Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land! The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield a mere ephah. Ah, you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger in the evening to be inflamed by wine, whose feasts consist of lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine, but who do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands! Therefore my people go into exile without knowledge; their nobles are dying of hunger, and their multitude is parched with thirst.910111213
Matthew 9: 9-13
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in the house many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” For I have come to call not the righteous but the sinner.”
Habitat for Humanity is an explicitly Christian organization. But that statement, itself, is vague. For some Christianity has been an experience of oppression. For others Christianity seems more concerned with outward adherence to norms and rules, than with love.
For Millard Fillmore, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, Christianity was both an imperative to be neighborly and the actual experience of life not as a set of rule requiring neighborliness, but as a freedom in which neighborliness becomes our happiness.
This sounds easier than it is — for as Fuller often noted — even about his own organization Habitat for Humanity — we tend to be greedy and to want more than is needed and certainly more than can be sustained.
“God’s order of things holds no place for hoarding and greed,” he wrote. “There are sufficient resources in the world for the needs of everybody, but not enough for the greed of even a significant minority.”
Having said that, let me re-read the story from Matthew:
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a family huddled under the awning of a vacant building and he said to him, “Follow me.” And they got up and followed him.
And he took them out to dinner. And other homeless people joined them. And single mothers on welfare joined them. And men who hadn’t showered or shaved in weeks, were sitting with him and and his disciples. When the other middle-class diners saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such problem people?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” For I have come to call not the already sufficient, but the person with great problems.”
When we build habitat houses, we cannot forget that we are building them for a family — for a family who, in the words of Millard Fuller, is not perfect. Fuller reminds us, who are engaged in the search, that choosing a family to own and occupy a habitat house is “one of the most difficult and challenging aspects of this ministry. How can the best, most deserving family be selected?” Fuller reviews the basic premises of the process. First, a family should be chosen who is already living in inadequate or substandard conditions. Next a family should be chosen that has an income too low for them to find other kinds of government assisted financing. And finally families must be willing to partner with the community in building the house. These three conditions are important. BUT they are not all.
Here Mr. Fuller again. “Perfect families do not exist!” And he means that they do not exist anywhere. We are humans and that’s in part what it means to be human. He is convinced, as am I, that there is one more condition that is important to remember — and that is that God’s love, God’s gift to the world, is in fact to the world, and not just to those who are able to hoard away more stuff than others, not just to those who are fortunate to have material abundance.
It is often assumed that it says in the bible that God helps those who help themselves. That may be Benjamin Franklin’s gospel. But it is not Jesus’. The gospel of Jesus is about the risk of asking someone that others have given up on, to be partners. The gospel of Jesus is about mercy and about the prophet’s justice, and not about the kind of self-sacrifice that so many who have “made-it” suggest is necessary to life.
Let me conclude by reading Fuller’s final paragraph of advice to us who search for a family. Except that I’m going to broaden the context to all of us who would volunteer our time, to build community and to serve all people, even those with “great problems.”
“So, keep diligently working with the right family, and know that no family, yours included, is perfect. And discover instead that all our families are loved by God as they are. And as your love is added to that love from above, you’ll become part of that wonderful, continuing, redeeming and transforming love that surpasses ever problem and every criticism.
Build. My friends – build.