This week, I went to the hospital to visit someone from another church (the pastor asked me to look on them while he was not around). As I checked in, I was asked if I could go to the emergency room to talk with a nun who was brought into the hospital. Of course, I said I would take the assignment. In the ER, I walked over to the cubicle and found it empty.
As I turned around to go and find out where the sister was, she was standing behind me. We spoke briefly, she laughing that the pastoral care office would send her a Lutheran and I laughing that the pastoral care office would send me, a Lutheran pastor, to a Roman Catholic nun. Her illness wasn’t too severe, but others thought she needed to get checked out, hence her appearance in the ER. She said she felt fine and was out doing her job visiting the sick, which made me smile.
During our short visit (at times I didn’t know if I was supposed to be the one doing the pastoral care work or was she), the sister asked me to go visit a homeless man she just finished visiting.
When I entered the man’s cubicle, he was laying on the bed, an oxygen mask on his face and an IV in his arm. According to the nurse, he was very sick. I pulled a stool up next to the bed and began to talk to him, reminding him what the nurses instructed — “Keep the mask on.” Yet, he continued to lift off the mask to talk with me.
He was homeless, living on the streets and in shelters for a number of years. He said he didn’t have enough education to hold down a good job in order to afford some place to live, so he lived in shelters when it was cold and in alleyways when it was warm. But with this economic downturn, he lost the job which he considered “not so good,” making his economic troubles worse. He stayed away from his family because he said he didn’t want to be a burden. Later, he told me that his family actually disowned him when he was a teenager because he got into drugs, something he wasn’t into any more.
I was surprised at his age – 38 – because he looked so much older. I guess living on the streets will do that to you.
His feet were cold. He had a couple of blankets on his bed, but it didn’t matter how many, his feet were still cold. He said that earlier in the week, somewhere he lost a bag of his clothes, a bag that contained his socks. That why, he said, his feet were cold. After several coughing bouts, the nurse came with an orderly to take him for some tests. I said a fast prayer with him and watched as they wheeled him out.
I left the hospital, completely forgetting to visit with the person from the other church. My mind was racing, thinking not only about a sick nun who ignored her own well being in order to pray with one of God’s children, but also about the very sick homeless man with cold feet. For the past couple of weeks, we have been collecting donations for Haiti earthquake relief. We’ve been bombarded by the sadness coming out of Haiti, and as a collective people we’ve responded. Our nation has donated millions upon millions of dollars to charities who are trying to relieve the incredible suffering in Haiti. We’ve prayed for Haiti and the relief workers. Nearly all of us know of someone who has travelled to Haiti to serve as a relief worker.
Yet, here in Bergen County, one of the wealthiest counties in all of the United States, there are homeless living on the streets and in shelters; there are people living in substandard housing. This is not a cry for more government funding to help with the homelessness.
I think that maybe we, as God children, need to recognize and stand up more to help God’s children in our own midst.
This weekend’s readings center on the theme of love, how God shows an incredible love to each of us sinners by sending His own Son to die for us, and in turn, we are to show that same kind of love for those around us. The Samaritans here at Saint Matthew’s are preparing to serve a meal at the Walk-In Shelter in Hackensack in a couple of weeks. Our church has always stepped up and helped – donating money during the annual “Souper Bowl for Caring” drive that will take place next Sunday, by baking and donating desserts, and cooking an incredible pot roast meal.
But the man with the cold feet got me thinking.
Can we do more?