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SERMON—March 16, 2014

by Brenda Brochu



May the words on my lips and the thoughts in my heart be acceptable to you, my Lord and Savior.



Iain has invited me to speak to you about reaching out to people in need, and we thought Lent would be an appropriate time.  Lent, of course, is a traditional time for repentance, self-sacrifice and alms-giving.  Alms-giving is something that has certainly changed over the centuries.  However, it has always been about reaching out to people in need, just as Jesus did so faithfully and consistently.


In recent years, Lent has been a time for campaigns to increase awareness about conditions in the Third World.   We are asked to consider making a contribution to such groups as the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.  Such contributions not only provide immediate relief for victims of natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and crop failures.  They can also help build capacity for better living conditions on a long-term basis, by providing such things as clean water, immunization and education.


We have also learned through such campaigns that there is a social justice aspect to reaching out to people from disadvantaged countries.  When we buy “fair trade” products we can help ensure that people are paid a just wage for their labours.  When we ask our governments to bring down trade barriers against Third World countries, we are helping create conditions in which disadvantaged people can create their own wealth and no longer need as much assistance from others.


These things are very important, and we should never forget that most of us are among the most privileged people on earth.  It is right that we should share our good fortune with those most in need, wherever they may be.


However, I want to focus most of my time this morning on people in need in our own communities, neighbourhoods and even families.   You won’t hear much about them on the evening news.  You may not be able to tell from looking at them that they are in need.  However, these are people we can and do meet face-to-face.  And the nature of our meetings with them can spell the difference between ongoing hurt and healing. 


In the words of the great Canadian Jean Vanier, the founder of l’Arche communities for people with mental disabilities and the son of the late Governor General Georges Vanier:


                        In some mysterious way

                                    the quality of my presence my look

                                                            brings you to life


                                                            or death




As many of you know, I worked for many years at the Peace River Regional Women’s Shelter, where I had daily contact with women and children fleeing abuse, and with other women in crisis, including some with serious mental illness and/or disabilities.  The people who are most in need in our own communities include men as well as women and children. 


Many are poor, some are isolated, some have disabilities, some have physical or mental illness, and some have experienced one or more significant traumas.  Significant traumas can include abuse or abandonment in childhood, extended separation from parents in childhood, sexual assault, domestic or other violence, injury or loss from accidents and natural disasters, and participation in armed conflict.  Many of our first responders, including police, ambulance and hospital personnel, are repeatedly subjected to the trauma of witnessing life-and-death situations.


Judith Herman, the author of a very important book called Trauma and Recovery, said there are three things traumatized people need.  First they need safety, including a place where their basic needs for food, water, clothing and shelter can be met.


Then they need something it is hard for many people to give.  They need at least one caring person who is willing to hear the story of the trauma they have experienced with its full emotional impact.   Traumatized people who are unable to share their stories and integrate their feelings with the events are unable to heal.   They may go on to commit suicide, like some of our soldiers who served in Afghanistan.   They may develop addictions or show other signs of what we now recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.




The third thing traumatized people need is reintegration with society, including the creation and maintenance of healthy relationships and the discovery of a way to live meaningful lives.  Significant trauma upsets our trust in others and changes the way we view the world.  It may destroy our motivation and undermine our faith in God.


I believe God wants us to be where people are hurting so we can shine the light of His gentle presence among them.  I will quote again from Jean Vanier’s book Tears of Silence:


            the person in misery does not need a look that

                        judges and criticizes

                    but a comforting presence

                        that brings peace and hope and life

                            and says:

                                    “you are a human person



                                                infinitely precious

                                       what you have to say

                                                is important

                                                because it flows

                                                     from a human person

                                    in you there are those seeds

                                                of the infinite

                                                those germs of love…of beauty

                                                which must rise from the earth

                                                                        of your misery

                                                so humanity be fulfilled.

                                    if you do not rise

                                        then something will be missing

                                                if you are not fulfilled

                                                            it is terrible

                                                                 you must rise again

                                                                        on the third day…

                                                rise again because we all need


                                                for you are a child of God

                                                you, sam


                                                                                                willie mae

                                                            my brother…my sister

                                                                        be loved







We all know that our Lord and Savior walked with the lowly.  He ate and drank with sinners and outcasts.  He healed the sick in body and in mind, gave sight to the blind and brought good news to the poor.  He said, “Let you who are without sin throw the first stone.”


Jesus told his followers the Parable of the Good Samaratan, who violated social norms by reaching out to a stranger at the side of the road.


I think the way we can best reach out to others is different for each one of us.  You may have a relative who is suffering from mental illness or a neighbor who has lost a loved one in a traffic accident.  You may want to make it easier for low-income people to own a home by working through a group like Habitat for Humanity.


I am still involved with the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, and we have a program that tries to involve men in ending domestic violence.  Each November in some Alberta cities, there is a “Breakfast with the Boys” at which a panel of men tries to inspire other men to take action.  I attended the one in Edmonton this past fall, and two of the stories stood out for me.


One was from a bank manager, who had been made aware that abused women were being turned down when they applied to open their own bank accounts after leaving abuse.  This was because of debts run up by their abusive partners when the couple still had joint accounts.   This bank manager was able to make a change in procedures so that abused women were able to open their own accounts.


The other story was from a retired gentleman who loved children and had several

grandchildren.  He called one of the second-stage shelters in Edmonton to see if there was some way he could help.  It turned out, there was a need for someone to cuddle babies in the nursery while their mothers were attending programs.  For the most part, these were babies who had witnessed domestic violence, and some were frightened of any man. 


This fellow leapt at the opportunity to win the trust of these babies and show them that men could be gentle and kind.  It was the best possible therapy for the babies and soon became the highlight of his day.


I challenge each person here to think of a way to help bring healing to at least one person in need.  God has given all of us the ability to do it.  And he needs all of us to help bring about his Kingdom on Earth.