If ending homelessness is the goal, I don’t always think Micah has done a very good job. Still, after 15 years, there is always someone else in crisis, something more we could have done, or a different decision we might have made.
In my case, I chose a life’s calling because I wanted to make a difference; and for a long time, if the work didn’t take our neighbors, individually and collectively, to the mountaintop, I wondered if there was even a story worth telling. Our neighbors are often like that too. If they can’t get it all together, put their past aside and show up in the ways the rest of the world expects of them, they stop believing they are even worthy of climbing the mountain.
What I have come to learn our churches did all those years ago, in creating Micah, was commit less to the mountaintop and far more to the valley work that alleviates the suffering. Sure, there have been many mountaintops in this journey: the opening of our respite house, welcoming hundreds of chronic homeless into a new home, and most recently, an opportunity to shelter almost the entire street population during the pandemic, to name a few. But following God to a place of true reconciliation, always takes us back to the valley.
And as we talked at street church Sunday, that’s the story of Jesus (Mark 9:2-9), as well.
In a video message shared with our community this morning, Carla Pratt Keyes of Ginter Park Presbyterian in Richmond said suffering is necessary to be human. Jesus was fully human and he chose to come down into our mundane life…and share in the difficulties of humanity, even death. The disciples learned from Jesus, not by remaining on the mountaintop, but following him down the mountain and into the suffering.
At different points in the life of Micah Ministries we’ve been asked to explain success. Funders usually want to know how many people we’ve served and how lives have changed. The community expects the harrowing tale of the street person who suffered and, with God’s help, finally has it all together. Although there are plenty of those mountaintops in our narrative, there’s a far better story in the relationships and experiences that relentlessly continue to journey with people in their suffering.
Recently, I’ve shared four stories from our neighbors, Rachel, George, Arritt and Sue, as part of the Love Your Neighbor campaign. All of them talk about the valleys they have been through and the mountains they have seen or believe they are capable of scaling. But no matter where they are in their story, they acknowledge the many ways they are still on the journey. Each, in their own way, is still meandering through grief, illness and sometimes addiction and other struggles. No one is a finished product; but what I find so profound in the contrast of “where they have been” to “where they are now” is that they all know they are not alone.
I have also been keeping you posted on what has been happening with our friend Jeremiah. After 27 years of street life, he has spent the last three weeks in his own apartment. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to tell you a “has it all together” story on Jeremiah. I don’t even know yet, if he is actually going to stay put as the weather gets warm and the ebb and flow of his paranoia plays out. But I can tell you, in this moment, that something really special is happening as our community journeys with him out of the suffering and into a place of newfound stability, hope and reconciliation. Oddly enough, tasks as simple as caring for a home, taking out the trash and shoveling the walkway, are freeing Jeremiah from the margins. No longer is he literally outside and an outsider to our community. He lives IN a community; and having the opportunity to cultivate and care for it gradually gives him a chance to reclaim his place with in it, and ultimately the kingdom of God.
As Street Church has discussed for several weeks now, climbing the mountain is certainly hard work. There is baggage to leave behind. There is survival gear to pack. There are tools to be utilized. But today’s message, might be most pivotal of all. A mountaintop is merely a mileposts. It is not the destination.
I don’t know if we will ever end homelessness, at least in my lifetime. But even if we could, the work of the church would still not be complete. Suffering does not stop at the doorstep of a house, the first day of a new job, when a plate of food is dropped in front of someone, or even following a baptism. Our neighbors will find themselves in the valley, and through Street Church they are learning that Christ is there, as well.
Our community is excited to be part of Micah’s ecumenical observance of lent this year. In today’s leadership meeting they made crosses and talked about final details for our Ash Wednesday service. It will be held at noon in Hurkamp Park this coming Wednesday, Feb. 17, with hot soup to go provided by some of our church partners.
Please consider joining us for Ash Wednesday. And mark your calendars, as follows, to virtually attend the upcoming noonday lenten services, which will be live-streamed on Micah’s Facebook and Youtube channel.
Feb 24- Rev. Allen Fisher, The Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg
March 3 – Rev. Aaron Dobynes, Shiloh Baptist Old Site
March 10 – Rev. Josh Hagstrom, Fredericksburg United Methodist
March 17 – Rev. Will Dickinson, St. George’s Episcopal
March 24 – Rev. Chelsea Morse, Street Church. (Psst…George is working on a special music piece to share at the service!!)
Before I go, I also want to lift up thanks for Chalee’ Carmichael’s Sunday school class at Fredericksburg Baptist Church for dropping off blankets for our community this morning!
Thanks be to God,