Deah Barakat

Deah Barakat is one of the three Muslim students who was killed on the University of North Carolina campus this week by a mentally deranged, grumpy old man. The photo above was the last thing she posted on her Facebook account with the caption, “Tonight we provided free dental supplies and food to over 75 homeless people in downtown Durham! #‎DowntownSmiles‬”

Matthew 25. Everyone is surprised at the Judgment.

May her Memory be Eternal!

O, me of little faith!

On Wednesday, I published a blog article in which I stated that this was going to be the first time in 16 years that we would not be able to give out dollar coins in honor of St. Nicholas for St. Nicholas’ Day. A family who read that, took it to heart and did what they could to address the situation. Thursday afternoon, $100 in rolls of dollar coins were dropped by our kitchen while I was preparing soup. I was a little nervous with just $100. The last couple of years we have distributed far more than that. I figured, we would just have to see how it goes and if it meant not giving each person $3, well we would have to adjust.

Brian, Tony and I arrived in the TKJ-mobile and unloaded the iced tea, 4 dozen hard boiled eggs, 71 PB&J sandwiches from a LaSalle High School Hockey alum, 6 loaves of ham sandwiches from Serge & Alex, 22 quarts of turkey, rice, cabbage, etc. stew from me, and bread pumpkin pudding from Miss April (All the servers raved over the smell as soon as I opened the lid. They were hoping for leftovers, but no such luck) and added them to the line on the park benches. Presvy. Joanna and Russ and Sophie were already there with peanuts, oranges, bananas, goodies and a table for the iced tea. As we got ourselves organized, Sean and Zakiyya McKelven arrived with a crew  with their ministry from Philadelphia Community Church with packs of toiletries and socks & underwear. They set up at the end of our line. McGraws arrived with more sandwiches and spaghetti. We were set to start!

I asked Sean to say the blessing. He did and we were off! It was the first week of the month and the folks who were serving at the Love Park were giving away some nice stuff, so we had a much smaller crowd than usual. I waited until everyone had gone through the line once and we had put out the clothes and blankets. I then  quietly worked my way around through the remaining people and gave each person three $1 coins telling them it was in honor of St. Nicholas’ name day on Dec. 6. It was mainly our core group who stuck around, along with with a couple of alumni, old timers who showed up for the occasion. A couple of the people even got doubles. I had $5 in dollar coins in my pocket in my personal change so that covered the last two requests, with the 100th dollar from the rolls. God provided.stnick

After I had given all the coins away and gotten all the clothes and blankets out, I saw Grigory, the Russian man. He came up to me very concerned. We have been praying for his son who is in the Russian Army, fighting in the Ukraine. He tries to call him every day. He told me he hasn’t gotten any word from him in four weeks! He fears that he is dead. He told me that Putin has reneged on paying for service members’ burials. Grigory is just beside himself. Grigory is feeling blessed to be homeless in the US rather than being betrayed in Russia. It’s just hard to know where to go with that, but I can relate on quite a personal level just now.

Mark showed up with bananas about the time Gloria asked for a blessing. She embraced me weeping. I blessed her. She  said, “My name is Gloria, rev! Now I need a real blessing. I’m in need!” So she hugged me tighter, and I hugged her and I dug deeper and I prayed and I sought a proper blessing for a drug addicted, high, street walker, who wanted to turn a new page in her life. When we were done, we were both crying. She was a bit confused, but she was thankful and happy. I told her that the only way to hold onto her blessing was to continue to make right choices, even if they are the harder ones to make. Matthew 6:33 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you as well.”  A minute or two later she was asking for tokens to get home. I told her that I didn’t have any, and I didn’t have any money to buy any because I had already given it all away earlier. She asked if I knew if anyone else who had any. I said everyone in the gathering had a few dollar coins, because I had just given them to them. Well, the first person she happened to ask was Mark, who was very willing to help, but he also recognized her condition. She wasn’t making consistent sense. Mark was going to be leaving from there to go to the airport to pick up his wife, so he offered to drive her home; a much better solution.

The team had finished packing up the TKJ-mobile, etc. We headed for home, dropping off Tony & Greg at their place on the way. Brian & I got back to my place on fumes. Then Brian continued home in his car. Another successful outing. Our mortgage still isn’t paid. I still cry 24/7 for the unjust killings in the streets, but for a few hours on a Thursday night, there was no race, no gender, no us and them, no rich and poor, no suburb and city, no saved and lost, no religions, no non-religions, just people muddling through together with love and a little respect and brutal honesty. I believe that is approaching what is meant by “in Jesus’ Name.”

We are not a Matthew 25 Ministry

I have seen several ministries that label themselves “a Matthew 25 ministry.” This irritates me as it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel and a misreading of Matthew 25. Matthew 25 is where Jesus speaks of the final judgment where he separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep are those who have visited Him when he  was sick or in prison or fed him when he was hungry or clothed him when he was naked and the goats are those who did not do these things. Everyone asks “when did we do this” or “not do this”. He responds “when you did … or did not, do it unto the least of these my brothers.” Everybody is surprised. This indicates that this is not something one can plan ahead to do.

We cannot pay for our salvation. “All of our works of righteousness are as filthy rags.” I do not serve the homeless to earn heaven. That’s preposterous, and on some level it is insulting to the people I serve. The best answer I can give any more as to why I serve is that it makes me happy. I have said for years that I do this because I am selfishly doing what makes me happy and I mean it. God created us to do good works. Ephesians 2:10. Everyone in the evangelical camp likes to quote 2:8-9, but they forget verse 10 which is the conclusion.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

So I’m just trying to walk in the good works that God prepared for me to do. It’s what I was made for. It’s the happiest place I could possibly be.

I serve them. Hopefully, I help equip others to serve. Many of them serve me in encouragement, friendship and prayer. We learn in some small way to be God’s family, perhaps.

We work. We pray. We laugh. We cry. We struggle. We hope.

In the end, perhaps we may be surprised by grace.

Thank you for your prayers and your support. God bless you.

“The King’s Jubilee”

We marked our 25th anniversary in February for The King’s Jubilee. I wrote then about many of the ministries we have been involved in through the years. I think we are in need of a review as to the meaning of the name of this ministry, as it reveals its core purpose and direction. In the last couple of years, a few people have not understood this and it has led to conflict.

The first thing one should know is that it is “The King’s” Jubilee. We are not talking about King as in Martin Luther King. We are referring to The King of Kings, Jesus Christ. I have long said, that if I can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, I don’t have time to do it. Now the biblical concept of  doing something in someone’s name does not mean just saying the words. It means to act according to that person’s will. Nevertheless, to be sure to have the freedom to do this, we have never solicited nor will we ever accept government funding; nor do we solicit or accept any corporate or United Way funding that would require secularization of our services. Years ago a volunteer was pressured at his workplace for 100% participation in United Way. He designated $2,000 to The King’s Jubilee. We were told that if we so much as said a prayer of blessing or mentioned Jesus anywhere near anything we bought with the money, it would be a violation of their rules. We would have to keep separate accounts and have a completely secular program to use their money. I told them we could not comply with those ridiculous requirements. They never informed our volunteer of their decision not to forward the money according to his donor choice. I did.

On another note, it is the King’s because it is Christ’s love that compels us to serve. When I am asked by one of those we serve, why I keep coming after I have been mistreated by either some of the people or the police or the mayor, I say, “Jesus loves you. His love compels me to be here.” You see, I can’t always say that I love them. Now, after 25 years, I have grown to know and love some of them, but certainly not all of them. There are new faces each week, and my memory is not that strong, and I am not that holy. It would not be good news that I love them. Who am I? It is Good News that Jesus loves them. Of course, most of them are far better Christians than I am. The rest are better Muslims, or better Hindi, or better atheists, or better Buddhists. It is the King’s because this King lowered himself to become the servant of all. We go in a spirit of joy and a spirit of service. We endeavor to treat people with respect and dignity and kindness, the way we would like to be treated.

cropped-tkjprofile.jpgThis ministry did not just set out to serve homeless people on the streets. It is The King’s Jubilee. A major part of the Law of Moses had to do with the sabbath years and the year of jubilee, or sabbath of sabbaths, every 50 years. This was all about healing and second chances and radical redistribution of wealth. Every seventh year, all the slaves were to be freed for the year in order for them to be given a chance to earn enough to buy back their freedom. The land was given a rest to let it restore itself, as well. Every 50 years, all debts were cancelled; slaves were set free; the land was returned to its original owners or their heirs. This was not an optional or “freewill” plan. It was to be part of the government. If a man did not comply, he was to lose his inheritance completely and no longer be a citizen of Israel. However the Israelites never really kept these years. They were very important to God, however. So important, in fact, that God caused the nation to go into captivity for every one of these years they failed to keep.

You see, the Law of Moses was to be a model government for the nations of a direction toward mercy, toward economic equality, toward elimination of slavery. The year of jubilee was a type of the coming of the Lord. There are jubilary psalms that start with “Shout for joy” or “Lift a shout!” The jubilee year started with the sounding of the horn and a mighty shout from all the people. We hear this again in the culmination of the age in the Revelation to St. John in the sounding of the trumpets. It is a signal that God is finally making all things right. Justice is being meted out. Well, Jesus is the King. In his first public message, he referenced Isaiah 61 which is about “the acceptable year of the Lord.” It is a “jubilee song” speaking of the final jubilee to which all the 50 year jubilees pointed. He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He proclaimed Himself and his church to be that Jubilee. This is further confirmed by St. James’ understanding of the economic implications of the gospel. The Epistle of James was the first book to be written of the New Testament. It is mostly about the evils of economic inequality. “Go to ye rich, weep and howl …” “Where do wars come from? …” “judges with evil minds”, etc.  I have already posted James 5:1-8 without comment on Facebook and had two priests accuse me of being a communist for it. I told them their argument obviously is with St. James, not me, since I had not commented. St. James had the mind of Christ and the natural progression from the jubilary concepts of Moses.

So this ministry is called The King’s Jubilee because we are trying to get resources from where they are to where they need to be. When we started in 1989, Montgomery and Bucks counties were two of the wealthiest counties in the country and home to the per capita wealthiest evangelical denomination in the world, the Mennonites. We were Mennonite at the time. This area was wealthy due to one reason: white flight from Philadelphia. They had sold their farmland for subdivision and made a killing. There was a whole generation that were builders and tradesmen who earned enough off of this development to send their children through college. The next generation came back as professional people. Some of the developers had even larger businesses off of the new population. The grocery stores expanded, etc. At the same time, they cut their support for ministry in the city and closed some of their mission outreach in the areas where they had originally started in Philadelphia.

Hundreds of churches have closed in Philadelphia. Crack wiped out a generation of mothers. Prison took a generation of fathers. Grandmas were left to raise babies. Little store front churches were overwhelmed with the tasks set before them. Meanwhile new churches were being built in the suburbs and people were building bigger McMansions and praising the Lord in comfortable, bigger, air conditioned barns , nicely forgetting the bad old days in Philadelphia. They wanted to help the poor people in their “own” neighborhoods. Problem is, they intentionally moved away from all those poor folks in Phila. and have zoning laws so they don’t have to see them on a regular basis and highways and no mass transit out here, so they can’t reach us. The suburban soup kitchen has to turn volunteers away. The suburban food bank is staffed by paid help, it is so well funded. Meanwhile, the city is starving.

So, we are The King’s Jubilee. We don’t just want to see food move from the suburbs to the city. We want to see money move to the people in need. We want to see people be personally involved in helping to rebuild neighborhoods for the current residents. We want to see land reform. We want to see people given a second chance. We want to see an end to convicts losing their right to vote. The war on drugs has been a race war by Nixon’s own taped admission. When people have paid their debt to society, the slate should be wiped clean. I learned that from my GOP dad around the dinner table. Imagine that! Stakeholders in a society make better citizens. We want to end homelessness. It is possible. Don’t you dare quote me: “The poor you have with you always.” Do you see the word homeless in there anywhere? I didn’t think so. Homelessness is a stupid shame and is a symptom of our greed and hardheartedness. It actually costs us more as a society to keep these people out on the street than if we would just give them some of the excess apartments that are sitting vacant, no strings attached. Four cities and one state have tried it and have found this to be the case, so I am going to say it again, louder. It actually costs us more as a society to keep these people out on the street than if we would just give them some of the excess apartments that are sitting vacant, no strings attached.

So another aspect of The King’s Jubilee’s ministry as was just demonstrated is the prophetic, both to Christians and to the powers that be, to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. It’s all wrapped up in the idea of sounding the trumpet or lifting the shout of liberation a la Isaiah 61.

I have been at this for more than 25 years. It has been a life lived in poverty. I have basically worked two jobs the whole time. Only for two brief periods did I have the luxury of pastors who understood and appreciated me and were glad to have me in their congregations. Most pastors feel threatened by me. I have been called by some a fool for Christ, by others, just a fool. They do not understand this ministry. They prefer to do “ministry” where they can market the church and proselytize. The first time Metropolitan PHILIP, of blessed memory, met me, he did not let me reverence him. Instead he reverenced me, and pronounced a loud blessing upon me and upon this ministry. I was just a new catechumen at the time. I do not say this to boast. I do not understand these things. I was ordained to the priesthood as an infant by the Episcopalian bishop who baptized me. No one knows why. I was ordained four other times, none of which I asked for, once in a joint Mennonite Church/ General Conference Mennonite service with a Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister and a Pentecostal bishop joining the MC & GC overseers & pastors in the laying on of hands. We have been investigated on numerous occasions. At least three times during the Rendell years, undercover police tried to run sting operations on us. We have been harassed under three Mayors; threatened with fines and arrest and finally banned. We sued in federal court and won a restraining order to block that. I have been held at gunpoint twice. I have witnessed one shooting and two knifings. What a long strange trip it has been.

What I do know is that serving the poor and homeless is what I am meant to do. Doing it excellently, with care and skill, with attention to nutritional needs, social needs, psychological needs, financial needs, and spiritual needs, brings me joy. There is no better life. Won’t you please join me?

One Love

Actually, apart from faith in God, Jesus left nothing of the existing Jewish religious code standing except justice and good-heartedness to one’s fellows (Mt. 7:12; 19:16-19; 22:34-40; 23:23; 54:34-36). All other obligations: sacrifices in the temple (Mk. 12:32-34), prayers at fixed hours (Lk 5:33-34), ritual washings (Mk. 7:3), distinctions between permitted or forbidden foods (Mk. 7:19) and consequently, discrimination between religious (observant) and non-religious people (non-observant), had no value for him. He affirmed that the so-called “sinners” were nearer God than those who were held to be unspotted (Lk. 18:9-14); that is, he declared invalid what was properly speaking religious practice. What God values is that we be good to others (Lk. 10:30-37) and the only thing that stains a person is evil intentions, and harming one’s neighbor (Mk. 7:20-23). Jesus asked much more: it is not enough to not kill, despising is already killing (Mt. 6:21-22). To avoid false oaths is insufficient, one has to be utterly sincere (Mt. 5:33-37). Going beyond loving those who love you, you have to love and do good to those who do not love you (Mt. 5:43-45). What Jesus wants is true and sincere good-heartedness towards everyone revealed in every detail of daily life (Mt. 7:12). Jesus cares for those who seek him. He accepts invitations from the rich as well, but without concealing his message (Lk. 11:37-52; 14:1-14).
– Juan Mateos, Vatican Theologian 1917-2003

Earlier this week I added this to my “about” page on Facebook and posted it as my status, without the scripture references. Almost immediately, I was attacked by an Orthodox priestmonk and seminary professor who took this as an attack on the Liturgy. Now the author was a Vatican theologian, so he was obviously not attacking the liturgy and I pointed this out. This man continued his attacks and what he said was most disturbing to me as it indicated that he valued the Liturgy above Love. What St. Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 13 is that the Liturgy is worthless without love. What Jesus teaches us in his vision of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 is that the Liturgy is worthless without compassion for strangers, i.e., love for mankind. “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  A true liturgy should be all about love, and the atmosphere and the message attached to it, everything about it should equip the people to engage in lives of love for each other and for all mankind. It should never be about ethnic preservation or mere personal salvation. Then the medicine for our salvation can turn rancid and become a pickling agent to our souls.

A couple days later, I responded to yet another comment on a friend’s post, from yet another not so former evangelical who was busting on him for giving money to a beggar on the street. Why can’t we put this to rest, people? This is simple. Jesus told us to give to anyone who asks of us. Did He put qualifiers on it? Did He tell us to question their motives or morals? Was He stupid or unwise or unable to know our situation? Are we wiser than Jesus? OK, then. Just stop your stupid-enabling-psycho-babble-double-talk-which-is-just-an-excuse-for-you-to-feel-better-about-not-helping-because-that-is-what-your-greedy-self-wanted-to-do-anyway. Are you one of those hyper-Orthodox and Jesus’ word isn’t good enough for you; you need to hear it from “The Fathers”? OK, here goes:

“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person’s life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”

“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.”

“Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.”

“Need alone is the poor man’s worthiness . . .
“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.”

“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy.”

– St. John Chrysostom, Second Sermon on Lazarus and the Rich Man

On Friday, Deacon Herman shared the documentary “Marley” with us, about the life and career of Bob Marley. There were several things that were striking about his life. While the movie did not cover why he converted to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, I can understand why he did from the interviews that were included and how he lived his life. He was a serious almsgiver. Reporters would ask him if he was rich. He would ask them if they were talking about money. Then he would say: “What is that? I have people, lots of people, brothers and sisters! Friends. Love. That is the riches!” He was making millions at the time and he knew how to make a lot of money. He also knew how to give it away.

One of his bandmates said that wherever they would go, people would come up to him and ask him for money. He would ask them what their dream was, what their plan was and listen to it, then give them enough to make it happen. He was always doing this. He started out life poor, halfcaste and in the ghetto. He never forgot those roots. He was nurtured by a Rastafari master, but he got to see Haile Selassie I and he was honest enough to realize that the man did not think of himself as Jesus Christ reincarnate, but was, in fact, Ethiopian Orthodox. Orthodoxy has a rich theology of serving the poor, almsgiving, and the hope for the unity of all mankind. Bob was already more than halfway there. Very little catechesis was needed for such a soul as he, I’m sure. His whole life had been a catechesis of sorts.

What is my point? God is love. He calls us to be godly. That means first and foremost He calls us to love! Jesus said that all of the Commandments were fulfilled by love. Juan Mateus made a case from the Scripture that the Liturgy is worthless without love. St. John Chrysostom makes the case that we are not to judge those to whom we give alms, but merely obey Christ. Finally, we see the example of Bob Marley, who did not just give token, spare change alms, but intentionally earned as much as he could, so he would have more to give away. His paying audience was mainly upper, middle class, white, young people. He redistributed in the poorer neighborhoods. He gave in such a way as to make a difference in a person’s life, so they could make a new start.

So my point is this: One Love. It all flows from One Love as Bob Marley sang. That is God. If the Liturgy is just a way for us to preserve our ethnic heritage or language. If it is just a place to squabble over whose tones are better, or to showcase our excellent chorus, or which calendar is correct, or to interrupt it to scold someone for sitting, then you have missed the point. Love does not judge. Love is not stingy and does not keep a ledger sheet. Then there is the almsgiving example of Bob Marley. If you live a life centered in love, you don’t just give your leftovers or your scraps away. You live intentionally to use your gifts to help as many people as you can to the maximum benefit; or to rescue one exceptionally needy person, however God leads; but with intention, on a path of love. You can do this directly, if you have direct contact with needy people. If you do not, then give your money to agencies such as The King’s Jubilee. We will deliver your alms for you.

Why do I do this?

Last Thursday, while I was preparing the soup for the street, Claudia Vargas, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer was sitting across the table from me asking me questions. Her questions, and my meandering answers, forced me to re-examine why I do this ministry. Her article, while very positive, did not expose as deeply as she had delved. I guess she wanted to know if I was the real deal or not before she wrote a sympathetic article. The interview felt more like a visit to a psychologist than a press interview. (I better be careful, or she may send me a bill.)

I shared my stories of having been asked at various churches, “So, how many of the people you feed make professions of faith and end up joining a church?” And my answer: “These people are not rats, and the food we serve is not bait. I am not there to save them. I am there to save me!”

I continued by telling her that that did not make me friends in evangelical churches, who didn’t seem to want to do anything unless it was connected to proselytizing. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they need saving. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) For the first two years when we were serving over at the Love Park, we didn’t even say a blessing publicly. I felt that we were entering their home. If I were to enter your home as a guest at your table and proceed to stand up and say a prayer in your house, without you asking me to, that would be pretty insulting. So we would bless the food as we made it and before we got out of the car. It wasn’t until one of them asked if they could say a blessing that anything was done publicly on site. Now they expect a blessing and respect that. Now I am one of them, part of the community. Sometimes one of them wants to offer it and that is OK. We have had Muslim blessings and Hindu blessings and Jewish blessings and Evangelical blessings and Catholic blessings and Orthodox blessings and even one Native American blessing. It’s their home. We do it their way.

Claudia followed up by asking, “So you do this to save yourself, to go to heaven?”

I responded, “No. That’s absurd! No one can work to go to heaven. I may still go to hell. I’m still a selfish bastard and an ornery cuss. Ask the people who know me. In the only picture Jesus gives us of the Judgment in Mt. 25, everyone is surprised.  So I can’t decide to do this to earn heaven. … At that day some fighting fundies are probably going to be surprised to see some Muslims enter heaven and they’re going to be standing there saying ‘What the ___!'” Then I told her about the Hindu family that saved Christmas for 20 little children.

I just know that God made everyone to do something good. (I’m going to wax more eloquent than I did in the interview, while I was trying to cut carrots.)

Ephesians 2:8-10. Most people forget about verse 10. When I did the “born again” thing in the Baptist church, they gave me Ephesians 2:8-9 “assurance verses” or “salvation verses” when I made my profession of faith. Well it’s verse 10 that is the real aim of the passage.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

We were created “for good works, which God prepare beforehand that we should walk in them.” This is what I mean when I say I do this ministry ‘to save me.’ Save doesn’t just refer to the great by and by. It also refers to growing in grace and being in God’s will, and all of the aspects that lead to genuine inner happiness, sanctification, and redemption. I am being saved, that is, I know true joy by doing this service, because this is what God prepared for me to do.

How can I say this with such assurance? Isn’t this just the talk of a crazy man? Let me tell you how I got started. In January of 1989 I laid out a vision for The King’s Jubilee. I shared it with Bethann (my wife), and a few close friends, and we prayed about it and decided to launch in February. I presented this vision to about 150 inmates in the E-Block Bible Study at SCI Graterford, a maximum security state prison, during our 1-1/2 hour Saturday morning session. One of the requirements of our organization is that everyone is involved in some way directly in the ministry. There are no Monday morning quarterbacks on the board. So I asked the men what they thought I should do for my personal involvement in The King’s Jubilee. Now this was a novel experiment and a risky business, to have 150 inmates in a free for all discussion, and ask them to arrive at a consensus. This was not an established block with an ordered hierarchy. This was the intake block to the institution. They were all getting to know one another and the prison. Within five minutes, they came to a universally accepted consensus that I should minister to the homeless in center city Philadelphia. I considered that pretty miraculous. I took that as my Macedonian call and we started in February 1989. I recruited a couple of guys and we went down on Wednesday nights. We took over for a little store-front church who were serving two nights a week. We have never seen a reason to quit. We have been harassed by three different mayors. We have been investigated by under cover police at least three times that I am aware of.

We had to sue the current mayor in federal court to continue to serve, and won. In that court case the mayor’s lawyer asked me about motivation, too. He asked, “What percentage of the people who serve the homeless do it out of a religious conviction?” I was a mess on the stand. I was crying the whole time. I was crying for months after the decree was supposed to go into effect and the hearing was no exception.  I replied, “All of them, according to Jesus. When I read my Bible, He says that ‘If you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto Me’, so even if they don’t know it, that is their motivation.” The lawyer wasn’t the least bit happy. He asked, “What percentage would you estimate would they say their motivation is religious?” I said, “Now that would be hearsay. I didn’t think hearsay was admissible in a court of law. If you want me to make a wild guess, I can, but that’s what it would be, a wild guess. I don’t think I can do as well as Jesus. About 70% of the organizations are openly religiously based, but I have friends who are religious who work with Food Not Bombs and LAVA and Occupy who are not religious organizations. Their involvement is still religiously based, so it is still only Jesus who can sort it out, I’m afraid.” I was crying and shaking. The mayor’s lawyer was still not very happy and visibly angry.

The other thing that I wanted to make clear is that I am not anything special. I am just doing what I was made to do. I get upset when people make a big fuss, because that generally means that they are excusing themselves from whatever it is that they are supposed to be doing unto God. Now the good works that God made for you may look, and probably will look, completely different than the good works that God made for me to do. Somebody has to take care of the aging horses. We need compassionate doctors. We all should appreciate our hardworking postal workers, especially the cheerful ones who go the extra mile. I have worked at many different jobs to be able to keep doing this. Through the years, I have painted houses, landscaped, done roof inspection, run blue prints, managed an office, made icons, sold security systems, photocopied, drafted roof details, designed home improvements, sold advertising, waxed floors, detailed houses, etc., all to be able to support myself and my family with a flexible enough schedule so that I could do this ministry. Why? It’s what God made for me to do. I am not happy unless I get to do it. And I want to be happy. I am just that selfish!

A Hindu family “saves Christmas”

Revs. Joses & Chantal St. Phard distribute toys to poor children in Jesus’ Name at a big party on Christmas Eve at their church in north Philadelphia. They were short of toys this year. Chantal had called and asked me if I had any. I told her we didn’t. At the time, we didn’t have any funds to buy any either. I told her if any showed up, I would bring them down. She said, “God will provide.” That was last week. On Sunday afternoon, I got a call from one of my wife’s former co-workers, a Hindu woman. She said that her son and daughter-in-law had purchased a bunch of toys to donate to Toys for Tots, but had missed the cut off for the pick up. She told them that Cranford would know where to go with them. I told her to bring them over. They brought over two huge bags of new toys on Monday. I brought them down to Chantal yesterday morning and “Christmas was saved” in the hearts and minds of about 20 little children, thanks to a Hindu family giving from the heart.

Remember that in the one picture that Jesus gave us of the Judgment, it never mentions a creed, or profession of faith, or named religion, or membership in any organization. The sheep were known by what they had done for the least of these. The other thing to notice is that everyone is surprised. The sheep are surprised because they were not doing it to earn heaven. They were just doing it, because it was right. The goats were surprised, because they were sure they had the right religion to get in.

Santa gives more to rich kids than poor kids.

Yesterday I posted an icon with the quote from St. Basil the Great where he wrote, “Property is theft.” It went viral with over 2,000 views in the first 12 hours and 38 shares. A friend wondered if he was speaking to monastics when he wrote this. He may have been. I don’t think it matters. It jives with the principles he enunciates everywhere else in his teachings to non-monastics and with the teachings of the other Fathers, Jesus, the Apostles, the Law and the Prophets. This ministry is called “The King’s Jubilee” based on Jesus’ message in Luke 4 where he proclaimed Himself and the Church to be the fulfilment of Isaiah 60. This is all based on the jubilary proclamation: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it!” This proclamation precludes private property. All we have, and, in fact, our very beings, belong to God. God is no respecter of persons, so if another of his children has need of something we happen to have, we have no right to hold on to it. It is theft to hold on to it. St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom all said so.

Somehow we don’t hear sermons on this. We hear justifications for holding on to wealth to make sure our children have all of the advantages in life. Are we teaching our children to live by faith and to serve the poor and to live in community with their brothers and sisters or to live like the world with a Christian gloss? This is what St. Basil the Great has to say on the subject:

“But wealth is necessary for rearing children,” someone will say. This is a specious excuse for greed; although you speak as though children were your concern, you betray the inclinations of your own heart. Do not impute guilt to the guiltless! They have their own Master who will care for their needs. They received their being from God, and God will provide what they need to live. Was the commandment found in the Gospel, “If you wish to be perfect, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” not written for the married? After seeking the blessing of children from the Lord, and being found worthy to become parents, did you at once add the following, “Give me children, that I might not attain the Kingdom of Heaven?”
– St. Basil, “To the Rich” (On Social Justice, p.54, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

We did not play Santa Claus with our daughters. We always told them the true story of St. Nicholas. We felt if we lied to them about Santa Claus and they found out about that, they would wonder what else we may have lied to them about. We also do not like the whole “gimme” covetousness culture that goes along with Santa Claus. We brought ex-offenders into our home who had no other home plan. I was a full-time prison minister and lived by faith of what came in in donations to support us. I once was hitch-hiking home from leading a Bible study in Graterford Prison and a couple picked me up. They apologized for how messy their car was, because they were living in it. Well, two of our daughters doubled up in a bedroom and the couple lived with us for the winter. God provided for us and them. God protected us. Have you met our four daughters? They don’t have high powered jobs or a lot of money, but they are kind and compassionate and use what they have to serve those in need. They are serious about their Christianity. Children learn what they live.


Last year I saw this billboard around Allentown that said, “Santa Gives More to Rich Kids Than Poor Kids. Stop Lying to Your Children About Santa Claus.” I thought that was an “in your face” way of going about it, but sometimes that is what it takes. The Christmas message is supposed to be the Christian message. The Christian message is not the prosperity gospel of wish fulfilment and Santa Claus gimme. It is that of sharing and equality among all peoples. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” “The rough places made plain.” “The valleys exalted and the mountains brought low.” “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

This is not the time to get angry about people who say “Happy Holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” and turn it into some sort of false martyrdom. That doesn’t make us any friends. It’s time to renew our commitment and put Christ back into Christian. Let us serve the poor in His Name. Let us learn to live more simply that others may simply live. Let us live our lives in such a way that all will know that we are His disciples, so they may glorify God with us.

“We have fun!”

dollar-coinsMost of the time when people tell me that what we do is special, or that I am a special person for what I do, my response is, “We have fun!” And I am being serious when I say this.

Jesus told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The word blessed can mean happy. Doing something that makes you happy is kind of the definition of fun. I can tell you from experience, Jesus did not lie. Now the world has us all excited about receiving. And receiving things can be pretty happy sometimes, especially if we are in a tight spot and they fill a crying need. Well, to be the one who gets to fill that need is even happier! We don’t have much of anything of our own. What we do have, we share. So to do this ministry is such a joy. We have time and some cooking skill, so April and Kevin and I cooked yesterday. And I get to be a delivery person for what you all give, and thus, share in the fun!

Today is St. Nicholas Day. Last night we gave out the dollar coins to the people to celebrate this. I asked for special prayer, because last year things got out of hand and about $300 was stolen. Now I was there to give it away, so it wasn’t a loss to the ministry, but it wasn’t a good scene and wasn’t good for the soul of the persons who stole it. God answers prayer. We didn’t have such a huge crowd. I waited until we were just about done serving food. I did not try to tell the story to the crowd all at once. I did not carry the rolls of coins in a bag. I wore my winter coat that was entirely too warm, but had the right, zippered pockets, and carried a few rolls of coins in each pocket at a time. I just wandered through the people and handed out three dollars to each, remembering their faces. Soon someone asked why there were three coins. So I told them about St. Nicholas inheriting three bags of gold and the three daughters of the poor man. The poor man could not afford dowries for his daughters, so Bishop Nicholas, on the eve of when each of them were to be sold into slavery threw a bag of gold up and over, so that it fell down into the hearth, thus providing dowries for each of these girls in turn. Someone else asked, so I told them again, only this time I mentioned the St. Nicholas’ Cross that you see on all pawnbrokers’ shops, because he redeemed the maidens, and one always hopes one can redeem one’s possessions from the pawnbroker. I had way more than enough coins for everybody. I ended up giving to people twice and some more than twice. Steve and I started to go to the other end of the park and distributed there.

I went back and got more coins. Anthony went with me and we circled two blocks to where people were camped and gave out coins. I handed three coins to one older man saying, “In honor of St. Nicholas, God bless you.” He looked at me kind of startled. Anthony told him that they were dollar coins. The man was just so surprised and grateful. He said, “I’m a Muslim, but I understand some things about Christianity and you’re a righteous man. God bless you.” Then he said to Anthony, “Stick with him. Out here, it could get messy.” I turned back to him and gave him three more dollars and asked him to pray for me. He had tears in his eyes.

When we got back to the benches where we serve, the Project HOME outreach van was there. I reached in the window and gave the volunteers coins for St. Nicholas Day. One of them had come out with us a couple of years ago as it turns out. It apparently was when I was in the hospital, because someone else was in charge. She had very nice things to say about The King’s Jubilee and they learned some things about St. Nicholas.

I also talked to Sadie. Sadie and Daniel are two of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet. Please keep them in your prayers. They have had the worst couple of years. Daniel wasn’t allowed to come out on the damp night, because he has walking pneumonia. Sadie just had surgery for stomach cancer and has started chemo. Earlier this year she had a heart attack and stents and a broken foot. Their 14 year old special needs daughter was repeatedly raped by a fellow special needs student. They had finally moved off the street, then lost their place, because they had taken in a brother-in-law who had a criminal record that got the whole family thrown out of public housing. They were being good Christians to help their nieces and nephews, and they get penalized for it. They are off the street again. Thank God. They maintain a positive and cheerful attitude through it all. They are amazing people! Daniel’s Birthday is tomorrow. I sent extra coins home with Sadie to help celebrate.

Thank you all for enabling me to deliver a bit of happiness to some of our brothers and sisters on the street. We really are having fun!

Be blessed! Have some fun!

Context can change everything.

Christian folks who want to claim Jesus without actually following him as disciples are fond of quoting Him as saying, “The poor you will have with you always” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8). This is a problem with not reading the Scripture in context, and not knowing the Old Testament. Jesus was a first century rabbi who like other teachers of the time would quote from the first part of a biblical passage, knowing his listeners had enough biblical knowledge to know the rest, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land'” (Deuteronomy 15:11).