Six Pounds in Six Days

Introduction, Rev. John Weems

Scripture, Matthew 5:1-16

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Blessed are those church members who come every week, place a big Jesus sticker on their car and drive forth into the city. Blessed are those same church members who steal parking spaces, cut people off in traffic, and tell people they are number one with a certain obscene hand gesture.

Blessed are those who go forth into workplaces and schools and look at everyone around them with pity, asking them “Do you know where you’re going when you die? Have you met Jesus?” Blessed are the Christians as they go back to their offices and cubicles and do exactly the same thing as everyone else in the world.

If you’re new here this morning, our Scripture this morning comes from something often referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount,” the core of many of the teachings of Jesus. The “Blessed are . . .” statements are labeled the “Beatitudes” from the Latin for blissful or happy. If you could live all of them—which I have yet to meet anyone who is capable of doing all of the time—you perhaps would have the greatest inner peace possible. Only Jesus was apparently capable of living them. If you cut through all the statements, what they come down to is a form of humility and looking to God as the only true source of inner happiness. We can hear words like this. We can even sometimes live the words, but until we enter into the reality of another person who is truly poor in every way, or deeply mourning, it is impossible for us to comprehend and begin to reflect the words of Jesus.

It is a great honor to have Mr. Henry Callander here to bring the message this morning. You’ve heard from young people after mission trips before. You’ve heard from people who go out and do good things in Christ’s name. It’s really easy to be proud of going to a church where these things happen. It’s normal to think, that’s their calling to do that, but I have limitations that would preclude me from doing anything. My prayer and encouragement for all of us this morning is that we listen to God’s message through Henry today with true openness, and be prepared to feel uncomfortable. Be prepared to consider how we may apply his message in the City and in the world.

Six Pounds in Six Days, Mr. Henry Callandar

I used to be one of those people that didn’t believe in the homeless problem. For me I would always think, “If these people want to have a home, why don’t they just get a job?” And there was no other way for me to understand their struggles. It’s not like I didn’t see homeless people – I live in San Francisco for God’s sake. There are impoverished people everywhere you go. And it’s not like I wouldn’t go looking for them – I worked for them and even thought that I was doing my part in ending their poverty. I would go do service with homeless people, like working in a soup kitchen or helping out with Meals on Wheels to deliver food to impoverished seniors. My school also took us on retreats where we would meet the homeless and talk to them. I would always try to understand why these people chose a life of homelessness, and I would again ask the same question. “Why don’t they go find themselves a job?” and what I thought was that, “there are plenty of jobs around.” I thought that I knew all about poverty and the situation with poverty in our country. And although I knew a lot about what poverty was, I never could have imagined what it would be like to live in it.

When I was given the forms that tried to explain how tough of a trip the upcoming poverty immersion would be, I still thought nothing of it. “I’ve done mission trips with Calvary before, it’ll probably be the same thing as always: reading the bible and holding hands in a circle singing Kumbaya.” I know Crazy Dave pretty well, and Dave would never put us in a situation that was dangerous. My High school does poverty immersion experiences, and instinctively I thought that we would be doing something along the lines of splitting ten dollars for five or six people for a meal. Money would be hard to come by, but even with ten dollars you could buy a sufficient amount of food. Many of you probably remember me giving the call to mission and giving a short talk about how fun our trip in Louisville will be, and how we were all looking forward to it, especially me. I feel like I was lying to the congregation, considering I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

It started out like any other mission trip. We all met at the airport in the morning and flew to Louisville, and for the first night we stayed at a reciprocating Presbyterian church. The church was situated in a nice neighborhood, much like Pacific Heights, and was run by a minister named Doodle (remember we’re in the South). So far Louisville was awesome, and a lot like San Francisco, except for the heat and the unimaginable humidity that would keep you wet even after drying off from a shower. Intermittent thunderstorms were also a difference; they would come at random times in large doses and then stop as quickly as they started. We were in a lap of luxury for that first night. The next day we moved to a different neighborhood of Louisville, the old town called Portland. Portland was a very poor part of the city much like our city’s Bayview district. We entered the church, our home for the next week I can say that all of us were a little uneasy.

The minute that we sat down on the concrete church basement floor, a woman walked through the door and took the stage. The leader of our program was a native of Louisville named Reverend Dr. Deborah Conrad. A woman of large stature, she was menacing. The minute she walked onto the stage, a lightning bolt struck right outside the church and the power went out, leaving us all in darkness. I don’t know how we could have had a more scary beginning to a scary mission trip. It was basically a horror movie.

There are many things I could say about what happened on the trip, but they are stories in themselves. A little oversight: On Monday my group received no pay check for working the entire day. On Tuesday some bags were stolen, including mine. On Wednesday we were given mechanical crying babies designed to keep us awake at night. On Thursday we had to pay an enormous check for an illness that none of us had. On Friday we almost fainted from lack of food. All we had to eat was an average box of food to share between the six of us in our group. In six days of being homeless, I lost six pounds.

I learned a lot from this trip, but what was the most impacting was when we were told on Friday what we could do to end poverty. We were taught to exhibit “preventions” instead of “rescues.” A good example of this instead of creating homeless shelters that give someone a place to stay, that we should raise the minimum wage which would stop people from needing to stay in the shelter altogether.

When I came back to the city, I started working as an intern at City Hall in Mark Farrell’s office. Among other things, I was asked as part of my internship to find a project that I would be interested in to write a report about to learn what the supervisor and his aides do in their job. It turns out that the project that I was assigned to was homelessness in San Francisco. So I was given a document about the spending of the city concerning the homeless in our city, and I was completely held back, and here’s why: the numbers and figures were completely off of what I thought they’d be.

Around 180 million dollars are being put into homelessness in San Francisco, with money given from the federal, state and local governments. Out of that 180 million, zero dollars was given from the local government to jobs and education and only around 1.5 million was given from the federal government. Out of 180 million dollars, only 1.5 million was given to taking people out of poverty. Where does the rest of the money go you may ask? Around 50 million dollars went to finding permanent housing and the rest of the money was split up between organizations and social services aimed at helping the impoverished. But how could this be true? These other services are great for the community, but not as helpful to ending the homelessness problem.

This program wasn’t easy, but I’m sure glad I did it in retrospect. It was the hardest week of my entire life, and I believe that I was happy that I endured it. Many people still may not believe in the homeless problem, but although the system works a lot of the time, it can be a broken device during other times. And there probably are still skeptics about how nothing is wrong with our system, how our American system keeps the most people out of poverty as possible, but truth be told there are major flaws. Most people don’t choose a life of poverty, but all have to deal with it. So for those of you who don’t believe in the poverty problem, remember what happened on this trip, and what I told you in this sermon. If I lost six pounds in six days, imagine how much weight you’d lose living this lifestyle for six weeks, six months, or six years.