A good sermon for homeless people

Posted: July 18, 2010 in homelessness, Sermons
Tags: , , , , , ,

A good sermon for homeless people is taken from Matthew 6:25-27  “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food? And the body more than clothing?” And in Luke 12:6-7 we read: ”Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows”.

But Jesus didn’t speak as kindly to the religious leaders of his day, calling them out in plain view of the people, “Scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites!” He warned about acting pious, going to a public place, putting on a gloomy face and making vain repetitious prayers to be seen by men. He advised instead of going into one’s inner room and shutting the door to pray. (Matthew 6: 5-6)

A good sermon builds people up; gives hope for a brighter tomorrow, no matter how pressing our problems are today. I recall hearing many sermons like that before I became homeless. Sermons that told me I was created in God’s image and if we have the faith the size of a mustard seed, we can say to that mountain “move” and it will obey us. Hearing a good sermon should lift us up.

But the theme of the sermons I heard while living on the streets was not the same message that I had heard before I became homeless. They were more like:  You are a hopeless sinner; you will not overcome your addictions unless you accept Jesus as your Savior and become saved.

It didn’t matter that I told them that I was following Jesus’ teachings, as recorded in the Bible and that in spite of that I became homeless. In their eyes I was homeless so therefore, I must have some sin or addiction that I was struggling with.

I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol and I have always believed in doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. I do not like people stealing from me, so I do not steal.  I do not like people cheating me, so I do not cheat others. Simple.  Just because I’m homeless doesn’t make me a hopeless sinner, doomed to hellfire.

One of my favorite scriptures is Matthew 7: 1-5   Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

There is only one God and one Messiah. So why are there so many different Christian religions?  (Don’t answer that.  I already know.)  I only mention it because I have seen how many times other people (including Christians) who have not experienced life on the street themselves tend to lump the homeless community into one big pot of drug addicts, alcoholics, and mentally unstable people who are too lazy to get a job.

To be a Christian is to serve others; not to judge them and threaten them with eternal hellfire and damnation. But I want you to know that those people who judge you by your appearance do not represent God. There are those who are true Christians and who sincerely care about your well being and work to meet your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

If it was not for Christian organizations like the Open Door Mission, the Salvation Army, and many others, the homeless would be getting a lot less help than they are. I appreciated every meal and every volunteer that made my life a bit more tolerable when I lived on the streets.

During that time God taught me a lot about myself. One important lesson I learned was that while I was spending a lot of my time complaining about how others were judging me for being homeless, I was judging them for not being homeless. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to show grace to those who judge us.

We must always remember what the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1: 26-29 “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. “

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  1. singertenor says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story. As I once read in a book by urban missionary and scholar, Ray Bakke, our culture is guilty of the assumption that to be poor is to necessarily be non-Christian. The world needs to learn that the real fact is that there is no promise that getting save will solve the homelessness of a person, and there are many people (perhaps more than there are not) who are poor AND Christian. Again, I agree with you and I thank you for your refreshing words, since I am in need of someone to back me and pray for me as I discover what God will say to the guests of Kansas City Rescue Mission, where I will preach tonight.

  2. Thank you. I am in complete agreement, as I have also been homeless, and did also judge others for not understanding my predicament. At the end of it, I came to understand that God’s love of me had ‘let’ me experience homelessness, so as to help, humble me and to know/understand that all these folks on the street are no different from myself. Even the ‘lazy’ and the drug-addicts among them are loved by Jesus.

  3. Steve says:

    I’ve been asked to speak a word this sunday morning at a soup kitchen. I’m not a preacher or pastor, this isn’t something I normally do. I was doing research about how to witness to the homeless when I stumbled across your blog.

    One thing you said was “To be a Christian is to serve others; not to judge them and threaten them with eternal hellfire and damnation”. I think that’s partially correct. To be a follower of Jesus is to serve others and not to judge. That’s why I’m going to be at the soup kitchen. But the thing is this: there’s something that everyone needs more than a hot meal or a place to sleep. They need salvation. What good is it if I fill your stomach today but you still spend eternity in torment?

    The truth of the matter is that all of us…homeless or not…need to realize that eternity is forever, and what happens for the rest of forever is infinitely more important than what’s happening right now. That’s true whether our “right now” is good or if our “right now” is bad. The things we see in this world are all passing away. Our lives are “even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

    I don’t know you and I’ve never walked in your shoes. But I do know a few things about you (and about the homeless that I’ll be speaking to this weekend). You said “In their eyes… I must have some sin or addiction that I was struggling with.” You do. You do have sin in your life that you struggle with. I can say that without even knowing you. I can say that because I have sin in my life that I struggle with as well. Everyone does. Scripture tells us so, and we can see it played out every day. The solution to sin is not a hot meal or a message that tells us that tomorrow will be better. The solution to sin is Jesus.

    You mentioned above about how the sermons changed after you became homeless. I can see how that could be. If I may suggest, I’d offer up that the target audience you were part of changed as well. What I mean is this: before you were homeless, you probably heard most of your sermons in a church setting. In such a setting, I think most preachers would deliver their sermon based on the assumption that most of the hearers are believers. As such, the topics of the sermons would focus on things like Christian living and growth in one’s faith, etc. However, when someone is preaching at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, I don’t think you can just assume that most of your audience have already put their faith in Christ. As a result, most messages in such a setting would focus heavily on salvation, and warnings about the future without salvation.

    The problem with that (understandable) approach is what you mention above. Such messages, while potentially beneficial to unbelievers in the homeless audience, don’t really do much to minister to BELIEVERS in the homeless audience. This is the quandry that I’m wrestling with right now as I seek the words to speak this weekend.

    • Thank you so much for your input Steve. Just to be clear, I am in no way suggesting that we should not share the gospel or preach salvation to the homeless. The “least of these” are the ones who need the hope of salvation as much as anyone else. My point was that most people (including Christians) still believe that people who are homeless are unsaved drug addicts, even though the majority of the homeless community today are families with children. http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/snapshot_of_homelessness
      We tend to judge people based on their outward appearance. When we attend a church service where most people are nicely dressed we assume, as you said, that most of the people there are saved. But when we visit a homeless shelter, where many aren’t dressed as nice and don’t smell as nice, we assume that most of them are unsaved. Both are wrong assumptions. I believe that more than ever the good news of salvation should be preached wherever and whenever we have the opportunity. God has called us to make disciples of all nations.(Matt.28:19) He has not called us to be speck inspectors. (Matt. 7:1-4) A great example of true ministry to the homeless can be found through the people at ‘Church Under the Bridge’ in Tyler, Texas. http://www.churchunderthebridge.org/
      I applaud you for your willingness to share your faith at the homeless shelter and I pray that God will use you in a mighty way for His glory and will also use this opportunity to minister to you as well.

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