Food for Thought, Food for the Hungry

Transformed by the Touch of a Homeless Man – A True Story by Kent Holland

I had just sat down in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station and tucked myself comfortably behind a newspaper to await my train to Washington, D.C., when, to my dismay, I saw a homeless man walking up to me. His approach was slow and deliberate. He stood before me, waiting for me to make eye contact. When I finally looked up to acknowledge him, I was discomforted by this man, probably in his mid-forties, with dirt and grease on his hands and unkempt clothing.

What struck me most about him, though, were his indescribable eyes, eyes that seemed to know me, that seemed to penetrate right through me; that appeared to be full of love, compassion, and sorrow. Being a rational, unemotional lawyer, I tried quickly to put those thoughts out of my mind. I thought I must be imagining things.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment and then he asked, “Sir, may I speak with you?”

My first thought was, “Oh no, here we go again, another bum begging for a handout.” I had never appreciated the plight of the needy. They made me uncomfortable and perhaps a bit afraid. I felt they should stop bothering people, and go out and get a job like everyone else. I had apparently never learned (or perhaps I had forgotten) the Scripture that tells us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18.

I wasn’t inclined to give this man any attention, and I certainly didn’t want to give him any money. But he hadn’t asked for money. He asked only: “May I speak with you?” What kind of a question was that? As I pondered him and his question, his incredible eyes gripped me. Finally, I couldn’t remain seated any longer. I stood up to face him.

“Will you feed me?” he asked.

I wasn’t prepared for that question. As he continued to speak, his language seemed peculiarly articulate, and his words became increasingly strange and disquieting. He spoke like a well-educated and intelligent man, not at all like what I would have expected based on my image of him.

All around me, finely dressed men and women hurried off to dinners, shows, and business meetings. Others, like myself, looked forward to getting home to their families. Many milled about in the cathedral-like structure, with its spacious halls and its magnificent columns rising to meet beautifully carved and painted ceilings high above. Others slept. Some chatted with colleagues or friends. Others sat idly, lost in thought, daydreams or fantasies.

I wondered why he had so intentionally picked me out of this mass of people. So, I asked him, “With all these people sitting around daydreaming, why did you choose me? Why did you pick me from behind a newspaper?”

“Because,” he answered, “you look like a gentleman with whom I should speak.” Those were his actual words.

This homeless man actually used better grammar than I normally do. He sounded like an English teacher and I wondered, “What’s going on here?”

Even stranger than his speech was the fact that instead of asking for money, he said his purpose in approaching me was that he thought he “should speak” with me. Now, this got my interest. What could he possibly have to say to me? In my cynical heart, I was disdainful and critical of this man. He looked like he was perfectly capable of working for a living, but had chosen to live the life of a bum instead. I just came right out and challenged him, saying,

“You’re obviously a well-educated man. You speak better than I do. Why aren’t you working instead of being on the street?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” he replied. “I hoped that you would permit me to share something with you. I’m a pharmacist by training. For twenty years I was employed as the pharmacist at a hospital right here in town. Life was good. I had a wife and two children. I had a nice house. I thought I had it all. Yes, life was good; until the day I received a phone call at the pharmacy telling me that my house had burned down and my wife and children had perished in the flames.”

Perhaps his story would have made me suspicious since it had obvious potential as a good come-on for a beggar to use. But the truth was in his teary eyes. Even the genuine sadness in the matter-of-fact way he told his story made it impossible for me to doubt its truth. He went on to explain his situation.

“After losing my family, I could no longer think clearly. I couldn’t concentrate well enough to make a prescription. But even if I could, I no longer had any desire for my job since I had lost my whole reason for living. Everything I lived for was gone. I’ve been on the streets ever since, talking to men like you who need to know. I share with them and eat with them, but I never ask for money. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten, and I’m very hungry, will you feed me?”

Looking back on the scene now, I’m embarrassed to say that by this point in the conversation I was still clueless about what was happening here. My insensitive and foolish response was to offer a couple dollars so he could buy something. He looked at me with kind eyes and gently declined my offer of money.

Once again, he asked: “Will you please feed me?”

Did he mean this literally and, if so, what did he expect me to do? I asked if I could buy him a burger and fries at the McDonald’s located in the station. But this was not what he had in mind. Instead, he asked me to join him for lunch at the small atrium-like cafe located in what might be described as a chapel hall just off the main cathedral of the station.

At this point, I didn’t know what to say. What could I say to this increasingly mysterious man who had picked me out a crowd and then confidently directed me to the specific café where he expected me to join him for lunch?

I had a train to catch but, as I considered the homeless man, my heart was strangely moved. What began as a passing thought that perhaps I might as well sit down with this man for a few minutes became a compelling desire to do just that. The train could wait. There would be another one later. Talking with this man had become the single most important thing I could do at that moment, even though I didn’t understand why.

We went over to the cafe and ordered a good meal. We sat together and talked for quite a while. Our conversation touched on issues that I wouldn’t normally discuss with an acquaintance of many years. He asked me questions about myself and what I was doing with my life. Perhaps my guilty conscience made me imagine things, but it seemed that he knew things about me that I didn’t want him to know. I felt like he could see the immorality that was ruling my life, and that I was well on the way to destroying my marriage and family. Without actually saying so, he seemed to know that I was living for my own self-gratification, driven by the desire for prestige, power, and enough money to gain financial independence. My lifestyle could be described by the motto: “I want it all, and I want it now!” One of my friends even printed that saying on a large button and fastened it to the lampshade in my law office.

Finishing our meal, I rose to leave. He turned to me then and asked: “Will you make me a promise?” I must have given him a surprised and bewildered look. He held my eyes with his as he said, “Think about this. The next time you see someone who is poor, needy or homeless, remember me! I once had everything you have now. I had a wife, two children, a good job and a home. I lost them all in an instant. The difference between you and me is so small. You could lose everything as quickly as I lost it. Remember me. And remember that all you have is by the grace of God.”

When he spoke of the grace of God I thought of how often I had heard preachers, parents, and teachers speak similar words. They had always seemed so trite. Coming from this man, however, I was awestruck by the simplicity and truth of this statement. At that moment, I experienced an odd sensation. I felt that his words had hit hard right where I needed to be hit. Even as I stood there, I found myself thinking that this man got to me like no preacher or teacher ever managed to do. I had often quoted the scripture saying “It is by grace you are saved, through faith … it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9). But I had forgotten the very next verse which states that we are created by God to do good works (vs.10). Then there is the Scripture in the New Testament book that says: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-16). I can tell you that as I stood before the homeless man my eyes were opened to the fact that my own faith was bogus. It wasn’t real. It was mere words. It wasn’t backed up with action. My faith was dead.

The homeless man wasn’t even done with me yet. Looking steadily into my eyes, he asked: “The next time you see a homeless person or a someone in need, will you feed them, will you care for them, will you clothe them, will you meet their need? Don’t give them money. That isn’t what they need. They need you. Will you give them of yourself? Will you love them?” This final question stunned me.

An uncomfortably long moment passed while I thought about it. Quietly, almost reverentially, I replied, “I will.” His eyes gleamed as he smiled and wished me well. As I boarded the next train for Washington, the impact of what had happened to me in Philadelphia and how it was going to fundamentally change my life had not yet dawned on me. This homeless man had ministered to me in a powerful and moving way. A day has rarely gone by since then that I have not remembered him with his incredible, loving eyes, peering into me. I often wonder about him and whether he could have led me to such a change without this being a divine appointment. As a new love and compassion seemed to well up inside of me from depths previously unknown, I realized that when I said “yes” to the homeless man, I had said yes to God.

As the days and weeks passed after that, I found myself practically walking on air with a deep sense of peace and joy. I began talking to people and taking an interest in people that I previously would have crossed the street to avoid. While traveling in other cities since then, I have found myself asking homeless men to join me for dinner, buying bus and train tickets for men who claim they need to get home, and spending time listening to them and talking with them. That might seem like odd behavior for even a man much more spiritual than I. It was certainly an extraordinary behavior for me.

Having no rational, reasonable explanation for my transformation, I concluded that I had experienced a spiritual encounter of a most dramatic kind. In my search for the source of this new experience, I bought a copy of an easy to read version of the Bible, The New International Version (“NIV”). One of the first passages to catch my attention was in the first book of the New Testament, at Matthew, chapter 25, which describes a scene when people will be brought before the “heavenly throne.” Two large groups of people are standing before the King. One group, He blesses and the other He rejects.

To those He blesses He says: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” To the surprise of the good people who say that they don’t know when they did any of these things for the King, He will respond: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” And for a final irony, he turns to all those people standing at his other side and tells them they are cursed and must depart his company because they didn’t care for Him when He was in need.

The startled outcry of these people is that they attended religious services and were good and decent folks, and surely there must be some sort of mistake because they never saw the King hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or needing clothes, or otherwise needing help. But the King responds, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

As I think about all the homeless and needy people I have ignored and passed by, while secure in my belief that I was acceptable to God because I put my faith in Him and attempted to live a good life, my heart aches with the knowledge that by ignoring these people who needed me, I have ignored and rejected God.

Much of organized religion today makes a great show of pomp and ceremony but seems to be lost in empty words, lacking any godly purpose or mission. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, God tells the people “Stop bringing meaningless offerings. Your incense is detestable to me. . . When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers I will not listen.” (Is. 1:13). This is rather dramatic. In fact, it’s how I felt in my own life. Just as he wasn’t listening to their prayers, He wasn’t responding to my prayers either. Why? God rejected their empty worship and told them the kind of religion he wants to see. He says: “Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (Is. 1: 17). So what is the Religion that God accepts?

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….” James 1:27.

The Bible states that we are to live by the Spirit of God and bear the fruit of the Spirit, including “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). If we take this seriously and ask ourselves whether we are genuinely experiencing and bearing these “fruit,” I believe we will see that each of us needs to accept the homeless man’s challenge, to make the decision from the depths of our being, to say yes to those in need, and to give consistently of ourselves (a listening ear, a helpful hand, and a compassionate heart). This includes sharing ourselves and God’s compassionate love with not only those who have physical needs but also with those who have spiritual and emotional needs — not only those who are strangers to us, but those who are our colleagues at work, family members, club members, and neighbors. This radical personal transformation of bearing fruit, giving of ourselves (not just our money and our words), is the natural result of answering the call of the homeless man, answering the call of God.

When I said yes, my life dramatically changed. An empty chasing of success has been replaced with a life of significance. I still earn my living as a construction lawyer, but where I find true peace, contentment and joy are through the experience of God’s love – especially when I share that love with others in meaningful ways. How about you? Have you heard the call? How are you answering? Are you saying yes?

J. Kent Holland, Jr. 6505 Chesterfield Ave. McLean, VA 22101 703-623-1932 Kent@KentHolland.com

Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV)

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’

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Seeing the Invisible through the Lens of Faith

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Seeing the Invisible through the Lens of Faith’ 

© July 29, 2018, by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin July 29, 2018

Based on a Message shared at BLCF on March 8, 2015

BLCF: Bulletin March 8, 2015

Announcements & Call to Worship; Prayer

Opening Hymn #35: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise; Choruses

Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers

Responsive Reading #601: (Faith and Confidence – from Psalm 27)                 

Message by Steve Mickelson: ‘Seeing the Invisible through the Lens of Faith’

 

Let us pray…

Life can often seem to be an emotional roller coaster, especially if you read the news. Last Sunday morning, we celebrated the answer to the collective prayers offered by millions of people from around the world, when fourteen soccer players and their coach were rescued from the bowels of the earth, inside a monsoon flooded cave in Thailand. Regretfully, a retired marine dive lost his life during the rescue.

Soccer-team-rescued-from-cave-honours-lost-diver-Thailand-2018-07-06

By Sunday evening, the tears of joy for the cave rescue were replaced by tears of sadness, when fifteen people in Toronto, their families, and our city had their collective lives shattered after a shooter changed their lives forever.

Such acts of violence have been addressed more than once from this pulpit, most recently on the topic of God’s admonition to us to protect innocent children. The two victims who lost their lives in the shooting spree were both students, girls aged 18 and 10 years old, respectively.

#DanforthStrong – #TorontoStrong

After the tragedy, there was a scramble to see whether the shootings were part of a larger plot that threatened public safety and an investigation of the motives that triggered the shooter to commit an act of senseless violence as well as his methods, in order to prevent a reoccurrence of any attacks in the future.

Municipal politicians voted to ban the public’s possession of handguns within the city of Toronto. Ironically, the gun used in the shooting was stolen during a break-and-enter in Saskatoon in 2015. It is unlikely the new ban would have any effect upon those who obtain weapons from illegal sources.

The flag at half-staff at Toronto City Hall

How, as Christians who believe in Jesus, the Resurrected Christ, cope with the atrocities of life, both of large and minor scale? The answer is faith. As you might expect, faith is the subject of today’s lesson.

I would like to commend those in the congregation who have faithfully come to our Praise and Worship Services here, in spite of the hot and humid Sundays that we experienced this summer.

In Hebrews 11, the Apostle Paul gives us a great definition for faith, followed by a number of examples throughout the Scriptures of individuals who made bold decisions and action, based upon their faith.

Instead of discussing the entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews for this morning’s lesson, I would like to focus on events related to the life and actions of the Prophet Moses, who is the subject of today’s Scripture verses, taken from Exodus 1:8-22, Exodus 2:1-10,  and Numbers 20:6-13.

Before we examine the life and times of Moses, let us look at Paul’s definition of faith found in Hebrews 11, which you will find on the back of today’s Bulletin:

Hebrews 11:1-3; 17-29; 39-40 (ESV): By Faith

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Footnotes: a. Hebrews 11:37 Some manuscripts add they were tempted

In Exodus 1:8-22, we see that Pharaoh of Egypt was described as not knowing Joseph, in that he forgotten how the prophet of God had saved the people of Egypt when he preserved the people from famine. Pharaoh chose to oppose God’s chosen people, and by doing so opposed God, by deciding to kill the firstborn Hebrew males.

Exodus 1:8-22(ESV): Pharaoh Oppresses Israel

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. 13 So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves.

15 Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. 18 So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews[a] you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

Footnotes: a. Exodus 1:22 Samaritan, Septuagint, Targum; Hebrew lacks to the Hebrews

The Hebrew midwives, at great personal by opposing risk, chose to defy Pharaoh and preserve the newborn, indicating that the Hebrew women are stronger than Egyptian women and have no need for midwives.

Exodus 1:8-22 (ESV): The Birth of Moses

2 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes[a] and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”[b]

Footnotes: a. Exodus 2:3 Hebrew papyrus reeds b. Exodus 2:10 Moses sounds like the Hebrew for draw out

It is worth noting that Moses and the Hebrew People owe their own survival to a group of brave and faithful women:  to the midwives who opposed Pharaoh’s edict, to Moses’ mother and sister who preserved the child from drowning on the Nile, and to Pharaoh’s daughter who chose to adopt Moses as her own.

It is ironic that Egypt’s firstborn males were destroyed on the night of Passover and most of the remaining males drowned when the sea closed upon Pharaoh’s army, as they chased Moses and the Hebrews who had crossed the sea that God had parted. The judgment of Pharaoh was executed upon Egypt.

Numbers 20:6-13 (ESV): The Waters of Meribah

Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

Moses Strikes the Rock

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah,[a] where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.

Footnotes: a. Numbers 20:13 Meribah means quarreling

Because Moses allowed his own personal feelings towards the rebellious people of Israel to use the miracle of the Lord as an opportunity to vent his anger instead of glorifying God, he was not allowed to enter The Promised Land. Moses was unfaithful in following the directions God gave him as to using words to bring forth water.

While Moses and Elijah were observed by the disciples with Jesus, at the time of the Lord’s transfiguration indicates the Moses was raised up to Heaven, even though he was not allowed to lead his people to the Promised Land. Moses was punished, but not forgotten by God and was granted His grace.

So my advice to you this morning is no matter what your circumstance in this emotional roller coaster of life that you ride, always temper that ride with a large dose of faith. Only faith can allow us to make sense of the adage: “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it”, which is taken from the scriptures, 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV):

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #546: Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus

Benediction – (Romans 15:13):                                                                                      

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.