Ho, everyone who thirsts,
to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and mill
without money and without price.
The connections between food and faith are fascinatingly striking.
As I rode the train home from Philadelphia, I read a book entitled, Take This Bread, by Sara Miles. It's the author's memoir of how she came to faith by the transformational act of receiving communion for the first time - at the age of 46!
Raised an atheist, the simple act of receiving the body and blood of Christ spurred Miles to begin a food ministry at that same church a year later, and, eventually, be baptized.
Yes, I know that's contrary to our sense of proper Lutheran procedure, but how we do things isn't the point of this story.
Miles writes in her memoir, "The food pantry, as I envisioned it, was another way of doing church-though one that didn't demand belief or expect people to pray. It wasn't a social program but a service, modeled on the liturgy of the Eucharist...because none of us 'deserved' communion, and we still received it every week"1
There are times when need outweighs protocol. That is, in a sense, the point of this week's gospel reading from
Matthew of the feeding of the 5,000
. When Jesus sees the multitude of people gathering to see him, Matthew says that he had compassion on them. Jesus meets the needs of others in his life of obedience to God.
But the command that is often missed when people read Matthew's version of the story is that, contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not feed the crowd. He tells the disciples to feed the crowd.
"YOU give them something to eat," he tells them.
The reason for the disciples' resistance is that they don't have the physical resources to feed the crowd. They weren't necessarily being cold-hearted in their refusal to feed the crowds, but with only five loaves and two fish, they just didn't see how it was possible.
How familiar does this sound to you? How often, in our congregational life, do we look around, and all we see is what we don't have? We look at our meager resources and think, "We don't even have enough here for ourselves, much less anyone else."
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that unless we have enough to start with then we can't help. Our whole existence as church is by faith. If God presents us with an opportunity, our challenge is to look for ways that we CAN do it, rather than looking at what we've got and then decide whether or not we can do it. It may drive your church treasurer crazy, but Jesus doesn't let us off the hook so easily as we would like.
Jesus is concerned with meeting our needs on every level, and calls us to meet the needs of others in the same way. It's astounding how little becomes much when God is in it.
The Psalm response for this week contains a familiar Lutheran table prayer that many of us have often recited before meals:
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
And I close with another that is perhaps more familiar to most of us:
Come Lord Jesus be our Guest;
And let these gifts to us be blest.
And may there be a goodly share;
On every table, everywhere.
This coming Sunday I will be with the people of God at Grace Lutheran Church in East Palestine, Ohio, as they celebrate their 107th anniversary. I will also have the distinct honor of performing two baptisms for the first time as bishop.
I pray this week and always, that we may respond to needs of the world with compassionate hearts, offering all we have to Jesus, that he might bless it for us to share in the ministry of God.
+Bishop Abraham Allende
Sara Miles, Take This Bread (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008), 113.