Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Beautiful weather spoke of spring in Florida. The knocks on the door came with increased frequency. It was a complicated business, encountering the needs of humanity. Story after story; some different, yet some exactly the same. People wanting food. People wanting money. People wanting to tell you how they came to know Christ then asking for money. People wanting to share their medical histories. Their personal histories. We would listen patiently to each and every tale of pain and suffering and then typically offer to assist as we were able by addressing what we perceived as the actual problem. To make the calls. Do the research. Write the letter. Whatever it took. One gentlemen called needing medical care for a particular condition, but he couldn’t afford it. He couldn’t work. Spent his days at home. He named the amount that the particular procedure would cost. Figuring that there was some free or low cost medical help out there for him, we made the calls. Spent hours researching the problem. When we called him back with the good news of where he could go and what he had to do to received free treatment, he began talking about his alternator. I wasn’t sure what alternators had to do with complications from diabetes, but this had triggered a memory.
Now a gentleman had called earlier and left a message about an alternator. We dug around and found it on the desk. Same number as the guy needing the medical procedure. Different name, though. Wanted a few hundred dollars because he couldn’t get to work without his car. Caught him trying to work two scams at the same time under different names and being bold enough to call the same church with both stories. The kind of thing that can take a cheerful heart down a peg or two.
When the knock on the door came later that afternoon, I will admit to feeling a bit wary. A young man in his early 20’s introduced himself as “Jim” had an urgent need of help. He needed money for gas. Just like another guy had just the week before. That guy had needed gas to get to work – hadn’t been paid you see. New job and all. But this young man needed gas because they were leaving Florida. Heading to North Carolina to move in with family. And their car was on fumes and they had gotten off of the turnpike and we were the first church that they saw. “My girlfriend and I would really appreciate it,” he said. We walked outside to the car. I needed to see it with my own eyes. I needed something to assure me that this just wasn’t another scam. The car wasn’t as old as me, but it was close. Through the windows I could see piles of things, clothing and such. And in the passenger seat sat a very pregnant young woman. “We haven’t had anything to eat,” Jim said. I went to the narthex and grabbed that week’s donations of food and handed it to him. I watched him dig out a can of peaches that he immediately handed to his girlfriend who produced a can opener from the glove compartment and went to work on opening the can.
It was the can opener that finally broke my heart wide open.
We invited them in to the hall for lunch. Chatted and made sandwiches. Got to know them. Hear a bit about heir life. Gave them money for gas and more food for the road. Searched around some donated clothes for something that might fit Jim’s girlfriend. They thanked us profusely and went on their way. It would be easy to talk about what we did for them – that would be both easy and typical. But you and I are not called to lives that are either of those things.
We recall the words of Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.
It is one thing to talk about providing bread to the hungry and water to the thirsty and clothing to the naked. Can we do that? Yes. Do we do that? Of course. Do the hungry need food and the thirsty water and the homeless shelter? Yes, yes, and yes. But let me ask – what is the difference between giving food to the hungry and sharing food with the hungry?
I suggest that the giving of food is an act of charity, while the sharing of food is the first step as an act of justice. In addressing the needs of others, we need more than to feel good about our charity. We need more than the exercising of our generosity from a safe and impersonal distance. We need to participate in God’s call to justice and the first step is to move forward from acts of giving to acts of sharing – of opening ourselves up to the possibility of transformation by removing the boundaries that separate us. The feeding program at First Lutheran Church in which we participate each month is a prime example. Folks from churches that are serving the food are also asked to sit at the tables with those whom they are serving. To listen to their stories and to share in the conversation. To erase the boundaries that declares us different.
The first step in responding to God’s call of justice is to move from giving to sharing, by realizing that we receive as much as we give and that in sharing we can be transformed.
Jesus talks about the Manna – how God made it rain down from heaven, but the people ate it and still died. It satisfied their hunger, yet it did not seem to grow their faith. In Jesus, God came into the world to share his living bread with the world. Bread is everywhere throughout Jesus’ ministry: from the miraculous feedings of the 5,000 and the 4,000 to the meals in which Jesus ate with the rich and the poor, with the outcasts and the Pharisees and finally breaking bread at the last supper with the disciples, themselves. Jesus broke bread, gave thanks, ate and shared. In every meal hearts were challenged and sometimes even changed, The sharing of the bread then gave way to Jesus becoming the living bread through whom God transforms all who eat of it through the power of his limitless grace. In Jesus, God moves from giving bread to sharing bread to becoming bread for the sake of the world. And we are called to share that living bread by reaching across the boundaries as Jesus did and seeing in the eyes of all, Christ himself. To do so will change us. Will transform us. For the Holy Spirit uses such moments for the profound work of continuing what began in our Baptisms. Our sanctification.
It is easy for our hearts to be hardened by those who would take advantage of our generosity – to let cynicism rule in us instead of grace, generosity, and compassion. But this is not God’s way. This Thanksgiving as we eat our bread may the true bread of heaven continue to challenge us, to push us, to call us forth to move from giving to sharing, to being the people who refuse to accept the boundaries drawn by a world of have and have nots. Amen.