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Making Community Livable (Again)

May 2023 Reflection - Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo

Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: Pexels / Unplash

“You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

make the community livable again.”

Isaiah 58:12 (MSG)

For the past few months I have gotten to know a young man who experiences homelessness. I cannot recall how or when we met, I only know that through the weeks and months, he and I have developed a relationship. I know him by name, and he knows me by name.

To be quite frank, it took me a few weeks to feel comfortable to share about myself with him. After all, he was just one of our “neighbors in need.” One day he needed a ride to a government office. With some hesitancy I offered to take him. I told him to put his belongings on the back seat of my car.

When we arrived at the place, he got out of the car and took his belongings from the car. He started to apologize because his bag had left soil on the seat of the car. When I saw him trying to wipe the seat while apologizing, I came to the realization that the soil, leaves, and dirt were the summary of his daily life. His bag, all his belongings, and his own body laid every day in the lowest places that our society can offer to those who have no place called home. From that day my hesitancy and discomfort began to turn into a holy anger that called me to not remain indifferent.

At the same time, I began to wonder, is he a person that I have encountered in my life journey? Or am I being encountered by that person in his life journey? Our tendency is to think that we need to go to help, save, or rescue others. But as I learned about him and his journey, I have come to believe that in many cases we encounter others who are sent into our lives to rescue us and help us to see a broader picture. Do you remember the disciples on their way to Emmaus?

In the same way that the two disciples had a transforming experience, you and I are encountered by God in Jesus. The resurrected Jesus reminds us that there is life in the midst of an excruciating and hopelessly violent environment, which infuses fear as a way to control us and make us see only what the elite wants us to see.

Last Sunday, the young man was telling me that he was looking for a job. At the same time he applied for housing. When he told his navigator that he was looking for a job, the navigator told him “you will not qualify for housing if you have a job. It is better if you remain homeless and without a job.” I could see the disappointment, frustration, and anger in his face. That is the system that crushes the ordinary people who in the eyes of the powerful are just a number in the statistics. The same system that makes the community unlivable.

The words of the Prophet Isaiah are a powerful reminder of who we are and the call that we have as the resurrection people. We are called to be part of the transformation and healing of the community. Not on our own terms or with our own sense of justice.

The words, “You’ll be known as those who… make the community livable again” are words addressed to us not only as individuals but also as a congregation. It is a call to join God’s mission guided by the Spirit to be catalysts of healing and transformation in the community.

One of the most painful moments of our relationship is on those days (especially in the evenings) when after talking after worship or another event we walk together toward my car, and then we part our ways. When he tells me “have a good night,” my words cannot come out. How can I say “have a good night” when I know that he will lay on the ground where he will collect soil, leaves, and dirt while I am going home? Then the words of the prophet come to my mind:

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry,

inviting the homeless poor into your homes,

putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

being available to your own families.” Is 58:7 (MSG)

How can we make the community livable again? What does the Lord require from us as a congregation and as individuals to dismantle a system that crushes the hope and the dignity of people?

I believe that he, our neighbor, is one of the people sent to us to rebuild us and remind us that we have a call to join God’s ongoing creative and redemptive mission to make the community livable. It is only when we enter and walk with one another that everyone of us will be able to see with clarity how the Lord Jesus is working, healing, restoring and rebuilding his body and God’s creation. Only when we walk together can we go far to reach out to others and to be reached by others and experience the abundant life that makes communities livable again.

I do not know for how long I will see him. I do not know how deep our relationship will grow. I only know that he has been sent to our life as a reminder of our call to be generous with the hungry and start giving ourselves to the down-and-out.

In Christ,

Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo

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