October 16, 2011
Scripture: Micah 6:1-8
Turning Around, Turning Out,
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
I was 13 years old when I met Erica. We met at Bread and Roses, a soup kitchen in Lawrence, Massachusetts. As part of my confirmation process, I was required to do some sort of service work for a certain number of hours and I had chosen this soup kitchen. It was a winter evening and I was there with my confirmation mentor, Helen. We had served supper and most everyone had cleared out of the dining hall. Helen and I, along with a few other volunteers were cleaning up when I noticed a young girl who looked to be about my age still sitting at a table. She was alone and appeared to be completely engrossed in a little stack of cards that she had in front of her. She was sorting through them, dividing them up in to separate piles, counting them. Probably because she looked like the least intimidating person I had seen all night, I went over and introduced myself.
She shared with me that her dad brought her to this soup kitchen most nights for dinner. Her mom wasn’t around and her dad had lost his job. She wanted to help her dad, so she decided to start selling Valentines Day cards that she had made, she explained, gesturing to the stack of paper in front of her. “Do you want to buy one?”
“Sure.” I said, “How much?”
“I’ll take 4.” I said and handed her a dollar from my pocket (big spender, I know).
We parted ways into the cold winter darkness and I thought about Erica on the car ride home that night so many years ago now. I thought about her in the days and weeks and months and years still, to follow. This was such a profound moment in my life because it was as if Jesus was at that table with us that winter night, holding up a mirror, showing me the nearness of hunger, the proximity of need, and the reality of despair. In Erica I saw my classmates, my friends, I saw myself.
I recently recalled my meeting with Erica when I read a Boston Globe article that someone in the congregation shared with me about a woman whom I have never met, Iris Soares.
As she does most mornings, Iris Soares pushes her empty wire cart across Dorchester Avenue to the Fields Corner Station. It’s just before 6:00 in the morning and the streets in the heart of Dorchester are still relatively quiet. A robust looking woman with tan skin and curly hair cut close to her head, Iris boards an early bus number 19 heading to Kenmore Square. She’s pleased to see that it’s nearly empty and she straightens the skirt of her floral dress as she takes a seat and secures her wire cart in front of her legs.
At that time of day the bus holds mostly sleepy high school students headed for Latin Academy and several others sharing in Iris’ destination. A half-hour into her ride, she reaches behind her and presses the rubber yellow call strip as the bus approaches Dudley Square and comes to a halt in front of the stone-faced Twelfth Baptist Church. As soon as the doors of bus 19 fold open, Iris rushes out and pushes the empty wire cart across the parking lot, eager to assume her spot in line outside of the church’s food pantry. Still nearly three hours from opening and five hours from distributing food, Iris is relieved to see she is among the first to arrive that morning. Her anxiety lessens somewhat and she waits. At 10:00 a.m., hours after her arrival she receives the number 8 from a volunteer at the food pantry securing her place in line, which allows her to board another bus that will take her to an Uphams Corner food pantry and then return just before noon when the Twelfth Baptist will begin distributing food.
Iris has worked to perfect this routine in recent years since she has found herself out of work after slipping on fat covered stairs at a meat packing company in Norwood where she used to work. Now she spends her days travelling to food pantries along the bus 19 route in order to feed herself, her sons, and grandchildren.
At the end of the day when she arrives home, after cooking dinner for her 12 year old grandson and boyfriend, back aching and legs throbbing, Iris will be gratefully fatigued for the sustenance she feels in her belly, well earned through her travels on bus 19. 
Iris and Erica are part of the 325,000 Massachusetts residents who are so poor they live with hunger but not so poor they can get federal nutrition assistance. We must be careful when we share these stories and statistics that “othering” does not occur, for these stories and statistics belong to individuals and families in the neighborhoods in which we live; they belong to people we work with, walk with, and worship with. At this point in time, when the highest ever number of households in this country are currently or at one time have not had the means to feed themselves or their family, these stories not only belong to strangers but neighbors, friends, and family members. They belong to us.
The prophet Micah was living and writing, preaching and prophesying at a similar moment in history, at the end of the “good times.” Micah was one of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and he was in the southern kingdom of Judah where King Hezekiah had introduced a number of religious and economic reforms. The society had transitioned from a bartering, or trade-based economy, to a monetary-based economy. Much of the nation’s wealth was invested in land, leading to the growth of vast estates and the collapse of small holdings.
Within this economic crisis that his country was experiencing and being a prophet as he was more of the village square than of the temple, Micah is moved to ask the question: What does God require of us?
Historically, the Hebrew people believed God required ritual sacrifices, burnt offerings of animals in order to be in right relationship with God. But Micah says no to all of this. He famously declares that all God requires of us is, “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
What does God require of us? Here in these pews, here in this community, here in this nation, and here in this world?
To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
I am going to ask you to repeat this with me now because it is a known and proven fact that repetition has a powerful impact on our ability to remember and I want all of us to remember what God requires of us:
To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
I. To do justice.
The words associated with justice in the Bible are widows, the fatherless, orphans, the poor and hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak, and the oppressed. All of these - the widow, the fatherless, the orphan, the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak, and the oppressed are here among us and they cry out for our response. These are the people God requires us to care about, to advocate for, to minister to, to heal.
II. Love kindness.
Love kindness breeds compassion, apathy, gentleness, and benevolence. In the early chapter of Luke’s Gospel that we heard this morning the crowds are asking John the Baptist, “What must we do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus Christ?”
John responds, ““Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
You may recognize these words as they are those that are typically read at the beginning of Advent, when we are preparing ourselves to receive the tiny baby Jesus born amidst hay and livestock in the manger – well let them be ours to hear this morning, to prepare our hearts each and every moment of each and every day to receive Christ - Emmanuel – God with us.
III. To walk humbly with our God.
To walk, not run, slowly and deliberately, with our God. Humbly – realizing that it’s not about us - we will do so today as we walk the streets of Brockton with our youth for our neighbors in need. We will walk with friends and strangers, widows, the fatherless, orphans, the poor and hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak, and the oppressed.
And, by the grace of God, we will do so humbly, realizing that it’s not about us.
The concept of turning-around has been an ongoing theme of the life of this congregation long before God called me here with you. This has been the deepest hope and desire of the faithful souls here in this congregation. And, if you really think about what that would look like, if we all, each one of us, were literally to turn around right now – we would be turning out, into the community, into the world.
If the miracle of turnaround is to happen here in our midst, it will be because we have done what God requires of us. We will have turned out, humbled ourselves to look beyond our own needs to see, listen, and serve others.
Today, this congregation celebrates the confluence of three opportunities to turnaround and out and to do what God requires of us: we have the mission brunch following worship to raise money for various service organizations in the area, our youth as well as some of our adults will be participating in the South Shore CROP Walk to raise money and awareness for hunger relief,
and today marks the first day of our annual ISS Turkey Drive to provide a turkey dinner for the holiday to families within our community that otherwise could not afford one. Turning around, turning out. Justice love kindness humility.
This is how Jesus will measure our turnaround. Daunting, perhaps? But rest assured that we are not alone on the journey to do as God requires of us.
Jesus sat next to Erica and her stack of homemade Valentine’s Day cards at that table the night we met and he walked with her as we parted ways into the cold winter night. Just as he sits next to Iris and her empty wire cart each morning on bus 19 and walks with her across the parking lot of the Twelfth Baptist Church as she finds her place in line.
And he sits with us, too, here in this place and walks beside each one of us as we go from this place seeking to turn around and out – to see, listen and serve our neighbors in need.
 Story premise from the Boston Globe, July 17, 2011 “Life on the Line: At large on a network of need”
 Boston Globe, July 17, 2011 “Life on the Line: At large on a network of need”
 Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. ERR-125, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv. September 2011. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/err125/
 Harper Collins Study Bible, Student Edition, NRSV, general editor Harold W. Attridge HarperCollins Publishers: San Francisco, CA 2006 (1238-1239)