Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Students 4 Students
Shelter Dedication

Saying YES to God
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

People stop me on the street. They ask me, “Are you the pastor of the congregation with the shelter for homeless college students?” “Yes,” I quickly say, and then brace myself for some “not in my backyard reaction.” But, it never comes. To a person, everyone says, “thank you for doing this” and “What can I do to help.” Every time.

 

It is a story that has often been told, but needs to be repeated here today: It was the fall of 2015 and I had been Senior Pastor here at Mt. Olive for a little more than a year. I had met Darci Niva, the Executive Director of the Westside Coalition for Hunger and Homelessness, an organization of which Mt. Olive has been a proud member for many years (and one which now has its offices here at Mt. Olive). After we got to know each other, Darci said to me, “I have someone I want you to meet, a young man with a vision.” “Okay,” I said, “I am always interested in meeting someone with a vision.”

 

Darci then arranged for me to meet with Louis Tse, then a PhD student in engineering at UCLA. Louis had a passion and a vision. His passion was the growing and nearly invisible problem of homelessness among college students in the Los Angeles area. His vision was a shelter, run by student volunteers from UCLA, serving homeless students from UCLA and other area colleges and universities. Louis’ commitment to this cause was sincere and obvious. He was even living in his car and setting aside the funds he would normally use for his housing with the plan to use them to get this new shelter open sometime soon, somewhere.

 

“Why are you talking to me?” I asked. After all, our congregation is about five miles from the UCLA campus. “Well,” Louis said, “I have spoken with religious leaders of 50 houses of worship and been turned down. You are the 51st.” And, of course, this location is right on the bus route direct to UCLA and just blocks from SMC.

 

“Let’s talk,” I responded. We spoke and then Louis and his friend Luke came to our December Congregation Council meeting. And the rest is what we are celebrating today, the dedication of the renovated space for what we now call the Students 4 Students Shelter at Mt. Olive, the first shelter for homeless college students in the USA.

 

s4sDedication webMt. Olive members will tell you that when I preach at worship each weekend, I almost always preach on the Gospel text assigned for that Sunday, a text from the Christian New Testament writers Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. And this Sunday we are beginning the Advent season of the Christian year, the season when we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ anew in our lives. The themes of this season are always preparation and hope and waiting. Preparing and hoping and waiting for the Christ child to come anew into our lives each Christmas.

 

It is not much of a stretch to think of these themes also in terms of our student shelter. There have been many preparations. There have been months of waiting and many hopes. And now, our waiting is over and our hopes are fulfilled and soon homeless college students from UCLA and SMC will once again have a safe place to sleep and study here at Mt. Olive.

 

Recently I have spent many hours thinking about thankfulness and saying YES. Today we celebrate Mt. Olive’s YES to the Students 4 Students Shelter at Mt. Olive and the many people who have joined us in saying YES, those who have helped us get to this day, especially those involved in supporting our renovations - the Mayor and City Council of Santa Monica, the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County, WNMS Communities and the MAS Construction Group and, especially, our architect and angel, Michael Folonis, and his staff.

 

And, of course, we thank all those involved in the Students 4 Students Shelter – our student leaders and volunteers, our Advisory Board and all of our supporters and donors and especially the members of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church who have been unrelenting in their support.

 

I am so thankful to you all. I am thankful that you have said YES to God in so many ways in your lives, but, today, especially that you have said YES to this important ministry of sheltering homeless college students.

 

I would like to invite two of our shelter leaders to greet you this morning:

• First, Dr. Louis Tse, now a PhD graduate of UCLA and staff member at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, and the founder of the Students 4 Students Shelter at Mt. Olive –

(Louis speaks)

• Next, Angela Millstein, the co-chair of the Advisory Board for the Students 4 Students Shelter at Mt. Olive.

(Angela speaks)

 

What we are trying to do here at Mt. Olive, in our work with the Students 4 Students Shelter and so many other congregation and community ministries, what we are trying to do in our own lives is say YES to God and each other and our community. To say YES we can make a different in ways large and small. To say YES that people who are often forgotten by others – the elderly, the poor, the homeless, the undocumented, the refugee – to say YES you are important, at least to me, at least to us.

 

And now we bless and give thanks for the renovated shelter space for homeless college students and say thanks to God for God’s many blessings in this ministry and in our lives.

 

I thank you all, members and guests here today alike, for the work we can do together. And, for saying YES to God in your lives.

 

Amen.

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Dec. 3, 2017


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