Pastor’s Word for August 2, 2020
During the summer months I would like to foster conversations in our community about our faith, which touches on the most profound matters of our lives. To help get the conversation going I’m providing a weekly set of questions that you can use to help tell parts of your faith story.
I invite you to pick a question and share your answer with a family member or friend, and, if you would like, write it down and share with me. I would love to hear your story! I would also love for our members to hear each other’s stories, so be sure to let me know if you’d be willing to share in the weekly newsletter. I will never publish your story without your consent.
Here are the questions for August 2:
Memories: Tell about a humorous event that occurred at your church.
Etchings: Talk about an event you wish you could live over.
Values: How has your faith changed since you were a child?
Actions: What is one faith question you have learned to live with even though you don’t have a final answer?
Talk about an event you wish you could live over.
Part of my training for pastoral ministry was a year spent in street ministry in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The office of the Lutheran Urban Mission Society was located a block from the (in)famous intersection of Hastings and Main in First United Church, along with several other ministries and agencies. One of these was a group that invited volunteers to come every Thursday and wash the feet of the homeless. In addition to being the same symbolic gesture of love that Jesus offered to his disciples, this ministry filled an immensely practical need for people who lived on the streets. When you live outside in Vancouver’s wet climate, and potentially go for weeks without removing your shoes or socks, you can face dramatic hazards to the health of your feet. Chafing and open sores can quickly spread infection that can lead to very serious complications. The loving care of the volunteers who bathed the feet of homeless men and women, and gave them clean, dry socks was a beautiful act of service for the immediate health care needs of a vulnerable population.
So it happened one day as I was working in the Lutheran Urban Mission Society office—on some quiet computer task, I believe—that I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to see a roughly-dressed, unshaven, and very smelly man.
“I hear you wash guys’ feet,” he declared.
The truth is, I wasn’t thrilled about this man’s feet. I dreaded the idea of removing his boots and washing off whatever sores and grime might be hidden underneath. So I tried to put him off.
“That’s the other group.” I told him. “Not us. They do that on Thursdays. It’s Monday today,” I added, a little lamely.
There was a short pause in which the man just stared at me. I immediately felt bad. Wasn’t I a street priest in training? Wasn’t this a mission society for the homeless, and isn’t this what we were supposed to do? Respond to people’s needs as they came to us? Wasn’t literally washing feet what Jesus asked all his followers to do?
So I backpedalled. “Well, I do know where they keep their supplies. Hang on and I’ll get them.”
The man took a seat in the hallway as I went to the closet with the foot washing supplies. As I walked back some minutes later with a basin, towels, disinfectants, ointments, and Epsom salts, I thought again about the smell that had assailed me when I opened the door to this man. I thought about what it would be like to peel those socks back and take his feet in my hands to wash away lint, dirt, pus, and blood. My heart faltered.
When I got back to the man I plunked down the foot cleaning supplies in front of him and I said, “Here you go. You can wash your own feet. I’ll just be inside the office.”
Then I went back and sat down at my computer, to continue with whatever trivial thing I had been engaged in when Jesus called on me that day.
“I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me… Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’" (Matthew 25)
I wish I had cleaned his feet.