No Place

Foxes have holes. Birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. I was called to be a delegate to the 2013 UCC Synod in Long Beach when I first heard this verse. I was to spend a week word smithing a resolution. I could have been on the beach. I was in southern California, I could be doing a lot of other things. I was getting bitter and thinking about writing a resolution about banning resolutions. What a waste of time.

Well…. God is still speaking… through irony. In my case.

A haunting statement made by Jesus today in our gospel lesson. It harkens back to his birth. No room, for them…. In the inn. Maybe there was vacancy, but due to the haggard look of the carpenter and his fiancée, or their unmarried status… there was room, just not for them. Much like all the neon vacancy signs black travelers had to pass until they reached a spot in their green book in the Jim Crow Days that would have room for them.

Or maybe there simply was no room for them. No space. Housing was at its full capacity. Foxes have holes. Birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

When God comes to us in the flesh, we don’t include. We keep God at an arm’s length. God comes to us, not wearing a crown or wrapped in the flag or any other statement of power. The saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness” is false. You can walk through the pristine halls of power and not find God. You can look in the gleaming marble courthouses and not find God. You can head into gorgeous cathedrals and stately houses of worship, and God is absent.

If you want to find God, get closer to the earth. Get in the dirt. Attend to the seasons, get out in nature. I guarantee you’ll find God. And among the poor, you’ll find Jesus. That’s Jesus’ people. That’s who he was born to, lived among, and was at table with. That’s who his disciples were.

Implicitly, Jesus is saying that if the Son of Man has no place then neither will those who follow him. It means that the followers of Christ must recognize dehumanizing systems when they see them and call it out. To be as Christ, we must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Overturn tables that profit and separate people from God, and turn houses of prayer into dens of thieves and robbers.

My friends, we can do this by starting hyper local. The resolution I was called to work on back in 2013 was a resolution of witness for the need for Affordable Housing in the US. We are in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. It is everywhere and in every state. From 2010-2020 there were fewer homes built in the US than any previous decade.[1] Smaller entry level housing has dropped dramatically. In the 1980s, starter homes were around 40% of construction and recently, that number has fallen to 7%.

This has a major impact on our communities. A Forbes article states that “The lack of adequate affordable housing has a host of negative effects on communities. Housing cost-burdened families experience greater stress relating to food security, health care, retirement, transportation and overall social stability. Also, the lack of affordable housing that is proximate to job centers leads to increased traffic and negative environmental impacts. Among other things, it exacerbates sprawl and creates a lack of diversity in our communities.”[2]

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 6.8 million more affordable housing units are needed for low-income families. We have 580,000 people who are homeless. 70% of low-income families pay half their income on rent.[3]

Foxes have holes. Birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man, like so many folks today… have no place to lay their heads. We have placed profit over people. We have reduced our neighbors to commodities that we can press for their wealth. In a reductionist view, people are viewed as consumers, and our job is to get them to consume what we produce. If we get them to consume and shake out their pockets, we win the game.

That’s not a very neighborly thing. That view is what enslaves people. It is not the way of Christ. As we heard in our Galatians text, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

There are many ways to indulge the flesh through our greed. Our need for comfort and security. Over and against the needs of our neighbor. It can be very subtle. I mean, we need those things.. so many of us might be nodding and saying, “Yes pastor, yes we need affordable housing.” How about next door to you? “Oh no! Not there. I like my neighborhood, and I don’t want THEM there.”

Who are they, anyway? They are our neighbors. God lives with them. God’s image is with them. What are we assuming when we picture affordable housing? Weren’t many of us there when we were beginning our careers? Let’s assume they are just like us. And we need to house them. What is the Christian response?

I have two incredibly local things that the church… that you… can engage in. The first is Operation Homes. Operation Homes has been in Medina for almost 30 years. Its goal is to provide housing and education for homeless individuals and families to help them become independent, both personally and financially. It is a program for those who want to be in it. The individuals are background checked. They are given a social worker. They attend classes and training and resources to help them set and achieve goals. Many folks in the program are mothers and children fleeing domestic violence and foster kids who have aged out of the system. All with no place to lay their heads.

They are given space to stay in churches around town. For 8 days, a church will host these families. There could be 1 person or 1 family or up to 10 to 15 people. The churches provide meals and a safe place to sleep while the folks get training and find a stable place to live.

The Mission Team is bringing this program here. We’ve made meals over the summer and this fall, Council has decided to give this program a 1 year trial basis. It’s an extensive program. We need folks who will prepare meals, act has hosts, sleep overnight here in the church, and more. This will be headed up by Nick North and supported by the Mission Team, and we need your help.

For foxes have holes, birds have nests, but people need homes. There are many benefits for folks to be in affordable housing. Among other factors like income and education, housing is a component that drastically influences a person’s physical and mental well-being. Poverty severely limits people’s options, which is why poverty is linked to a vast range of health problems, both acute and chronic in nature.[4] A healthier population means a healthier community in every sense of the word. There’s a belonging one feels, and when you belong you don’t trash your surroundings. You take pride. You pick up litter. You are kinder to your neighbors. There’s a security and rootedness when you have the sense that people care about your well-being, you in turn care about theirs.

Yet those who are dead to the needs of others… let the dead bury the dead. A man says to Jesus, I want to follow you Lord, but I have to say goodbye. I have to do this other thing. I’ll follow you when my schedule opens up.” Jesus is pretty harsh here. The call to discipleship is unconditional. The way of the cross has no place for rash promises or misunderstandings of the cost to follow Jesus. It’s not “well, once I’m middle class, I’ll follow you.” It’s not “Well, when I can… but after the kid’s travel sports are done…” Sorry, folks. No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom.

That’s harsh. It’s uncompromising and uncomfortable. I heard a Christian financial guru recently say, “Look, it’s not your fault you had to throw someone out who couldn’t afford rent, that was the market doing that.”[5] That’s not Jesus. That’s not a Christian response. We put people over profit. WE assume the worst. If THEY get here, crime will increase because poor people are inherently criminal. “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

If not in my backyard, then where? I’m fully convinced that inclusion has never once created a criminal or a terrorist. Exclusion does. When you feel isolated, alone, unheard, unloved, uncared for; that’s when bad things happen. Focusing on the ties that bind, that’s good for communities and thriving individuals.

I believe Operation Homes does that. For folks to have a place to land and some stability as they work to improve themselves and learn skills they somehow lack. This requires all of us, no one is going to do it for us. We must do the work of ensuring our community is filled with the fruits of the spirit, starting with each of us here.

I hope you will prayerfully consider adding your gifts to the goals of Operation Homes. Yet there also must be affordable housing built here in Medina. A group of churches have gathered thanks to the urging of the Rev. Dr. Henry Pearce from Medina Presbyterian. He asked if I knew anything about affordable housing and I got chills. Like I said, God is still speaking through irony because that was the topic of the resolution I had to work on. We have gathered with Heartland, Cornerstone, St. Paul’s, St. Francis Xavier, Brunswick Reformed, First Baptist, and others to form the Medina Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing. M.I.C.A.H.

The purpose of MICAH is to build or otherwise acquire affordable housing in the Medina area, and to make that housing available on a rental basis. Medina currently has 2,000 skilled jobs that need filled. Housing prices are increasing, and folks are being priced out. If we want a stable, safe, and inclusive community, that needs to change. Resentment will build if folks who work here have to commute 20 miles to get here. That’s wasteful living, and we Congregationalists abhor waste.

MICAH meets on certain Thursdays during the day and I could use a planning partner from the congregation. It’s strategic, long-term work. I’ll be there at every meeting, but I could use someone to represent our congregation in the future.

Operation Homes and MICAH are working for similar things to benefit our community and help build the kingdom of God here. “When I was a stranger you welcomed me…” When Jesus says, “The Son of Man has no place…” We can faithfully say, “Yes, Lord… you have a place. You have this place.”

 

Further Reading

Bruder, Jessica Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century. W.W. Norton & Company, September 4, 2018.

Desmond, Matthew Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Crown Publishing, February 28, 2017.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America. Picador Publishers, August 2, 2011.

Liberal Hypocrisy is Fueling American Inequality. Here’s How. | NYT Opinion: https://youtu.be/hNDgcjVGHIw

Pew Research Center: A growing share of Americans say affordable housing is a major problem where they live. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/01/18/a-growing-share-of-americans-say-affordable-housing-is-a-major-problem-where-they-live/

Tirado, Linda, Hand to Mouth: Living in bootstrap America. Berkley Publishing, September 4, 2015.

UCC Resolution on Advocating for Funding to Construct Quality Affordable Housing (GS XXIX, 2013) http://uccfiles.com/pdf/gs29-8.pdf

 

Works Cited

[1] Vox, How the US made affordable homes illegal: https://youtu.be/0Flsg_mzG-M

[2] Sebastian Corradino, There is no Easy Fix for the Affordable Housing Crisis: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesnonprofitcouncil/2021/09/07/there-is-no-easy-fix-for-the-affordable-housing-crisis/?sh=751ad36073b7 Sept 7, 2021.

[3] https://nlihc.org/explore-issues/why-we-care/problem

[4] https://commonbond.org/economic-benefits-of-affordable-housing/

[5] Last Week Tonight: Rent. Found here: https://youtu.be/L4qmDnYli2E

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