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May 2016

Finding Harold

Harold is now in an intensive care room at Hershey Medical Center. He is receiving some of the finest care this area can offer, but remains “unresponsive.” Harold was brought to HMC that way and without identification. He was listed as “John Doe” for a couple of weeks until one of his friends provided a name. From what I can tell from visiting Harold the prognosis is not good. And no relative has come forward to claim him and take responsibility for some decisions that will soon have to be made.

Harold is a creature of habit. He always sits at the table closest to the serving line in our Wednesday evening meals for the community and toward the back of the sanctuary near the Seventh Street entrance during worship. He is one of our success stories as a church. We addressed some very concrete needs for him: food, clothes, and minor repairs on his ratty old Chevy Lumina. He found his way into our hearts with his contagious laugh, witty remarks, and disarming sincerity. And from there he found his way into our worship wearing his frayed olive sweatshirt and khaki pants. After he and I cleared the air on who was worthy and why, Harold participated in the Lord’s Meal regularly and with delight. He loved the music and usually had an edgy editorial footnote to my sermon after the service. We were in conversation about his joining the church. Harold was not a “joiner” by nature, but thought he could make an exception for Calvary.

Recently Harold had been evicted from his apartment in a Harrisburg assisted living complex. He was evicted for numerous violations of the apartment code, which he did not dispute. Harold was a confessed hoarder. He had been given several warnings across the years and, by his own admission, just ignored them. He was hoping to get a room at the YMCA. If not there, he would live out of his Lumina at least for the summer and fall months. The bleak prospect of becoming once more “homeless” weighed heavily on Harold these last few weeks. That stress and some long-term health issues were certainly contributing factors to the medical crisis that landed him in an intensive care unit of Hershey.

In the church where I grew up I do not believe I would have come into close contact with someone like Harold. We were too busy differentiating ourselves as middle class respectable. And if it were not for this congregation now, I would have little reason or occasion to know Harold. We don’t cross lines of class any more easily than we cross lines of race. Even today. Even in this place. It is a God-thing when a Harold finds a church home at Calvary, when we can take up his story into our story with God, and I am immensely humbled to be part of that updraft of providence.

Pray for Harold. It would take a miracle to see him in his seat in the sanctuary near the seventh Street entrance again. Miracles happen. But if he cannot return to us or to anyone, pray for a gentle passing of his soul.

During the Easter season we have been studying the subject of joy in the Bible in our Sunday School class. We noticed how often God commands us to join in his joy, to rejoice at some delight he has created, or some reversal of events he has affected, or to rejoice notwithstanding, ecstatically anticipating that God will have the last word. And we could not help but notice how Jesus seems to highlight one particular experience of God’s joy, God’s delight when that which was lost is found. “I tell you there is joy in the presence of the angels of God…” (Luke 15:10). Lost sheep. Lost coin. Lost son. Lost Harold. Found!

Pastor Lew

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March 2016

He Saw Ravens Fly and Considered Lilies Growing

During Lent we are looking at the things Jesus said and saw after “he set his face toward Jerusalem.” There is a new urgency in his messages from that point, as both he and the disciples know the imminent danger. I compare the charged atmosphere to Dr. Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” (available on YouTube). And one of those messages that becomes more electrified is the one in Luke 12: “Do not worry about your life… watch the ravens in the air… consider the lilies in the field… seek first the kingdom of God.” The same words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) come across as measured practical wisdom. In Luke 12 they are urgent because Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. Someone once described Pausch’s lecture as ”our fate sped up.” I would describe Jesus’s words in Luke 12 like that. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I/you don’t have forever to get this right: do not worry… watch the ravens… consider the lilies… seek first God’s kingdom.”

I estimate that on any given Wednesday night at our meal for the community that we call Manna, anywhere from five to ten truly homeless persons are present. They live in tents under bridges or in their cars or on park benches. I have studied Luke 12 (“do not worry… consider the ravens… consider the lilies… seek first the kingdom”) in the original Greek language, with the help of astute biblical scholars, and through the lens of great theologians, but the homeless persons who come to Manna have made Jesus’ words come alive. They are living them out, some by fate and some by choice

You may recall that winter started late this year; we had the air conditioner on for the Christmas Eve service. It didn’t start to get cold until mid January, but as the weather turned I began to worry about these persons I have come to know by name. After dinner as they take up their backpacks and go out into the dark bitter cold night, how will they make it? I told you about Lucky’s rule of thumb; when it’s 20 degrees or below he goes to the YMCA, but 20+ he’s good outdoors. I’m sure Lucky was outdoors last night (it was “up” to the low thirties); others were in their cars parked in inconspicuous places, or huddled in tents. For all their sakes I want Spring to hurry back!

Both those homeless by fate and those homeless by preference share a common faith: there is a limitless supply from which their needs can and will be met. They believe, “the good Lord will provide.” God will provide in steady acts of kindness by others like our Manna meal. God will work in the hearts of the “powers that be” (landlords, government agencies, officers) to do right by them. And God will provide a never failing stream of daily mercies, things that arrive just in the nick of time.

I want to believe like that. I must believe like that or my life will deteriorate into a spirit of anxiety from which flow acts of desperate clinging. There are helpful reminders along the way: ravens… lilies… Lucky… and Jesus who sets his face toward Jerusalem and does not look back.

Pastor Lew

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