Lent and Spiritual Discipline–Day 11

Yesterday, after the storm, in the morning, I visited some of the elders in our congregation who live alone.

One of them I found huddled up in her bed, underneath several covers, wearing layers of clothing. She was asleep, hibernating she said. She was safe, and her family was coming over later.

Another was wrapped in shawls and blankets, cold, and waiting for her family, too. None of her phones worked. She did have a cell phone, so she was able to reach her children. Most of us only had cell phones yesterday, so many of our elders were unable to reach friends and family.

Although the people I visited were safe, and waiting for family to come, seeing them reminded me forcibly of how much more at risk the very old and the very young are when something goes wrong. Dependent on others for help, they are often the first victims. That’s true here in a power outage, and it’s true in other much much worse situations.

Jesus, in his life and minsitry, consistently held up the needs of those most at risk in his own community, children, widows, people with physical disabilites. He was aware of those who lived on the edges of society with few resources, some with little or no way to sustain themselves. Like all prophets before him, he held up economic disparaties between the wealthy and the very poor. He called on all his disciples to practice economic justice and compassion for those who are most at risk among us. Liberaton theologians call this practice of Jesus a “preferential option for the poor.”

Lent has three basic disciplines, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving–see Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday. We can pray for, work for, and give to those most at risk in our neighborhoods.

Sometimes I use the phrase almsgiving as another way of talking about works of mercy–giving of one’s time, talent, or possessions for the sake of the neighbor. We don’t have to leave town to find people at risk. They are everywhere around us, and sometimes might be in disguise, as someone you have known all your life, or someone who is quieter and stands in the shadows. A simple visit, a telephone call, a card, a gift of time and attention, or even a surprise gift of food may make a big difference in someone’s life.

There are many service organizations on Cape Ann, and they always welcome our help. If we want to stretch our arms farther, there are national and international relief organiations, those of our own denomination, here, for example, and other international aid organizations like Partners in Health.

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan–it asks the question: “who is the neighbor.” Sometimes our neighbor really is next door, and sometimes they need us. Sometimes our neighbor sits across the dinner table and sometimes the neighbor is farther away, perhaps in a small village in the Sudan.

Wherever we are, there are always neighbors to love.

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