Last October, a woman came into my office. She sat down, started to cry, and told me her only brother had recently died in Mexico. Her family is poor, she told me, and so she sent most of her paycheck to Mexico to help with funeral expenses. She wouldn’t get paid again until a week after her rent was due. Is there any way I could help? Did I know a place where she could get some temporary housing funds?
I wrote down a few places that sometimes have funds for housing assistance, gave her the money I had in my wallet and sent her on her way.
A month later, in mid-November, she came back. None of the resources I suggested had panned out, as they were out of funds for the year. She had, however, borrowed rent money from a neighbor, so she had been able to pay November rent.
But now her neighbor needed to be repaid in order to pay her rent. So this woman sitting in my office was in the same boat she was in a month earlier. Was there any way I could help her?
I told her that I’d given her all the information on resources I had, and I didn’t know what else to do. I emptied my wallet again, which was nowhere near enough to cover the part of her rent she needed. She started crying again, and just kept repeating, “Pastor, is there anything you can do?” “Pastor, is there any way you can help me?”
I felt so helpless, so I sat with her while she cried. Every once in a while she’d catch her breath and ask again, “Pastor, can you help me?” Each time she asked if there was anything I could do, I would apologize and gently tell her no. Finally she left. I felt terrible. I said all the right things, but the bottom line is that because she was generous and I was not, her housing is insecure at best.
A few days later, it occurred to me that there is probably still some money in this congregation’s Pastor’s Discretionary Fund. Since her rent wasn’t due until the end of the month, I would have had time to get a check sent to her landlord.
Great idea, except I didn’t have her name or any contact information. She had told me her name when she came in the first time, along with all her rental documentation and proof of employment. Her accent was so heavy that I couldn’t understand her multi-syllable name, and even if I could recall her first name, I have no way of getting in touch with her.
Paul writes at the beginning of today’s text. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . . who emptied himself . . . humbled himself . . . became obedient to the point of death.” “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” Paul writes.
I certainly wasn’t operating with the mind of Christ that day. I was of no help to this poor woman at all.
We have opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives every day. That’s the mind of Christ Paul talks about. Showing love and kindness to even one person. Having the mentality that is paying attention to those opportunities. Looking at the world seeking ways to insert compassion into it. And doing this as a way of life.
We’re not called to change the whole world. We’re just called to see the world the way Christ sees it. And then do one thing to act on that. Just one small act at a time. Individually, it doesn’t seem like we can do too much. But collectively, when we pool all our kindness, compassion, and mercy together, the world is different. That’s why we gather as a congregation—because we can see what we can do together. That’s why we are part of the ELCA, so we can see even more the difference we make.
The needs are so great that it can seem overwhelming sometimes. There’s so many people who are hurting that it’s easy to turn it off, ignore it, acknowledge that my little contribution of compassion doesn’t matter. I think that may have been my attitude with the woman in my office last month.
But when we find ourselves thinking that the little bit we can do doesn’t matter, I find it helpful to think of a giant library, several stories high with long aisles. Rows and rows of books. All kinds, all sizes, all colors. There’s one volume in there that’s mine. Included in that one small book are the ways that I have lived in the mind of Christ. Each page has some contribution of kindness, compassion, of looking to the interests of others. I imagine my little volume is in Row MM, twelfth shelf from the floor, the seventh book in from the aisle. I don’t have to create the whole library, I just have to add one more page to my volume. Every little page, every small word of paying attention to the interests of others, of helping someone in some small way, of seeing the world through Christ’s eyes, contributes to the massive work included in this enormous library of the mind of Christ.
And every little volume matters, because it’s part of the whole work. Every page contributes. Every word is included. I have my little volume in there, and so do you. There’s one shelf in that section that’s labelled “LCM.” It’s a collection of each of our small volumes, all lined up together, and part of this whole collection. This imaginative library is the record of the world being changed according to the mind of Christ. It’s still expanding, pages are still being written.
Add a page. Check the announcement sheet for opportunities for generosity. Increase your offering on Christmas Eve/Day which we will give away to help immigrants and refugees. Find a way to write one more page this Advent.
As to the woman in my office:I hope she comes back one more time. I’d love to have her story included. If not by me, then by someone. I hope she meets someone with the mind of Christ. There are a whole lot of us, and a lot of pages left to be written.