Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1;1 John 5: 9-13; John 17: 6-19
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN
Last Sunday, one week ago around 8:30 AM, a young man wandered into this church. He was barefoot, had shoulder length hair, a beard, and was dressed in tan pants and a brown shirt. He kind of looked like the cartoon character “Shaggy” from the children’s television show Scooby Doo. Some of you all may have seen him last week.
By the time I encountered him, he was sitting outside the church along with an unleashed dog, who was clearly his companion. I asked him his name, and he introduced himself as Eric. After learning his name, I quickly realized that Eric was on drugs. My first guess was that he was on LSD, but when I shared this story with a college friend of mine who has, shall we say, intimate knowledge of such things, he said “no way, Jimmy, that was definitely PCP he was on.” I will leave it to your imagination as to how my friend could be so…confident. The point is, Eric was clearly not in his right mind. He was not well, emotionally or psychologically. Which is perhaps why he chose a church to cycle through his high.
Sadly, many churches including this one, are not set up to offer these services, and when people started coming to the service, and his unleashed dog started barking at parishioners, and I could not be certain this man would be a harm to himself or others, I made the decision to call the Constable, and the Constable arrived and began asking Eric questions, which revealed my suspicion of LSD was correct. At some point Eric lost his girlfriend, who the police found wandering 610 on foot – like Eric, also high.
By this time, four police cars and one ambulance were outside our church on Heights Boulevard while you all were saying the prayers of the people. In the midst of all these uniformed personnel, a woman came by the church walking her dog. She stopped on the sidewalk, and looked at Eric, now handcuffed, and the police surrounding him. She started talking to me, and then began to tell me about her son – this woman I had never met before in my life.
She looked at Eric, and quickly understood everything she needed to know about him, and then commented to me that her adult son grown son had been homeless for ten years, and that he was addicted to crack cocaine. She said all this very matter of fact, as if to say she had tried everything she could possibly do to help her son, but to no avail. She could no longer help him, if he didn’t want to help himself. And so, like Eric, this woman’s son is wandering the streets in some city, homeless, on drugs, and sleeping under city bridges.
I was amazed at the courage this woman displayed to share something with me so personal, admitting either her own failure as a mother, or her son’s failure in life. Either way, it took courage. And when she told me that, I looked back at Eric, and I wondered about his mother. I wonder what Mother’s Day is like for Eric’s mother.
Like everything else, there is a shadow side to Mother’s Day. Underneath flowery cards, brunches, and gifts there can be a deep and profound existential angst - a fear, a sadness, a brokenness. For those who grew up without a mother, or for those who for whatever reason are no longer in relationship with their mother, for those whose mothers are no longer among the living – this can be a hard day.
Life is a moving target – there are no guarantees. Nothing is certain. Life is not fair, nor was it ever promised to be. Life is chaotic, something I was reminded of last Sunday standing outside this church, watching the scene with the police unfold. I was not at my best last Sunday during all this. I was annoyed, frustrated, and angry that Eric had selected this place to rest his bare feet and his dog. That event literally threw my entire day off last week.
But a week has passed, and through my praying and through my reflecting I am beginning to see this event in a different light. Through prayer, I remembered that Eric is no different from anyone inside this church. Because like Eric, we all bring our problems here. Eric’s problems were easy to see, but the only difference between his and ours, is that we more cleverly disguise our issues. We dress ours up, or pretend they just aren’t there. Eric has just as much of a right to be here as any of us.
In his gibberish and jargon, Eric somehow made sense of a truth to me that I was not ready to receive one week ago, which is why I found his presence so annoying. Eric was a bold reminder to me, sitting on the step of our church building, that God’s kingdom is open to everyone. God sees no difference between the person who is nicely dressed in the church pew versus some barefoot, drugged out guy. We are all equally loved by God.
That’s the message Eric gave me. And what did we do with Eric, the messenger, the bringer of this message of God’s radical inclusive love that is free and available to every addict, every motherless child, every alcoholic, every codependent, every racist, every homophobe, every transgendered person? We handcuffed him and put him in a police car to be driven away. Now the officer assured me that no charges would be pressed, that they were taking him to a place where he could detox and have a meal before being released. But that didn’t change the fact that when I saw him sitting in the back of that car I wondered whose son is he?
This annoying messenger of God’s complete and total love for all humanity. And then I remembered that in the bible the word used to describe a messenger is “angelos” – angel. For a moment I wondered if I had just witnessed a constable handcuffing an angel and escorting him off church property. Think about the irony of that.
I think also of that woman and her homeless son, wherever he is today. For better or worse, we are the offspring of our parents. For better or worse, our children are the offspring of ourselves. There is tremendous beauty in that. There is redemption and beauty and grace in store for all of us who are broken. That is why I’m here. I hope that is why you are here. I know that is why Eric was here. AMEN.