Redistribution

This morning is less about me offering a 20 minute sermon, but about opportunity to hear one another reflect on what has stayed with us over the past few weeks…so prepare yourselves for that.

The last theme that we will look at is Redistribution. I mentioned in the first Sunday that God has a mission to the city, and as it stands, the blessing that is brought to neighborhoods by community minded congregations is not distributed evenly throughout the city. There is a wealth of resources put towards the large and public ministries of the downtown, and there is also significant resource sharing out in the suburban ring – where churches are more plentiful. So when we look at Lake City, we are part of an effort to redistribute energy and resources to a neighborhood where many congregations are small, sparse and struggling. But here is where I want to be clearly understood…in equalizing resources I am not suggesting that it is about a group of people over here with lots of talent and money, giving it to people with no talent and no money – and telling them how to spend it. That relationship for doing mission and development, needs to be expired, expunged…given a good and right burial.

Effective redistribution in community development is asset-based and collaborative. A couple of stories from Grace Community Church in Ohio, the church I described in the first sermon as the ‘church of misfits’, to illustrate…

Steve is a Vietnam veteran and ex-drug addict. His clothes are old, and too small for his rotund figure – to look at him is not to see talents or assets. But Steve has a heart for the wounded, and he has a vision for helping former drug users, so he helped Grace start a residential program for those in recovery.

CoCo, when she arrived at Grace, carried almost 500 pounds on her 5 foot frame. CoCo had a heart for people who need clothes, so she began collecting clothes for men in the drug recovery program. Her efforts eventually led to their clothing thrift store, where every piece of clothing is $1 or less.

Patrick, a former drug dealer, and Ken, a sheriff’s deputy were head ushers at Grace for years. But God had more plans for Patrick, who had a heart for people who need furniture. He collected some of his former gang, and they go out twice a week to collect donated furniture, which they store in two 45-foot semi-trailers.

Did the thrift store, a recovery program, or a furniture ministry – begin with some outsider with money or church council, deciding these things were needed? Absolutely not…an awareness of the issues people were facing well understood by community residents, and they already had the gifts and calling to do something about it. Certainly – other resources came alongside and partnered with these efforts, but the genesis of the idea is in the community, as are many of the gifts needed for success. Seattle Mennonite Church has practiced this very effectively in the community ministry, which resulted in the development of Stop, Drop, & Roll.

Mark 2 – the healing of a paralyzed man. Is a perfect example of the asset-based collaboration we need to be thinking about. The problem – a sick man and no way to get through the crowd to Jesus. Who is needed to address the issue? Initiators – people who thought that a hole needed to be cut, who came up with the idea, the people who received the call. Implementers – people who actually went out and dug the hole. Investors – people who provided the tools needed to cut the hole. Intercessors – people who had the faith that the effort it would take to do all this work – in pursuit of restoration – was God’s leading. Jesus would have derailed the whole deal if he had walked through the crowd, saying, let me come to you. I know what you need. You don’t have to work so hard, you probably would not have been successful anyway.

“But of the best leaders. When their task is done. The people will remark. We have done it ourselves.” Jesus celebrated and affirmed the faith that this group of friends displayed. Jesus was not a ‘blessing snatcher’ – these friends of the paralytic man would never had known that it is truly better to give than receive, if they had not been allowed to offer their ideas, gifts and talents to the collaborative effort.

This is the fine line that we walk in community ministry…we need to be dissatisfied with the way things are, but no to focus on those deficits. The friends were well aware of the state of their paralyzed buddy, but they focused on what they could do about it. Asset-based ministry is the assumption that every community boasts a unique combination of strengths upon which to build its future, and that lasting transformation and concrete change is built upon the gifts of the people, not their deficits.

The things that undermine this kind of community being built are ‘blessing snatching’ traditions…such as professionalism (that educated people or government folks or social service workers have all the answers), or a consumer/service provider mentality which is based on have/have-not relationships. Dumping money and resources into a community because the people with means think it is a good idea, and it makes them feel good about themselves. Hospitals, University Research, United Way, Foundations, Government, Newspapers, and Churches are largely the culprits when it comes to being ‘blessing snatchers’. Their work is often based on being ‘need needers’, someone else has a need that they can write about, study, throw money at, or try to fix. What can emerge then is that community members begin to see themselves as people with needs that can only be met by outsiders, and they become formed as consumers of services, with no incentive to be producers, or incapable of taking charge of their own lives and their community’s future.

Living and breathing an asset perspective in life, let alone when we look at inner city neighbourhoods…is nothing short of a Spiritual Discipline. To see an empty lot and think ‘community garden’ rather than ‘eyesore’. To see a boarded up home and see ‘affordable housing’ rather than ‘crack house’. To see someone under the influence and imagine ‘leader’ rather than ‘hopeless alcoholic’. These are God’s eyes of hope and potential – which seeks justice in a way that empowers people to be a part of their own solution. The bible is chock full of unlikely choices – of God choosing fugitive-murderer-inarticulate-low-wage-workers like Moses to lead Israel out of their oppressive state. Rev. Porter, a leader of the civil rights movement in Chicago – who currently pastors a church in a very under-resourced neighbourhood said it to me this way…’God gives us the eyes to see stars, instead of mud”.

Discussion and Sharing:

  • What stars do you see, when we think about SMC in Lake City?
  • What hopes do we have? 
  • Reflections on challenges or affirmations that have stayed with you?

God has a mission to the city! To transform that which was born in defiance. To make whole that which is broken. To weave together what has been torn apart. For God’s new creation does not isolate or separate people but joins them together, celebrating unity in diversity.

Reading from Rev. 21 – “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying “Look the home of God is now among God’s people! God will live with them, and they will be God’s people! God will remove all their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow, or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.”

Nothing missing, nothing broken – God’s shalom vision for the world and its cities. A vision we can catch a glimpse of as God gives us all the eyes to see stars, and as we journey with Lake City towards the reconciliation God began in Jesus. AMEN