A Sermon by Jagannatha Prakasa © May 1999In my hand I hold a $20. bill. By the end of my little talk this evening, I'm going to give this $20. bill to someone in this room - so you might want to listen up!
Now, who would like this $20. bill?
Just think of the things you could do with it! With $20. you could buy an all-day pass to the Boardwalk and ride the Giant Dipper until you could hardly walk! With $20. you could pay that nagging parking ticket that threatens to go up to $40. any day now.
Why, if you had this, you could offer mqe $20. for one of my tickets to see the very 1st showing of Star Wars Episode One, the Phantom Menace, at 12:01 am next Wednesday! I wouldn't sell it to you for that, but you could try! Joe and I spent 16 hours in line to buy them! It would cost you a lot more than $20. to get this ticket!
Let me tell you about that! We arrived around 6 pm last Wednesday evening to buy our tickets. We were the 84th and 85th people in line to buy them. Seemed like a great idea at first! But then it started to get dark. The wind kicked up and the comfortably warm spring day turned cold and foreboding! We feared it might even rain as dark clouds gathered overhead! Still, we hung in there. I'd waited 20 years for this movie; what was a single night spent on the streets by contrast! Rain or no rain! I felt like a non-disgruntled postal worker! Nothing would stop my appointed... purchase.
Now, when we first got there we saw little signs taped up on the queue ropes by the theater. They warned us that if we waited in the line past eleven pm we'd be in violation of the law!
Can you imagine that!
Here in our sleepy little sea side berg it is illegal to do what about five hundred of us planned to do - wait in line all night to buy movie tickets! How could this be! What about the Bill of Rights and our right to pursue happiness...
Well you see, our town has what is lovingly called the "Sleeping Ban." Santa Cruz, a name that means "Holy Cross," has decided to wage a war of prosecution against the poor and homeless. Our city has passed laws that say, among other things, that its illegal to stand, sit or squat within ten feet of any store window. To stand in line we had to stand next to the building, which put us within ten feet of the Wherehouse's windows and those of the other businesses on the block.
We broke this law!
Its also illegal here to cover oneself with a blanket or sleeping bag after 11 pm! When the city's homeless population are caught on cold winter nights huddled beneath bridges under raged sleeping bags or blankets, our liberal city has voted to order the police to confiscate their blankets and bedrolls and write the offending person a ticket for about what a night in the Dream Inn would cost them! Many of our peace officers obey this order with zeal, leaving the poor to suffer from exposure to the elements!
Now, when we first joined the line to buy our Star Wars tickets most people had blankets and sleeping bags crammed behind their lounge chairs or under their arms etc. But as the chill wind began to blow everyone took out their blankets and sleeping bags and bundled up. So at 11 O'clock,
We all broke the law!
Its illegal to stand, lay or sit on the streets of our fair and politically liberal city! Since its also illegal to block the side walk we would have to stand next to the building which, as I've mentioned, would put us within ten feet of the store windows which is, again, illegal. This meant that if we wanted to buy the tickets for the opening show and be legal, we'd have to stand up all night in the street -- no wait its illegal to stand in the street too, that'd block traffic, which is also illegal!
We broke the law!
When you're standing in a line here in Santa Cruz its illegal to smoke tobacco (one of the laws I tend to agree with!), so those who were smokers had to leave the line and cross the street to polute their lungs, which, as a non smoker. This, I have to admit, didn't upset me that much! Problem was, for the smokers, if you left the line the theater said you forfeited your spot and so you couldn't smoke for the whole time you supposedly stood in line.
A lot of smokers broke the law!
Now, I gotta admit, the idea of breaking all these laws didn't really worry me. As everyone else in town, I knew that the reason these laws existed is that the merchants want to restrict the downtown area to people more likely to buy what they have to sell, that was us. We were customers of the Santa Cruz Nine, and I figured there was no way the police were going to move in and steal our blankets and chairs and ticket or jail us - we were voters with merchant intended monies in our pockets.
So we broke the law!
But then a couple of homeless guys walked by. They looked tired and worn out. Their clothing was dirty, their hair and beards were greasy, and they were, in short, the people the laws had been made for. Under their arms each carried a tattered sleeping bag. As they walked by they looked at all of us, laying comfortably on our chase lounge chairs, covered snugly with our new looking sleeping bags and blankets, right below the Wherehouse windows, sipping hot chocolate or latte's. As they passed, they mumbled something about the sleeping ban and how we'd better be careful. Of course, they had to be careful, but us? Nah, we were safe. We were consumers! Our money was clean and fresh...
And so we fearlessly broke the law.
Later that night I saw a number of homeless people slip into the Star Wars ticket line. I think it was then that the hypocrisy of the whole thing really hit me. For once these people would sleep safely, knowing they would not be hassled by the police because of us...
As together, we broke the law.
In short, we all had a memorable night on the street and in the morning awoke, still in line, excited to buy our Star Wars tickets.
About that time, this was around 8 am, the television news crews showed up; the Sentinel reporter and photographer walked the two blocks to the theatre - note pad in hand; and what do think happened then? All of the sudden there were cops everywhere! Like plumed peacocks they strutted down the line of largely prone bodies -- smiling preatily for the cameras -- saying that we were all in violation of the Sleeping Ban! We'd have to get up or be cited! So we stiffly got up, rolled up our sleeping bags and blankets and stood there, waiting for noon when the ticket sales were to begin.
Next the police walked past a couple of people sitting on the sidewalk and said that they could not sit down as it was against the law, we had to stand. So we did.
Next they came by and said we couldn't stand within ten feet of those "sacred" store windows, so we all scooted over to the curb side of the sidewalk, a scootch over ten feet away. It was all becoming quite silly.
It was then that Joe had a great realization: the curb was about eleven feet from the building, so we unfolded our chairs and sat down next to the curb -- being sure not to block the sidewalk -- of course. The next time the strolling police came around they told us we were violating the law, we explained that, as far as we understood, we were perfectly legal. And to our amazement they agreed!
Now, Joe was stretched out on his lounge chair, on his stomach, reading a book. The guy behind us decided he too would lay down on the sidewalk, on a blanket, next to the curb, but the cops made him get up! It was legal for Joe to lay in a lounge chair on the side walk, three inches above the sidewalk, but it was illegal if your body was actually touching the concrete! Three inches!
It was a hoot!
Anyway, finally noon rolled around and we bought the tickets, went home, and went to bed! OK, so we didn't sleep THAT great on the streets!
Now, what on earth has this got to do with this $20. bill I'm holding up? Everything!
You see, what made us different from the homeless people who could not sleep or stand within the city limits was this (holding up the bill): Money!
So again I ask you, who would like this nice, clean monopoly looking new $20. bill?
Just a second... (drop the bill on the floor and step on it. Pick it up). Now, who wants it?
(Crumple it up) Now? (pretend to blow nose on it) How 'bout now?
Yes, I want it! I don't care if its dirty, its still a $20. bill; is it not? Even though it looks fake -- more like monopoly money than the real thing -- the US government is issuing it, it is "legal tender," no matter how dumb it looks! If I take this bill to the store, I can still buy $20. worth of stuff with it. Correct?
Yet, how much do you think it costs the treasury to print it? How much is the paper and this silly bloated looking picture on it worth? A dime? Fifteen cents? Doesn't matter does it?
No, it doesn't matter how dirty this bill is, how many hands its been through, if it looks like monopoly money or good old fashion currency. It doesn't matter that the bill, as an objective thing, is worth maybe a dime.
No! What matters is that the US government says its worth $20. Whatever $20. is objectively!
I'd ask you tonight, how much are you worth? What price would you place on your soul?
Are you crisp, clean cut and attractive? Are you one of the "beautiful people?" Or are you maybe more like this $20. bill, a bit worn around the edges. Would you say there was a time when you looked good, when you felt you had value, but now.... Now you are not so sure? Now you're a little older, getting a bit heavy around the tummy, a few wrinkles here and there... Or maybe you're still young, and yet you feel like the new monopoly money. You just don't think you look quite right!
Friend, let me tell you something. Just as this $20. bill is worth $20. because the US government says it is, and just as it holds the same value regardless of it's outer appearance and other incidentals, so too, YOU are declared by your creator to be priceless! The Bible tells us that God willingly paid the highest possible price for your soul.
You aren't just worth $20. either! Not a hundred, a thousand, a million or a trillion! In God's eyes YOU are a priceless treasure! You are so important, so valuable to God that He sent Jesus to this earth to die so that you could have endless life and forgiveness. Can you imagine that?
But what do we mean when we say this? We mean that God, our Creator, donned human flesh and walked among us. God, in human form, lived a spotless life, which we could never do and then, willingly paid the ultimate cost for our salvation. God understands! God, in the person of Jesus Christ, willingly took upon himself our sins so that we, through Jesus, could take up the righteousness of God in Christ!
As Christians, when God looks at you and me He doesn't see the condition of this $20. bill, of our outer lives and conditions. God sees Jesus, the perfection of all $20.'s, so to speak.
And so again I ask you, would you like this $20. bill? Even though it is old and crinkled and dirty? Yes! Because its still a $20. bill and you and you and you... are still a child of the Living God, the apple of God's eye!
God says that You are the Light of the World! You don't like the darkness you see around us? The injustices, the prejudices, the hatred --then turn up the light! You don't like the plight of the homeless here in Santa Cruz? Do something to help! Call Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom at (831) 423-4811! Turn up your light! Don't curse the darkness! Let Your light shine!
Right here in Santa Cruz a couple of days ago neo Nazi skin heads severely beat a homeless man, breaking three of his ribs. His crime was sleeping. At Cabrillo several women have been assaulted because they were perceived to be lesbians due to their dress and haircuts. At Temple Beth El swastikas and hate literature are turning up, their cemetaries are being desecrated.
It is not us and them, it's just Us!
You and I are part of the Body of Christ! Jesus said that what we do to the down cast and the rejected, we do to him! Ask yourselves this question, What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus do?
Maybe you'll say, but I can't do everything! Of course not! But you can do something!
On the walls of one of the death camps in Nazi Germany came this warning, which I here paraphrase, which is just as true today as then:First they came for the Jews, and I did nothing because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Gypsies, and I did nothing, because I wasn't a Gypsy.
Then they came for the Gays, and I did nothing, because I wasn't Gay.
Then they came for the Catholics and I did nothing, because I was Protestant.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to help me.
Tonight I'd like our communion to be a bit different than usual. On the communion table, as always, you will find the cup and the bread. Tonight as you come up, I'd ask that you take the bread yourself, dip it into the cup, and go to the alter. Before taking the Eucharist, check in with Jesus and see if all is well with your soul. Is there something you need to be doing that you are not? Is there something you should not be doing that are are? Confess it to God at the alter tonight.
You are worth far more than $20. Ask Jesus how to invest your worth.
As for this $20... I will give it to my favorite person here. I'll give it to Jesus (place bill in offering basket).
Jean and I will be waiting to the side if you'd like prayer or a blessing.
The alter is open, wont you please come forward? Just as you are.
The Bible and Homosexuality