Friday, November 20, 2009

The Journey of Homage

The Journey of Homage is an outreach project where we collect items to make up Christmas gifts for the homeless and needy of a nearby city and then hit the streets, giving the gifts to the people we find there. It really is just that simple. This year I am collecting new—well, let me stop there for a second to explain.

We collect new items because, well, would you want to receive a second-hand Christmas gift? I mean, you can call it "gently used" as much as you like, but if you were to get it as your only Christmas gift this year, wouldn't you feel bad, knowing that folk thought you weren't good enough for something new?

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks—but wait, let me explain.

I'm trying to collect this clothing in men's sizes and colors because my contact in the city tells me that most of the people we're going to find are men. The same contact has reminded me that the homeless do not have any way of washing their clothes, especially in the winter, so any socks they receive get warn until they're just too disgusting to have on anymore—at which point they must be thrown away. So simple tube socks are the best.

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks, $5 gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts—

Why only $5? Because the cards are not so much about feeding the folk as it is about getting them off the street into someplace warm for a while. If you look like you're homeless and you sit down in a Dunkin' Donuts to warm up, you'll probably be asked to leave. But if you walk in and buy a cup of coffee, sit down and nurse it for a while... then you're a customer. A real live, not freezing to death on the street customer! And why Dunkin' Donuts? Because my contact in the city tells me that there are several near where the folk are likely to be. Fast food restaurants would work just as well if they didn't have to walk across the city to get to them!

Where was I? Oh yes, this year I am collecting new warm winter hats, durable winter gloves, simple tube socks, $5 gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts, and Christmas gift bags large enough to hold one of each item!

"That's all very good, Rev. Josh" I imagine you saying to your computer screen, "but why is it called The Journey of Homage?" I'm glad you asked! First of all, "homage" isn't much used any more, I know. Just follow the link in that last sentence for a dictionary definition. But here's an example of the word used in a sentence:
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11
One of the reasons we give gifts in this season is because these Magi or Wise Men gave these gifts of homage to Jesus. So in what way is this outreach project a journey of homage like that of the Magi? Well, scripture also says:
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

Matthew 25:37-40
For the whole story, check out Matthew 25:31-46. But you get the point, don't you? According to the Gospel, the way to give homage to Jesus is to pay homage to the least of those among us.

Even though I happily take credit for bringing the Journey of Homage to each of the churches I serve, I must give credit where credit is due. The real mastermind, the person who had the idea and immediately acted on it, was one of my classmates at Andover Newton Theological School, Preston. It's been a few years, but the way I remember it, it went something like this: One year, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Preston and his wife rode the T out of Boston back to Newton after doing some Christmas shopping. And they discussed the homeless woman they'd seen pan-handling in the T station. And they agreed that it would be nice if they could give her a useful Christmas present. So they spoke with everyone they could manage and they collected new hats, gloves, socks, and gift certificates to fast food restaurants and packed them into nice gift bags. Then they got as many folk as they could and took the gifts into Boston and hit the streets, giving them to the homeless folk wherever they could be found.

I was one of those people, and one of the ways we found enough hands to give out presents was to bring our youth groups with us. We found a man standing outside of Macy's with a dixie cup and an illegible sign crafted from the bottom of a cardboard box and a dead magic marker. I watched people loaded down with their Christmas shopping pass by him without pause or eye contact as two of our youth approached him with a gift. They said, "Hi, we're from 2nd Congregational Church of Newton, and we'd like you to have this. Merry Christmas!" and then they started to leave. But the man said, "Girls, wait!" and he bent down to lift up his pant leg. And I could see from where I was standing that his leg was a road-map of scarring. He said, "I got that in Vietnam. And I always knew that I must have been fighting for something. But until now, I didn't know what it was."

'Nuff said.
Rev. Josh

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