Archive for December, 2013

Covington Partners

December 17, 2013

Last week I attended a meeting of the Covington Partners, a group that is supported by Community of Faith and other groups around the city. For those of you who don’t know, Covington Partners is an organization that supports the Covington school system, hopefully enabling students to have a better and more successful school experience. The partnership is divided into several different areas of interest represented by committees that plan activities based on the needs of each area: College Access, Out-of-School Time, Health and Wellness, Mentoring and Service Learning.

College Access is exactly what it sounds like: it works with Holmes High School students to help them prepare for college. The goal is to have each student complete the equivalent of one semester of college credit before high school graduation.  Some students accomplish this by taking Advanced Placement credit courses, while others actually can take courses at the local community college for full college credit. Volunteers are needed as mentors, internships and job shadowing, career fairs, etc.

Out-of-School Time provides an enrichment class during time children aren’t in school. These enrichment classes can be dance, theater, art, science, or anything that will enhance the children’s educational experience. Classes last 8 weeks and there is always a need for volunteers to teach a class!

Health and Wellness offers support to students and staff through wellness classes such as Zumba, Yoga, Support Groups and so forth. Fitness activities are also offered to parents and children at school family nights. Volunteers are needed to help plan and lead some of these wellness opportunities.

Mentoring Mentors are needed at all ages and grade levels in the schools. At the Elementary level, mentors are in the form of “Lunch Buddies” or “After School Buddies”, spending time with a child 30 minutes per week. Mentors are also needed at Holmes Middle and High schools; their program is called “Bulldog Connection”  with a commitment of 60 minutes per week. Reading coaches are also needed, with a time commitment of 35 minutes per week.

Service Learning gives students the opportunity to learn through projects such as Junior Achievement or a school club. Volunteers are needed to lead Junior Achievement classes or assist with club projects, as well as donate labor, equipment, funds, or materials for students to practice service learning.

A couple of Sundays ago quoted Pope Francis in my sermon: “I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty, because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” After the service someone said to me, “I don’t think we know how to be out on the streets.” In the coming weeks and months I hope to bring to light some new ways that we could be a church “out on the streets”. Out on the streets is where Jesus was. Out on the streets is where we’re called to be.Covington Partners could be a place to start. There are many ways that any of us could be involved with Covington Partners; recently we collected and donated school supplies which will be handed out when the students return from Winter Break. But there is more to do than donate goods and money—there are hands-on ways to help out. I hope you will prayerfully consider becoming involved in one of the areas mentioned above; for more information you can see me, Pastor Sharon, or go to www.mycovingtonpartners.org.

Blessings on your Advent Season!

The Least of These Matthew 25:40b

December 4, 2013

40‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Most of us surely remember what it felt like when, as kids, we “picked teams” for some game. If you were popular and well liked, or you could play the game very well, you were picked first, or early; if you were gawky or nerdy or small or couldn’t play the game very well, you would be picked later, and you might even be picked last. Everyone wanted certain people on their team, and in most kid groups there was at least one kid that no one wanted.  I myself was usually one of the last ones picked in a lot of games, especially outdoor games like kickball and dodge ball. I was an awkward, nerdy kid and not very athletic, so more than once I was the last one picked.

As we grow up we realize that not being picked for a kids game was bad enough, but when our awkwardness or lack of social skills, our inability to get a good education or know how to dress correctly keep us from getting the good job or even a job that can keep us fed and housed and off the streets, well it’s a lot more serious than just not being picked for a kickball team. And when the economic odds are stacked against you being poor may become a chronic condition; virtually impossible to pull yourself out of without some serious help from somewhere.

We seem to like to blame the poor for their problems. We want to distance ourselves from those who are picked last in society, last for jobs, last for education, last for all of the good things that are possible when you have a good secure job and a good credit score. We want to say to the poor, “look at the bad decision you’ve made to put yourself in that position, look how irresponsible you are. We want to believe that those who accept help from the government, for things like food stamps or WIC programs, are lazy, unwilling to work, the dregs of our social order. We don’t want to see that it is impossible to live on what many jobs pay without some sort of help (and when they come to our food pantry we make them prove that they “deserve” what we have to give.) We don’t want to see that when prisoners get out of prison, they have nothing to start over with—no money, nowhere to live, no clothes,  no one willing to trust a criminal with a decent job—no wonder the reoffending rate is so high.

Jesus preached that when the son of Man returns he will separate the sheep from the goats—the sheep to the right, the goats to the left. Immediately we want to know which side we’ll be picked for; immediately we begin comparing ourselves with everyone around us to establish our own version of a “pecking order.”  These good works will get you in, these mistakes and bad decisions will keep you out. It’s the child’s game all over again.  And somehow the poor and imprisoned are at the bottom of the who’s who list once again. Isn’t it funny how when we start divvying up the right side and the left side of Jesus Christ we manage to place ourselves to the right hand of Jesus, and the people we disapprove of on the left?

But in this scenario Jesus divides up the sheep and goats according to his own judgement—judgement based on how we treat the least of these. In OT scriptures the least of these had a very definite definition: widows and orphans, strangers in the land, and the oppressed—these were the ones that God instructed his people to look out for above all others and this didn’t change in the time of Jesus and hasn’t changed for us today. And when the least of these are cared for it is as if we have cared for Jesus himself.

There’s an old story about a woman who lived in a small town; and one winter night she had a dream that she should expect a visit from Jesus the next night. So all the next day she cleaned her house and prepared a fine meal; and when evening came she waited. A knock came at the door: a child stood outside the door begging for bread. “Go away child!” she said. “I’m expecting some very important company tonight.” And she closed the door. A little while later there was another knock; an old woman stood outside the door wanting some companionship. “Go away!” she cried. “I’m expecting some very important company tonight!”  A third knock came a little later:  outside the door stood an old man, his clothing in rags. “Can you spare some warmth by your fire? It’s very cold out here,” he asked humbly. “Go away!” cried the woman. “I’m expecting some very important company tonight!”

The woman waited all the rest of that night, and when she finally went to sleep she had another dream. In it the Lord was standing before her, and she said, “I waited all night for you Lord, but you never came!” and he said to her, “Did you have any visitors?” She replied, “Yes, but only a raggedy boy begging for bread, an old woman begging for friendship, and an old man begging for warmth. Why did you never come to me, as you promised?” “Woman,” said Jesus, “when you opened the door to the boy, the old woman, and the old man, each time it was me you were turning away.  You could not see me in their faces; all you could see was their need. Instead of meeting that need, you turned them away.” and he went away, leaving her weeping at her folly.

Whenever we encounter the least of these, we encounter Jesus. We are called to care for the least of these regardless of why they are poor or naked or thirsty or imprisoned; and as we do so we do for Jesus. We don’t assign guilt to them for their troubles, we just do. And as we do so for them, we do so for him—the one who has done so much for us. Friends, especially during this time of year when we celebrate what we have and what we can give to others, take time to give to the least of these, to offer food and drink, clothing and friendship no matter who the least are or what we think they deserve. Jesus is the one to judge, and we might find ourselves called guilty and undeserving instead. Amen.