Homily: Community Ministries Sunday, St. Aidan’s, Oct 4 2015
Reading: Mark 10.17-31
Welcome to Community Ministries Sunday! It’s good to be with you and it’s good to be invited to talk about the Community Ministries of our Diocese: Centre 454, Cornerstone Housingfor Women, The Ottawa Pastoral Counselling Centre, St. Luke’s Table and TheWell, five distinct programs serving the most vulnerable people in our community.
My name is Mark, and I am privileged to be a member and the past chair of the Community Ministries Committee of our Diocese. I am also the incumbent of St. Albans Church, which is located right downtown at King Edward and Daly Avenues, near the University of Ottawa, near the Byward Market and within walking distance of at least five emergency shelters in our city. One of our Community Ministries, Centre 454, a day program for those dealing with homelessness, is located in the basement of St. Albans Church, and I cannot even begin to tell you how important that is to us as a church community. We are so privileged to share space with Centre 454. In part that’s because of all the practical support which the participants of Centre 454 provide us, things like laundry, gardening and snow removal. But more importantly it’s because Centre 454 makes us a better church community. Over and over again it’s the Centre 454 community that teaches the St. Albans community what it means to be church.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is on the way. He’s on a journey, he’s on the move, and people are going with him. But then all of a sudden a man runs into his path and kneels down in front of him, bringing the procession to a grinding halt.
He stops the journey because he himself is stuck, he doesn’t know how to move forward in his life. He’s looking for answers, and so he asks Jesus the Big Question.
We all, at some point in our lives ask the Big Question. The meaning and purpose question. The ‘how should I live my life?’ question. We may use different language, we may frame it in different ways, but sooner or later we all ask the Big Question. What do I need to be happy? What should I do with my life? How can I have a full & abundant life?
“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus stops. They talk, about the commandments. Then Jesus looks at the man, loves him and says,
“You lack one thing: go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor.”
But when the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
Because in the Kingdom of God there are no possessions. In the Kingdom of God we realize that all that we have is a gift from God, and if we do find ourselves with anything, a house, a car, a salary, it is only something that has been entrusted to us for a time and a purpose, not our purposes but God’s purposes.
How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
Because in the Kingdom of God we have no status based on our wealth or possessions or abilities or accomplishments. Our status in the Kingdom of God is that of beloved children of God, an identity that is given, not earned.
Because in the Kingdom of God we have no security. No pension, no job security, no locks on the door. Our only security is found by trusting in God.
Because in the Kingdom of God, all people are God’s children and therefore my brothers and my sisters. And so I must care for them as I would care for a brother or sister.
How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God. Are you surprised that the man with many possessions was shocked, and went away grieving?
Every day there are more than 500 people who walk through the doors of our Community Ministries. They are, for the most part, people with little or no possessions, no status, no security. They may be people with no food in the cupboard who go to St. Luke’s Table for a meal. They may be women escaping abuse who find safety and support when they walk through the doors of The Well. They may be families in the midst of breaking up who get help from the Counseling Support Fund of the Ottawa Pastoral Care Centre. They may be women suffering from poor mental health who find supportive housing at Cornerstone. Perhaps they are people who are lonely, isolated and marginalized who come to Centre 454 to experience belonging and to be part of a community.
Whoever they are and for whatever reasons they come through our doors, they offer us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in our midst.
As a church, as the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, we are incredibly privileged to have the Community Ministries, and their participants, staff and volunteers in our midst. Because it’s hard to enter the Kingdom of God, and yet, we have this glimpse of the Kingdom right here with us, giving us the opportunity to get unstuck, to get up off our knees and to begin to move forward again on our way to God’s Kingdom. In our Community Ministries, all of God’s children are brothers and sisters. We value and respect the dignity of every person who comes through our door. We value mutuality, knowing that we are blessed by one another. Those who come to our Community Ministries come with gifts and stories, memories and hopes – volunteers and participants, staff and supporters.
I want you to know the joy of being part of this community.
For you are part of this community. Over many years the Community Ministries have received so much from people and parishes across our Diocese. Your generosity and support is essential to the work that we do. The work is important. There are needs in our city, and our Community Ministries support those who are most vulnerable and most in need by providing food, housing, spiritual care, clothing, skills training, education, shelter, mental health support, resources, life-skills and counselling. We are one of the largest providers of social services for those challenged by poverty in Ottawa. You should be proud of that and of all that you do and that is done on your behalf for the vulnerable in our community.
But more than being proud, we should also be thankful that God has given us this glimpse of God’s Kingdom in our very midst and is teaching us day by day through our Community Ministries what it means, what it’s like, what it takes, to enter the Kingdom of God.
St. Albans is privileged to share space with Centre 454. Because of this, many of the Centre’s participants come into the church upstairs, sometimes attending Sunday services, sometimes dropping by during the week to pray or sit quietly, a luxury that many of them don’t get to experience in a busy, crowded shelter. Eric is one of those people. He lives in a tiny room in a rooming house. And every day, he comes to Centre 454. The staff there know him, and care for him, as they do for so many. They check in with him regularly, they notice if his health starts to decline, they help him stay stable. For Eric, Centre 454 is his living room, his place of belonging, his community, the community that supports him through his ups and downs.
Two weeks ago, St. Albans had a BBQ after its Sunday service, downstairs, using the Centre 454 hall and kitchen and garden. It was a great event. And it was a mess by the time we were finished, food and plates, and, well, you know what it can look like.
And even before we had finished eating, Eric came in, got out the mop and cleaning cloths, and started to clean up the Centre. Without a word, without being asked, he did dishes, took out garbage, put things a way, cleaned the floors and counters. It took him well over an hour. When he was finished, Centre 454 sparkled.
Eric cares for the Centre because it’s his living room and his community.
Yes it’s hard to enter the kingdom of God. But when I see Eric cleaning up Centre 454, at least I get a glimpse of what that kingdom looks like. And I’m reminded that with God all things are possible.