We Give What We Can…What Can We Give?
April 16, 2024

We Give What We Can…What Can We Give?


Acts 3:1-10

This morning I’m going to tell you about Carmen. Carmen is the kind of person who has a level of empathy for people that is deeper than maybe anyone I’ve ever encountered. There are plenty of things that testify to this, but the one I want to tell you about her relationship with Dale. 

Carmen met Dale when she walked by him panhandling on the street. He was slumped against the side of a building with a sign and a cup. She was going about her business. But she did not walk by or glance away. She stopped and said hello. She introduced herself and asked what Dale needed. She brought him a meal. And then she came back the next day and the next. She kept coming back and eventually Carmen and Dale became friends. Carmen helped Dale connect to resources, sometimes she let him stay at her home. She helped to find him permanent shelter and care.

Any other person might not have done that, not only because of the time and energy but because Dale was not a pleasant person. He was surly and could be unkind. He wasn’t grateful. I say ‘was’ because Dale is no longer living; he had a genetic condition called Huntington’s Disease. It’s a neurological condition that gradually causes the body and mind to deteriorate. Because it changes the brain, people’s personalities change along with their bodies. 

Eventually Dale passed away but when he did, it wasn’t on the street as happens to so many people in our region and in many places around our country. It was mostly his relationship with Carmen that changed the trajectory for Dale. 

Something you should know about Carmen is that she is not a social worker. She is not a nurse. She doesn’t work in social services. She’s now retired but she worked in sales for her whole career, for a big, recognizable company and that’s what she was doing when she and Dale met. 

I say this because when I read the story of Peter and James on their way into the temple, it sounds almost like they’ve gone there in order to encounter people like that man. Like they’re outreach workers on the job. But really, like Carmen, they’re just going about their day. This is the usual time for prayers so they’re headed there to join their community in prayer when they encounter a man outside. A man who has been brought to the Beautiful Gate to beg there for years. Decades.

“We don’t have money,” they say, “but we’ll give you what we can.” We haven’t even reached the point where Peter reaches out his hand and says, “Get up and walk,” and Peter and James have already given a gift: they pay attention. In Jewish practice, it was and is tradition to give alms by the temple. If you have money, you give a portion. An almost automatic part of worship. But even though they were about the ordinary routine, instead of going on in, they notice. They pay attention, and they ask for attention. For relationship.

And then, as a result of being raised to walking, Peter and James offer Mr. Beautiful Gate the gift of access. People with disabilities aren’t welcome into the temple to worship, nor could he have even gotten himself there. Through the gift of a hand up - the use of his legs, the man can walk - can run, can jump! - with them into the temple for worship and prayer.

I just read an article in the Anabaptist World by Sara Werner. She is a theological educator and leader of Olentangy Wild Church and a member of Columbus Mennonite Church. She was one of the worship leaders at the Climate Summit at MennoCon last summer. Like the man at the gate she cannot walk. In her article she reflects on the embodied experience of being a person with a disability in the church. 

As a wheelchair user, I have often visited churches where the sanctuary is accessible to laypeople, but the pulpit and front chancel are up a flight of steps. The message is clear: I am welcome to participate in worship but not welcome in leadership.

Then she reflects her gratitude for a congregation that gave her the gift of access. And not only access but blessing in leadership: 

The wisdom I have gained from my experience of embodiment is not valued enough to share in these places, and so coming to Columbus Mennonite after a move from the South was a joyful surprise.

That was the gift not of one person but of many. Of understanding what hospitality for people in many different kinds of bodies looks like.

As a community a church is greater than its parts. As I’ve been getting to know the churches and Pastors of Kirkland, I’ve been learning about Lake Washington United Methodist Church (I wonder who knows anything about them.) A few years ago they began a safe-parking ministry in their parking lot. 

So not only do they allow people to park and sleep in their vehicles outside, they have created space inside their church for people to cook and eat, socialize and hang out, store some goods. They collect and distribute hygiene items and food and warm clothes, as well as gas and grocery gift cards. 

Giving of ourselves individually and collectively can come at a cost. People left the church because of the decision to offer this gift. And it’s a lot of work. For the members of the small church and for the pastor. But from what I can tell it is also immensely rewarding and it is allowing a level of stability and safety to unhoused people that is potentially life-changing.

Empathy, attention, access, hospitality, care, listing. Those are among the gifts that appear in these stories of individuals and communities. They are the hands reaching out. I invite you as you think about the gifts you’ve just heard about and about the needs or longings you see among us or in community to think about this: 

  1. What are the gifts that we are already offering to each other or to our community? 
  2. What are the gifts we could be offering, if we paid attention and reached out?

Inside your bulletin is a paper with a hand on it. At the front table is a glass of colored pencils. Grab a pencil. Consider one of those questions or both. Write on your hand one gift or many and then pin it to the divider with the pins that are already up there. Write a word, a phrase, a story! Draw a picture even. Let’s see how the gifts we have meet the gifts we long to give.

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