There’s an organization that our last congregation, Shepherd of the Valley, back in San Diego supports heartily. The nonprofit is called Third Avenue Charitable Organization — TACO. It’s located in the heart of downtown SD, and it’s part of the ministry of First Lutheran Church there on 3rd Ave. I’m reminded of their story on this, our second “Bread Day” in John’s Gospel. (Last week it was the feeding of the 5000, where we talked about abundance vs. scarcity mentality. How’d that go?) Today, that same crowd is tailing after Jesus, and he’s inviting them to consider what they really need, beyond just reacting to their growling tummies...
So I want to tell you a little more about TACO in San Diego: Perhaps there are stories like this here in the DC area, I just don’t know them yet :) It was the 1970’s and people were moving out of downtown SD to go live in (and fill up the churches in) the suburbs. White flight. First Lutheran downtown was panicking: “We’re loosing people! We’re loosing kids! We’re loosing income! We’re loosing our church, the way it always was! Death is pressing in on us!” So — true story — a few of the members (with some gifts and passions for baking and cooking) got together and decided that they would bake bread. “We’ll bake bread during lunchtime, during the week...and all the doctors and lawyers and CEOs who work downtown will smell our bread and come eat and join our church!” Do you think they came running?
Who do you think did smell the bread and come? The homeless and working poor of San Diego. So the church got back together, and prayed about this: It’s not what they were expecting/wanted (?), but they trusted God might be up to something. It wasn’t going to yield more members or income for the church, in fact it might even cost the church more. But they trusted that God might be up to something. God was showing them something, a sign: hungry people on their doorstep...
Well, that was the birth of TACO, the beginning of a weekly (and it grew to twice a week) meal event, serving 150-200 hungry people on Mondays and Fridays still to this day. It’s an amazing organization that has grown from just the Bread Days in the 70’s to also offering medical, dental, legal services, acupuncture, and even an end-of-life hospice care program called “Simon’s Walk”!
All from thinking they wanted one thing, but Christ interrupted their plans and their wants with something else! God needed something else, which ended up being greater than they ever imagined.
Friends, Christ is always opening our eyes to gifts, needs, possibilities greater than we can imagine. “No one saw that coming!” Ever felt like that?
“But God, look! [panicky] Look at what’s happening! We want this for our church, for our families, for our communities. We know what’s best.” And Christ smiles lovingly and says, “That’s just your tummy growling...”
Have you ever gone grocery shopping when your tummy’s growling? Do you make good decisions then? I don’t make any good decisions when I’m hungry. (Or in our family, we use the term hangry.)
Those members of First Lutheran in San Diego, back in the 1970’s initially were hangry — they were panicking, desperate, not even making sense. And that’s OK, God showed up anyway. God loved them anyway. God smiled and gave them a sign…and — what I love about this story — is that they paid attention to it and prayed about it together. (What if we just got together and prayed, every time we faced some difficult things here?) First Lutheran trusted God, even in their struggling, tummy-grumbling state.
How is God showing up anyway for us as a congregation, as Bethlehem “House of Bread” Lutheran Church? How is Christ messing up our initial plans? [pause]
How about in your own life — at home and at work? How are you personally hangry and feeling anxious, like death is pressing in?
Or in our wider culture and world, how are we getting all desperate and panicky? Forgetting who’s holding us?
Friends, Christ is our bread. And this is not exactly the bread we had in mind! Remember the Israelites in the wilderness, with the manna comes down from heaven? Do you know what “manna” means? It literally means, “What is this?”
Christ is our bread, he offers himself to us freely and in abundance, and we’re like, “What is this? This is not what I had in mind?” (It would be fun to hear your stories of ways in your life that God has surprised you: you had initial plans — thought you should be doing this or going there — but God got in the way, interrupted.)
How has Christ provided for you, taken you places you never imagined, opened up new opportunities, comforted you when you thought there was no way possible? ...
...well, one central example takes place right here every Sunday: Friends in Christ, what we trust about this Holy Meal is that it provides everything we need. [pause] Do you believe that’s true?
That’s an almost impossible leap of faith in our highly consumerist culture: “What do you mean some crumbly piece of bread and a drop of wine is all I need?! That’s crazy talk!” And yet, this is our confession, the Bread of Life. In this meal is Christ himself. In this meal is the forgiveness of our sin, and new life.
It’s absolutely not to say that we don’t need our growling bellies taken care of — we do, and it’s our job to feed and take care of one another — both friends and strangers alike — with earthly bread. But the bread of heaven: that’s what we can’t provide, that’s what we just have to trust God to provide. And God does.
All we can do is open our hands to receive it. Martin Luther’s legendary words, on his deathbed (anyone know?): “In the end we are all beggars.” Luther was not a beggar in his earthly life. He had a great big house, crops, family, education, plenty of food (and beer), lots of friends, music, animals. But in the end, he prophetically notes, we are all ultimately in need of God’s bread, God’s gracious abundance that comes down from heaven and embraces every single one of us — even you.
Friends, we don’t have to wait for the end of life to open our hands and receive God’s providence, God’s bread, God’s surprises. Christ interrupts us right now! It’s right here. Free for us today. (Doesn’t matter if it’s a small piece or a large, if it tastes good or tastes terrible, if it’s sour wine or sugary grape juice — it’s not about the physical nature of the bread and wine. That’s tummy-growling theology! ;)
Friends in Christ, this day God’s bread of life fills you and revives you for serving in God’s hurting world this week. God’s wine of forgiveness warms you and frees you—you no longer have to carry the burden of guilt and shame. God’s meal of grace sends us outward to feed others, to house others, to love others, to welcome others...into this place, into this grace.
We are received and nurtured by Christ’s body and blood, and so we receive and nurture this world. Not what I originally had in mind (like the story of TACO), but that’s our God for us...once again.
Friends, when you open your hands at this Holy Table, know that you are loved and held in grace, in the name of the True Bread, in Jesus’ name. AMEN.