Isaiah 58: 6 – 7
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Night shelters have, unfortunately, become commonplace in our towns and cities. Many, particularly the seasonal winter night shelters are organised and staffed by volunteers from local churches.
One in which I was involved was set up in response to the local MP (an active Christian) who asked the churches if there was anything we could do to help the rising numbers of homeless people that he was seeing in his surgeries. There was a great response from many congregations, in fact there was almost a palpable excitement that we could actually do something to help others less fortunate than ourselves.
That first year the nightshelter ran for 3 of the coldest months, there were over 14 churches involved and we gave hospitality to individuals who otherwise have slept on the streets. There were many grateful testimonies from the guests about how welcoming, kind, respectful and non-judgemental the numerous church volunteers had been. One individual, a practicing Muslim, recounted how his taxi had been stolen which meant he had lost his means of earning an income which led to him losing his home and how, after visits to many agencies including mosques, he had finally been given shelter by this church run nightshelter. “I am a Muslim, but it was Jesus who rescued me”, he would say with a degree of irony.
But this work did more than rescue homeless souls from the streets. It also brought together a large group of churches and their members from all traditions and theologies. Together, over that winter period, we discovered what bound us together rather than what separated us.
One congregation who, initially had been quite unwilling and sceptical about any involvement discovered that, by working together in serving the homeless community, the destructive divisions within their own community had been healed and that they had also been ‘rescued’.
We pray for all those who are homeless this day.
For those who are forced to sleep in doorways, under bridges, on park benches.
For those who find shelter at night but are forced to wander during the day.
From the comfort and safety of our homes,
Let us not be lulled into a sense of security
But work to end the injustice of homeless. Amen.