs Solomon exhorts us to look after the poor because God has created us all, whether rich and poor: “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.” Likewise:
“Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.”
We are all creations of the Lord. Whatever our station in life, the Lord regards us equally. Indeed, Jesus himself was to echo this message centuries later in the Gospel of Matthew (25:35-40), when he said:
“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,…
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.”
The letter of James dived into this theme in greater depth. James’ question of “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” is a direct counterpart to Jesus’ statement in Luke 6:20 –
Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.”
James echoes the words of Jesus and reminds us that faith in the Kingdom does not depend on earthly riches or station, that God loves us all regardless. Which brings us to one of the most famous parts of James’ epistle:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
The fruits of a faithful life, a life that loves and honors God and God’s creation, a life of faith, IS one of WORKS and ACTS of faith. James is not saying that works alone will be your salvation; rather, your works are proof of your salvation. We do not all have the luxury to live as hermits; rather, we live in a society with others. Evidence of our faith comes from our acts, not just on behalf of ourselves but to aid and succor those who need our help the most, whoever or whatever they may be.
Acts or works of faith come in many forms, of course. As I said at the beginning of this reflection, the Lord’s work is unending. The needs are so many. In a sense I know that I am preaching to the choir, but as shocking and depressing things have been, we need to also accept that in a sense that this is the New Normal, and that God needs our caring hearts, our healing hands, to act as His angels on Earth more than ever. Remember where I started at the beginning, with my telling of my extremis two years ago? Those friends who saved me? It was hard for me to ask for help under those circumstances, but when I did all of those people helped me unstintingly, without reservation, refusing any form of repayment. One special friend instead encouraged me to repay God by passing on the blessing. We are all God’s agents, God’s angels on Earth. We may be able to help in only a small way. But what we may think is insignificant or of no account means the world in the aggregate if we all continue to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and stewards of Creation as the Lord requires us to be.