The shoulders of a homeless man



Jerome and me

Background on our relationship

I can’t say that I knew Jerome all that well, even though I was his pastor for almost nine years. During this time, Jerome attended worship a dozen times at most. Since he lived nearby, in the Wilson Public Hi-Rise, I would see Jerome out and about from time to time. I recall crossing paths with him one day on a walk, but Jerome ignored me. The same thing happened again when I approached him at a local Chinese restaurant. I wasn’t sure what was going on. It made sense when I later learned that Jerome suffered from schizophrenia.


I got to know a little of Jerome’s story towards the end of his life. On three or four occasions, he stopped by church for a cup of coffee before our service started (he never stayed).


Jerome told me that he was no longer living in the high rise; he had gotten tired of paying rent and was evicted. Other bits and pieces also came out. I learned that decades earlier Jerome had enlisted and served in the Marines. It was during this time that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. As a result, he received a medical disability discharge.


After his death, I learned from his brother that for a long time, Jerry was treated for his illness at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. It helped that he had a car for transportation and the support of his mother. When both were gone, Jerry stopped taking his meds, and his downward spiral began.


During one of his early Sunday morning visits to church. Jerome told me that he was staying at the mission. And then he dropped out of sight.


A short while after this, I went to the Pioneer Press website to check out the latest news. To my shock and dismiss, Mara Gottfried wrote about a homeless man who had been found, frozen to death, in nearby Indian Mounds Park. The man hadn’t yet been identified. The authorities released his photo in the hope that the public could help. The blurry photo was of Jerome; it had been taken at the Union Gospel Mission. I quickly called the coroner’s office to share Jerome’s name, adding that he was a member of our church.


Other news outlets picked up on the story. Jerome’s brother was located and contacted. The community came together to hold Jerome’s funeral. It was a sight to behold.





The shoulders of a homeless man

Isaiah 53
Jerome Jackson funeral sermon (3.12.15)

I want to begin by thanking Mara Gottfried. Mara, if it hadn’t been for the story that you wrote for the Pioneer Press, we wouldn’t be here today. Thank you for bringing Jerome’s death out in the open.


We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.


We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that loves comes with community.


It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.


These are the final words of a remarkable book. They come from Dorothy Day’s autobiography: The Long Loneliness.


I hope I never forget her words.


They are words worth taking to heart.


We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.


We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that loves comes with community


We are gathered here this afternoon to remember Jerome Jackson, better known as Jerry.


Some of us knew Jerry, and we were saddened to hear of us death. We've taken the time to be here to honor his memory.


Some of you did not know Jerry, but were still touched to read of passing. You’ve come as well to honor his memory.


We gather at this hour to mourn his tragic death.


Jerry’s death was tragic. We don’t have to pretend otherwise.


Dying homeless . . . in a park . . . during a bitterly cold winter is a sad and tragic way to die. But it wasn’t just Jerry’s death that was tragic. The same could be said about his life.


Schizophrenia is a horrible disease. It cuts one off from his family. It can make a relationship between brothers very difficult to maintain. Schizophrenia can be a devastating disease. Those who suffer from it can find it hard to make and maintain friendships.


Jerry first came to us here at Our Saviour’s ten years ago. As a matter of fact, Jerry was baptized and confirmed here in March, 2005. This was a year before I arrived.


I imagine that Jerry walked through our doors seeking community. I believe that he was also seeking God.


But, like I’ve said, schizophrenia is a horrible disease. It makes maintaining relationships very difficult to maintain. As I think about Jerry’s life—and his tragic death—I can’t help thinking of words of another troubled man.


In Psalm 55 David declares: "My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught.... My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me."


It saddens me that Jerry died alone... out in the cold... in a park just a mile and a half south of where we now sit.


I take comfort in the proclamation of the Apostle Paul: "For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life, so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living."


The Church is currently observing the ancient season of Lent. During Lent we meditate on our brokenness. We acknowledge that we live in a broken world. During this holy time, we fix our eyes on Jesus. We recall the ancient prophecy He fulfilled.

 

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.


Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.


Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted.


But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. And by His wounds we are healed."

 

As we gather today to honor Jerry’s memory—and to mourn his tragic death, I recall the words of the late singer and songwriter, Rich Mullins


Oh, You did not have a home

There were places You visited frequently

You took off Your shoes and scratched Your feet

'Cause You knew that the whole world belonged to the meek

But You did not have a home, no, You did not have a home


And You did not take a wife

There were pretty maids all in a row

Who lined up to touch the hem of Your robe

But You had no place to take them

So You did not take a wife, no You did not take a wife


Birds have nests, foxes have dens

But the hope of the whole world rests

On the shoulders of a homeless man

You had the shoulders of a homeless man

No, You did not have a home


Well, You had no stones to throw

You came here without an ax to grind

Did not tow the party line

No wonder sight came to the blind

You had no stones to throw, You had no stones to throw


And You rode an ass' foal

They spread their coats and cut down palms

For You and Your donkey to walk upon

But the world won't find what it thinks it wants

On the back of an ass' foal, so I guess You had to get sold


'Cause the world can't stand what it can't own

And it can't own You 'cause You did not have a home


Birds have nests, foxes have dens

But the hope of the whole world rests

On the shoulders of a homeless man

You had the shoulders of a homeless man

No, You did not have a home


Birds have nests, foxes have dens

But the hope of the whole world rests

On the shoulders of a homeless man

You had the shoulders of a homeless man


And the world can't stand what it can't own

And it can't own You 'cause You did not have a home


The hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.


Our hope, and Jerry’s, too.


Amen

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