If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. (Leviticus 24:35-36)
Facebook recently had a story about a North Carolina congregation that has been hosting homeless sojourners for a year and a half with little awareness and no complaints from the neighbors. Until they wanted to expand that ministry, which brought in construction crews. Then the neighbors were alarmed that homeless people were sleeping in a building in their neighborhood.
It is human nature to be suspicious of people we do not know and whose life circumstances we do not understand. Nonetheless, throughout history there have people who have become homeless because of war, famine, droughts, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and all sorts of other reasons.
We who have homes have an obligation to do what we are able to assist those who have lost their homes. Homelessness is not contagious. It’s not a disease in search of a cure. It is an economic reality for people whose resources have run out.
Back in the 1970’s our family belonged to a congregation in Columbus, Ohio that had a second story lounge overlooking the main worship area. Young parents loved to sit there there with squirmy toddlers so the little ones could roam about and they could watch and hear the worship below.
That space was converted into a make-shift apartment for a family of six Vietnamese refugees who were resettled into those living quarters via Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. The area contained a bathroom, a storage area that was cleaned out for them, and a few other minimal creature comforts to help them along.
Who were these people? He was a government official who needed to get out of the country to save his life and the lives of his wife and four teenage children. She spoke no English, but worked hard at learning it as fast as she could. The father and children did speak English, so the teens were quickly enrolled in local schools. They soon found minimum wage jobs after school. The father found some sort of work that was far below what he’d left behind. Within six months they were ready to move into their own apartment.
The congregation rounded up furniture and household supplies for them. Women of the congregation took turns taking the wife shopping to learn the way of life in the United States. I no longer remember the names of any of these people. I do remember how grateful they were for a place to be after they lost everything they had because their country was at war.
None of us can single-handedly resolve the issues behind the relentless litany of news about one disaster after another. Each of us can adapt an attitude of welcome and hospitality towards the stranger who appears next door to us – often because of horrendous disasters that drove them from their homes.
We’re well on the way to the overdose levels of Christmas hype. Perhaps we should to pause to remember that Jesus and his parents were also homeless refugees once upon a time