It’s a moral issue of terrific proportions. The president of the United Way called it “the most urgent moral crisis facing our city,” and he mayor in April labelled it his “#1 problem.” Another nonprofit organization compared it to Katrina.
In some ways it’s getting better, and in others it’s getting worse. There was an increase of 23% in unsheltered homeless from 2016 to 2017, but there was also an increase in people helped off the street. Some of this is due to the work of community organizations and nonprofits, but some of it is also due to governmental initiatives. Have you heard of Measures H and HHH, both passed recently? Measure HHH authorized a $1.2 billion sale of bonds, primarily for permanent supportive housing. This is for the homeless who have serious disabilities of one variety or another and who need permanent assistance living on their own. $60 million is also allocated for shelters. Measure H is a quarter-cent sales tax which is supposed to raise $355 million per year. The emphasis on that one, by contrast, is to prevent people from becoming homeless. It follows a set of recommendations voted in by the board of supervisors the previous year, most notably transitional housing and assistance to households who are expected to be able to pay their own rent in six to twelve months. There are target numbers of families and adults to get off the street, as well as case workers who are sent out.
The results have been somewhat encouraging. They moved 7200 people off the streets into interim housing in the last half of 2017; 3350 acquired stable housing, and 4000 homeless disabled adults were helped onto the path to federal disability benefits. Phil Ansell, the director of the LA County Homeless Initiative, said that in the first five years of Measure H, 45,000 families and adults will secure permanent housing and 30,000 additional families and adults will be prevented from becoming homeless. Chronic homelessness fell 16 percent. Veteran homelessness dropped 18 percent. Youth housing placements rose by 43 percent. More than 16,000 were placed in permanent housing.
So in doing research for this, it became clear to me that the primary problem is not getting people off the streets anymore, though that is still a huge issue, of course. The real problem now, more and more, is preventing new people from becoming homeless. We’re getting people off the streets, but so many people are entering homelessness that it’s going to be a bigger and bigger problem if this keep up. We’ve got to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place.
Really what it is is an issue of affordable housing. There are some perverse economic circumstances in LA County and a lot of other cities in America where employment opportunities concentrate in certain areas but it becomes increasingly unaffordable to live near where you work. If you want affordable housing, you have to live way out in the desert in somewhere like Ridgecrest, and who wants to live there? Traffic is getting increasingly worse, and problems could be as simple as having a car problem. In that case, how do you get to work? I guess you can’t.
The biggest increases in homelessness have been in regions not historically impacted by it. It’s away from the center of LA, where a lot of the resources are - shelters, etc. In the surrounding communities, we’re beginning to see it become a problem.
So prevention - a lot of people are on the edge, one paycheck away. It could be as simple as a car breakdown, family trouble, health issues - any number of things. But it’s becoming increasingly common for hard-working, seemingly normal people to be falling into this, and we want to put an end to it.
Some myths about homelessness that came up: There’s an assumption that the majority of people out there are homeless because they choose to be so. Some of them are, but again the perception is that it’s because of drug problems or that they moved to LA in order to be homeless because they have nowhere else to go. A professor named Benjamin Henwood from the USC School of Social work said this is not supported by data. In fact, 75% of homeless people in LA County are natives. They did not move in from elsewhere to take advantage of charity, the warm weather, or anything else.
We could spend a whole semester talking about affordable housing, but the bottom line is that 500,000 households in Los Angeles that earn less than $40,000 a year and spend more than half of their income on rent, but the city remains 570,000 units short of housing for people in that income category. That’s a lot of houses.
Perversely, it’s not profitable to build affordable housing in many cities, generally speaking. A developer of affordable real estate, James Madden, estimated that in Seattle, developers would struggle to break even on apartments renting for less than $1,900 per month for a one-bedroom unit. In New York or Boston, he said, the figure is probably closer to $3,000. That’s insane. Can you imagine flipping burgers or being a greeter at Walmart or whatever and trying to pay that kind of rent? It’s impossible.
There are a huge number of reasons for this. High construction costs are partially to blame. Tariffs are going to make it worse. There’s theft from construction sites, copper’s expensive, and labor costs are up, with limited supply of construction labor even though construction wages have stagnated. Not sure what’s going on there. And of course land is coming increasingly at a premium, as there’s only so much land in the city. So most of the new housing developments going in are not affordable. It’s always going to be more profitable to build luxury condos than something affordable even to normal people like you and me.
The last thing I’d mention about this issue, even though we could talk about it forever, is the issue of NIMBY. Short for Not in My Backyard, this is a phrase that was used in the 1980s or before to talk about nuclear waste, but people today are using it to talk about homelessness and low-income housing. It just seems that every time someone wants to build an affordable housing project, someone objects. I have a friend, in fact, a good guy in many ways, who is trying to invest in LA real estate. He’s the son of wealthy parents and makes a good amount of money himself. He’s trying to buy a condo or perhaps a house in downtown LA. Maybe you could more accurately say penthouse, because it’s an $800,000 unit that overlooks Pershing Square. Maybe he was kidding, but he said he didn’t want his view to be obstructed. NIMBY.
So what can we do about this as a church? Well, as Sister White wrote in Messages to Young People, pp 200, “Christianity is intensely practical.” So I’m going to get to a few items of discussion we were just talking about in the young adult Sabbath School, the Living Room.
#1 is to smile at a homeless person.
This one is the least effective to fight the systemic problems above, but because I have a personal story about it to tell, I’m starting here, in order to set the bar low if nothing else. I was driving back from dinner one night with a friend who was visiting from New York, and was about to get on the 10 E at Arlington Ave. If you’ve ever driven there, you’ll often notice a homeless person there panhandling. I’m not saying that giving money to panhandlers is the most efficient way of helping them in the long term; in fact, quite the opposite, but when I smiled at this disheveled older man in a wheelchair, he rolled over to my car at the awkwardly long light. The light stayed red and stayed red, and it just seemed like the right thing to do to give him the $2 in my wallet (there was a $100 bill in my wallet too, but I didn’t give that to him). I told him “God bless you”, the light changed, and we both left with a smile on our faces. What that really means to me isn’t so much giving money, but a lot of these people are deserted by society, and it can make a big difference in their lives if even one person cares about them.
The next thing on this list is a petition to support affordable housing. It’s at the link above on the powerpoint. I encourage you to take out your phones put that in your browser, if you’re not on your phone already, which some of you are. It’s a simple petition - all you do is put in your name, phone, email and zipcode. Hopefully it’ll make some difference. I did it, and hopefully you can do it too.
3. Make a small toilet kit in a ziplock bag and keep it in your car to give to panhandlers. The church here has done this in the past, and our group is thinking of getting started on it again. We found in the past that there was a need for clean socks especially, and feminine hygiene products, in addition to a toothbrush, toothpaste, small shampoo, bar of soap, and a piece of literature. Talk to me or anyone else in the young adult group to find out more or get involved. Immanuel Lutheran Church in Riverside does this, and handed out packets to the congregation exiting Easter service. I kept it in my car for a while and after several weeks saw a homeless guy at a stoplight and gave it to him. Our church would go out to homeless encampments and distribute the supplies. I think it’s a very efficient way to make sure our dollars do some good, even if it doesn’t cure the problem completely.
5. http://www.clothesthedeal.org/portfolio.html - charity that provides suits and women’s business attire for interviews. My landlord Santiago has frequently cited them as an example of how the upwardly aspiring homeless have far better opportunities here than in his native El Salvador. This shouldn’t be taken as a denial of the struggle their life presents here, but he said that over there, society or government does absolutely nothing to help the homeless; in fact, their possessions will be stolen from them on the street. Given that he rose from nothing to earn a Bachelor’s degree from the USC Marshall School of Business, his endorsement means something.
https://www.downtownwomenscenter.org - This is an LA-based organization that collects women’s clothes and supplies, always a need.
6. http://www.abundanthousingla.org/take-action/take-action/ - Not going to spend too much time on this, but they have open positions for advocacy form manager, social media manager, weekly email coordinator, social media coordinator, graphic designer, and an advocacy form you can sign up to get updates from. You can donate.
7. Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena:
We talked about this in Sabbath School. In the past, due to the work of a wonderful young lady named Adrienne Paredes, we’ve made several attempts at outreach here. Previously we’ve folded origami with young children and played bingo with older adults. The site is one where we could make a difference that is still safe for the women and young people of our church. Several avenues of opportunity are open on a regular or one-time basis of time commitment, including their Adopt-A-Meal and Sack Lunch programs, and various staff positions. In this time of transition, with Yishen Ma leaving, the Sabbath School needs new projects, and this seems a good place to start. We talked about this in Sabbath School, and hope to get going on it again soon.
8. Building relationships with the homeless:
Chrysalis: https://changelives.org/volunteer/ - this is an organization that helps homeless people with their resumes, job searches, and career counseling. The program has attracted volunteers from a variety of backgrounds, including USC undergraduates. They do ask for a regular commitment to work.
This would be a great opportunity if anyone is able to do it, but the reason I bring it up is the issue of relationships, building relationships with homeless people. Although it can be beneficial to donate goods and services to people on a one-time basis, it will never alleviate the problem entirely. What really makes a difference in someone’s life is to take the time and effort to build a relationship with them, find out what their needs are, and then fulfill them. That’s what this service does, with its resume editing and career counseling. When you take the time to build a relationship with someone like this, and you’re in a position to help them, you can really turn their life around.
Building relationships with homeless people can be tough. I can really only report one within the last year or two. He was a Vietnam War vet named Edwood (I asked him ‘Do you mean Edward?’ ‘No-Edwood’). He used to live on the street in front of my apartment by DTLA near USC. I talked to him and took a little time to get to know him. He was a highly educated guy, very literate, with an interesting story to tell, but was down and out at the time. I eventually felt like I was able to trust him; in fact, I felt so very quickly.
What we do at our house is to alternate duties every week taking out the trash. With eight people living there, that’s a lot of trash. One week when it was my turn, being as disorganized as I am, I forgot, and we had several bins of trash that we needed to get rid of. I talked to him, and asked him if I could pay him to go around to the local dumpsters and public trash cans and throw away our trash bag by bag. He was very obliging, said ‘I got you!’ and did the job satisfactorily. I believe I did that twice actually.
I found that other people in the community trusted him as well. There was a cafe named Hashtag Coffee and Tea at the time which would pay him to sleep in front of their door at night to prevent burglaries. In a sense, they were investing in the most technologically sophisticated burglar alarm in existence, and they were probably doing so for a very discounted price, slipping him a little bit of cash out of the till. I talked to my frat boy neighbors who throw their loud parties every weekend, (sometimes with good DJs and more often not), and they liked Edwood as well. On one occasion they paid him to clean up after a party of theirs, no easy task I can assure you.
Admittedly, this guy was easier to help. He had been to Veteran healthcare facilities and was trying to get into veteran housing. I think he made it. I haven’t seen him on the street for years. He had an ‘Obama phone’ from a local facility as well. So he did at least somewhat have his life together.
Not all people are like that. Our brother Andres Lam from our group was saying this morning that there are three categories of homeless people recognized locally. One is the group in need of permanent supportive help, who are unable or unwilling to take care of themselves. The second group is those with mental help issues, who can be helped, but usually only with professional help. The last group, of which Edwood was more a part, consists of people who are down and out but are trying to extricate themselves from homelessness and can do well with some assistance.
While we’re talking about building relationships with the homeless, it’s important to mention that Loma Linda was doing an excellent job of that until recently. It was run by a program called ReLive, a large Sabbath School from the church involved in several local ministries. They operate a thrift store in Loma Linda that many of us have been to. What ReLive was running was called The Station, operated out of a defunct gas station next to their thrift store, at the corner of Anderson St. and Redlands Blvd. On Tuesday mornings, and I think other mornings of the week too, they would make and serve hot breakfast for the homeless, accompanied by a brief worship service. My siblings and I participated in it a number of times, often playing music, and my mother was there all the time. The good thing about it was that we really got to know some of these people. Some of them weren’t people we wished to be around, and there were boundaries that we had to make sure were not crossed, but there were people there from all walks of life- you just never know. We saw it as a very positive thing, but the Loma Linda city government thought it was not, and they shut it down about two or three years ago. The stated excuse was that it attracted homeless people to the neighborhood, which I understand - a lot of them did travel where the food was - but at the same time, it doesn’t solve the problem. It only pushes the problem elsewhere, and if every city did this, they wouldn’t get any help. As we were discussing this morning in Sabbath School, unfortunately the NIMBY mentality can emerge everywhere, even in the most self-professed of liberal Democrats who drive a Prius.
9. Write your representative:
This could be part of a larger issue, and a political one. Since I’m not a pastor, I’m allowed to make political statements without the church losing its tax-exempt status, though, so don’t feel the need to report us to the IRS!
In addition to writing your council members to stand up for affordable housing in your neighborhood, there’s an issue at a national level I’m afraid I have to address. One of our own, Ben Carson, is now the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. With all due respect to his distinguished career as a neurosurgeon, there is a very credible argument to be made that he should have stuck to that. He has proposed legislation known as the Making Affordable Housing Work Act. Currently, Currently, congress requires HUD-assisted households to contribute 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent or $50, whichever is greater, while the government pays the difference, up to a maximum amount. Carson’s legislation would raise the numbers to 35 and 150, respectively, in addition to other things. The stated motivation is to encourage low-income tenants to earn more money and escape the trap, but the evidence seems nonexistent that it would help in this regard. It would force a large number of families over the brink into homelessness, however. If you think you can change my mind, I’m open to talk you later.
If you agree with me, and if this legislation ever makes it to congress, then be a good citizen and contact your representative. If you live in this great city of Alhambra, your representative is Judy Chu (D). https://chu.house.gov/contact
Find your representative here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/CA#map
10. Please avoid land speculation if you can help it. It adds nothing to the economy, and is part of the reason why housing in LA is so unaffordable. Chinese billionaires are parking their assets here by buying up or constructing apartment buildings and letting them sit empty because it doesn’t even matter. The prices are going up anyway, due to the bubble. Invest in something that creates jobs or actually contributes to the economy in some way, unless your moral role model for getting rich is an orange haired executive from New York.
While I’m sure everyone here would agree that it would be a victory for the Kingdom of God if we could end homelessness once and for all, you may be wondering at this point how much you can reasonably contribute to the cause as an individual. I would challenge you to consider these words by Ellen White. This statement took me aback the first time I read it, but it’s important we talk about it:
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, pg 550-552:
Jesus honored the poor by sharing their humble condition. From the history of His life we are to learn how to treat the poor. Some carry the duty of beneficence to extremes and really hurt the needy by doing too much for them. The poor do not always exert themselves as they should. While they are not to be neglected and left to suffer, they must be taught to help themselves.
The cause of God should not be overlooked that the poor may receive our first attention. Christ once gave His disciples a very important lesson on this point. When Mary poured the ointment on the head of Jesus, covetous Judas made a plea in behalf of the poor, murmuring at what he considered a waste of money. But Jesus vindicated the act, saying: “Why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on Me.” “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.” By this we are taught that Christ is to be honored in the consecration of the best of our substance. Should our whole attention be directed to relieving the wants of the poor, God’s cause would be neglected. Neither will suffer if His stewards do their duty, but the cause of Christ should come first.
...It was not the purpose of God that poverty should ever leave the world. The ranks of society were never meant to be equalized, for the diversity of condition which characterizes our race is one of the means by which God has designed to prove and develop character…
She points out that many rich people are spiritually bankrupt, which is true, and that wealth can distract us, which is true, but she still concludes by saying it would be the greatest misfortune that has ever befallen mankind if equality of worldly possessions were to occur.
If an unbeliever were to ask me what Ellen White contributes to my understanding of the Bible, I probably wouldn’t start with this passage. Given the scriptural warning against even the appearance of evil, I’m slightly reluctant to risk quoting the Spirit of Prophecy in any manner that resemble Jeff Sessions’ recent sermonizing. Nevertheless, regardless nearly every member of society, secular or Christian, acts this out in reality regardless of what they might claim to believe. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and Yishen Ma) wrote, our real beliefs are manifested most nakedly in our actions, and we ought not to be afraid of at least discussing it.
Let’s start by pointing out that ending homelessness by no means equates with enforcing absolute equality of worldly possessions. Her warning of the possibility of hurting the needy by doing too much for them should also serve as a warning about housing and law enforcement systems that can trap some of the poorest of the poor in a vicious cycle. On a deeper level, however, one meaning of this text to me is an acknowledgement of the responsibility to at least take care of ourselves to the extent that we will not be a burden to others. I saw a statistic, in fact, that every chronically homeless person in San Francisco costs the city $80,000 a year. Think of the rules if you’ve ever flown on a commercial airline where you’re always instructed to put on your own oxygen mask in the case of a loss of air pressure before helping anyone else. Our brother Kody Coleman once quoted someone saying “The best way to help the poor is to not be one of them” in a sermon of his. I can’t say I know the best way to help the poor, but I would agree that not being in need oneself is normally a condition of being able to help others to the fullest extent you can. I’m certainly not about to stop paying Santiago my rent every month and try to rough it on the streets, or sell my viola to donate the proceeds to charity (though if I were homeless I would just sleep in the practice rooms at school and try to evade the security guards at night, like the good old days at La Sierra). And it’s not productive to feel or invoke guilt over any sort of privilege that comes by accident of your birth. It’s what you make of your life that matters to God, not the circumstances beyond your control that you were born into.
We should beware, however, of our fallen human tendency to selfishness. Clearly a life that is lived only in self-interest cannot be one that was lived in the fullest service of God. Beyond the self, scripture reveals another circle of responsibility to our families. A sobering text is I Tim. 5:8: Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps it should.
When circumstances take a turn for the worse, the only people we can be sure will be there for us are family. If we don’t help a family member in need, who will? How many instances of homelessness could be prevented if families had a modicum more of generosity? It is saddening beyond words to see a homeless person on the street and wonder where their family members are who might have helped them. One aspect of our Chinese culture at the LA Chinese SDA Church that may be worthy of celebration is the family orientation, though selfish materialism is also a cultural value. In either case, I am happy to report that the Greater LA 2018 Homeless Count revealed only 1% of the homeless in LA County to be of Asian descent, while we (or rather, half of me and most of you) make up 13.7% of the county’s population. Another revealing statistic was a disproportionately small number of Latino homeless people relative to their percent of the population. Our brother Andres Lam, born to a Cantonese father and a South American mother, also mentioned in Sabbath school how family-oriented Latino culture is. No matter how poor you may, or how overcrowded your house may be, there is a moral imperative in that culture to help even your second cousin if he is in need.
Homelessness can be seen as symptomatic not only of material poverty, but of a pathologically broken set of human relationships that would bind men one to another. The Christian mystic Thomas Merton quoted Bonhoeffer’s Ethics as follows:
The homes of men are not, like the shelters of animals, merely the means of protection against bad weather...they are places in which man may relish the joys of his personal life in the intimacy and security of his family and of his property. Eating and drinking do not merely serve the purpose of keeping the body in good health but they afford natural joy in bodily living. Clothing is not intended merely as a means for covering the body but also as an adornment for the body. Recreation is not designed solely to increase repose and enjoyment...From all this it emerges that the meaning of bodily life never lies solely in its subordination to its final purpose. The life of the body assumes its full significance only with the fulfilment of its inherent claim to joy.
In the most superficial of all secular senses, one application is that permanent affordable housing is a better long-term solution than homeless shelters, a realization that LA County has come to in its policies. The problem of a lack of home, however, runs much deeper than this. One portal into the spiritual dimension behind the issues of homelessness is Ruth 1:16:
16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
To paraphrase the background of the story, after Elimelech, Naomi’s husband dies, as well as her two sons, her two daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth consider returning to their people. Although Orpah leaves, Ruth makes a vow to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, despite her being a Moabite while Naomi and Elimelech were Israelites. Crucial her is the placement of people before God in the vow. This text is still used today in Judaism as a justification of inclusivity along ethnic lines, and not only among the secular. When we acknowledge our family members as who they truly are before God and treat them accordingly, a partial but real aspect of Christian fellowship under God is fulfilled as well.
The Old Testament encourages a liberal definition of family, for we read that Boaz redeemed the household of Ruth and Naomi together, and Ruth became one of the descendants of King David, and hence Jesus.
It is under this liberal reading that we turn the next largest concentric circle of responsibilities, the responsibility that members of the church today have to help their brethren in need. About Acts 2:44-45, we read in Acts of the Apostles (pp. 70-71):
As The disciples proclaimed the truths of the gospel in Jerusalem, God bore witness to their word, and a multitude believed. Many of these early believers were immediately cut off from family and friends by the zealous bigotry of the Jews, and it was necessary to provide them with food and shelter.
The record declares, "Neither was there any among them that lacked," and it tells how the need was filled. Those among the believers who had money and possessions cheerfully sacrificed them to meet the emergency. Selling their houses or their lands, they brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet, "and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."
This liberality on the part of the believers was the result of the outpouring of the Spirit. The converts to the gospel were "of one heart and of one soul." One common interest controlled them--the success of the mission entrusted to them; and covetousness had no place in their lives. Their love for their brethren and the cause they had espoused, was greater than their love of money and possessions. Their works testified that they accounted the souls of men of higher value them earthly wealth.
I’m up on my soapbox again here, but isn’t it great not being a pastor? This text, among other things, convicts me of the divine sanction of socialism as an ideal in our private lives. I would go so far as to self-identify as a Radical Christian Socialist who believes in the abolition of private property as a goal. However, I don’t believe in legislating morality- I’m an odd mixture of conservative and liberal politics, and I’m appalled by the legacy of Marxism throughout the 20th century. But that’s a discussion for another sermon.
This text calls to mind the noble example of a Sabbath School class described in a book that changed the way I think about the church. It’s called Reinvent Your Sabbath School: Discover How Exhilarating a Ministry-driven Class Can Be (Review and Herald, 2001), by Chris and Yolanda Blake of the College View Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Lincoln, NB. It’s a short read, and I highly recommend picking up a copy. In page 12, they make a wise observation about the power that such a group can exercise for the Kingdom of God when imbued by Holy Spirit. About the Great Commission’s injunction to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20), they write:
“In the centuries since those words were uttered, many Christians have missed Jesus’ meaning. Beyond our baptizing believers - we often call this making decisions - He said that we must make disciples. A huge task. Especially in a fast-paced, virtual reality age - especially during the week - finding the time to dig deeply and create disciples gets harder and harder.
However, the genius of the Sabbath school slot for Adventists is that Saturday morning is the one time we can count on people to show up. What better hour exists for us as Christ’s followers to deal collectively with present and eternal realities?
Let us not underestimate the power behind our regular assembly on the Sabbath. The guaranteed and continued presence of church members for one another can work miracles of a sort. The Blakes recount the exemplary story of their class named Something Else. The class established a Good Samaritan fund to address needs that must be met during the week or unspecified needs for the future that arise. Requests arrive during the week and are presented during the time dedicated to money ministry in their Sabbath School time. The example they gave was of a $146 utility bill for a momentarily struggling young couple that the group met after approving the request in Sabbath School, in addition to normal Sabbath School expenses. Other expenses the class has sponsored include utility bills, natural disasters, incidental expenses for college students, living expenses, and a soup kitchen.
Especially in the busy and fragmented lives we lead today, it is hard to imagine us working together for the good of our church family and beyond as efficiently as on the Sabbath, particularly in Sabbath School. In context, this fulfills the high calling of Isaiah with regard to keeping the Sabbath in ch. 58. In context, after verse 7, where God reveals his blessings to those who fast as He truly intends and deal their bread to the hungry, we see that abstaining from selfishness and keeping the Sabbath day holy brings blessings to ourselves and our society in the same way.
5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
8 Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
9 Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon day:
11 And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.
13 If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
This echoes Hebrews 13:16 (NIV): 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Verse 7 is quoted in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot, BWV 39. This cantata is unique in its subject material, since as Sister White wrote earlier, there would be insufficient time to devote to the cause of Christ if we were to devote all of our time to helping the poor, but it exists for a reason. It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of music, somber and elegant in its simplicity, and has been one of my favorites for years.
The Sabbath, in fact, is symbolic of the law as it relates us to the world at large, beyond the concentric circles of ourselves, our families, and our church. We should remember that at the time of the writing of the Mosaic Law, the immediate context was amongst the Israelites, not between them and outsiders. The laws regarding aliens and foreigners were the exception, rather than the rule. Reading retroactively, Moses’ history as a judge over his people is in some sense a background from which the need for the law became clear (think of how Paul in Galatians says that God allowed sin to increase from the call of Abraham until the giving of the law, in order to show the need for it).
The first three of the Ten Commandments relate to God - Thou shalt have no other gods before me; Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. The fifth through the tenth commandments relate to human interactions. The Sabbath, in its relation to our fellow man through the cessation of worldly commerce, is the bridge between the two sets of commandments:
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Crucial also is the clause relating it to manservants and maidservants, and “the stranger that is within thy gates.” Of the last six commandments, only the sixth and the eighth could arguably be construed as applicable to interactions between Israelites and foreigners - do not murder and do not steal. Given the military nature of many of Israel’s interactions with the surrounding nations, it is at least arguable that in warfare, neither plunder or killing of enemy combatants would violate these two commandments. The fifth relates to parents, falling inside Israel, and the seventh would also normally relate, insofar as marriage of Israelites to one another was normative. The ninth and tenth commandments refer to “thy neighbor”, again most likely fellow Israelites, given the walled nature of most towns in that day that was necessary to protect against invaders.
Thus The Fourth Commandment is the most clear bridge between Israel and the surrounding world. It is crucial that as Adventists, we understand it as the portal between Jew and Gentile, and between us and the world. When we treat the homeless in our midst as our people, then our God will be their God also.
In summary, we have an obligation towards the homeless crisis. It starts with ourselves, then our families, and then the needy within our church, but as we strive to observe a Sabbath to a higher and higher ideal, may our generosity overflow outside to the world around us, as we preach the Gospel, with and without words, in tangible ways throughout Los Angeles County.
Chris and Yolanda Blake: Reinvent Your Sabbath School: Discover How Exhilarating a Ministry-driven Class Can Be. Review and Herald, 2001
Merton, Thomas. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1962, pp. 182
Los Angeles Mayor's Political Future Tied to Plan to Solve City's Homeless Crisis, Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2018