Every year in mid to late November since the turn of the millenium Canada has observed a National Housing Day. This Sunday, November 15, I will participate in an interfaith Prayer Service at Centrepointe Studio in Nepean (Ottawa) to mark this day and remind us of our calling as Christians as well as members of other faiths to work together in providing affordable and safe housing for all people. Please visit http://www.multifaithhousing.ca for more details on our observance of National Housing Day. Below is a draft of my words, representing a Protestant Christian viewpoint focusing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will also hear voices from the Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian and Jewish perspectives.
Community singing is an important tradition among Christians. We love to sing. And the music conveys well the passion and the truth of what we are all about, as followers of Jesus.
Here is a verse, and the refrain, from a hymn that is quickly growing in my affection at this time of year:
Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.
Longing for shelter, many are homeless. Longing for warmth, many are cold. Make us your building, sheltering others, walls made of living stone.
Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today. (1)
Many times in the Gospels (in the Greek Testament of the Bible), Jesus describes the “kingdom of God”. One of my favourite images is from Mark (4:32), where Jesus compares God’s reign to a small seed that ” … becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This image gives an all-encompassing, expansive vision of what God intends: a home for all creatures great and small.
Of course, the problem is, that so many people don’t have this shelter, this safety, this home. And it’s not just a spiritual reality. It’s also a material, earth-bound reality.
After all, Jesus himself was a refugee. After his birth, Jesus’ parents Joseph and Mary had to flee the threat of persecution in their home country. In Matthew (2:13) we read: “… an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Jesus, Christians believe, is the Son of God. And this God we worship experienced, on earth, what it means to be a refugee and to be homeless.
Elsewhere in Matthew (8:20) as Jesus exercises his ministry of compassion, healing and grace to the downtrodden, he reminds those who listen: “Foxes have holes and birds of air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
We are called, therefore, to care precisely for those who are homeless, who are refugees today as if we are loving God. The righteous will ask God: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And Jesus answers, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to least of these … you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)
I quote thirteenth century Saint Francis of Assisi, who said: “Preach the Gospel; use words only when necessary.” Through concrete actions of care to the homeless, Christians have a clear and unequivocal mandate that bears witness to our faith most effectively: Not through words so much as by our actions, we make a physical haven for those without. And, in so doing, we reveal the truth that the author of the last book of the Bible expressed: “See, the home of God is among mortals!” (Revelation 21:3)
(1) “Christ Be Our Light” text by Bernadette Farrell OCP Publications in Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymn #715 Pew Edition, Augsburg Fortress, 2006