Years back, in college, we had a catering company called Slater Foods. They prepared all the food for all the students on the meal plan, which were all the freshmen and sophomores back then and any upperclassmen who didn’t know any better. Freshmen and sophomores didn’t have a choice. We had to live on campus, had to purchase the meal plan and had to have our meals in the dining hall. The food was just about on par with a poorly run nursing home.
I lived on Jell-O and bread. Both seemed pretty safe and edible. At least until the day even the bread failed to please. Apparently, someone among the Slater’s food staff prepared and served our bread but someone had forgotten to add salt to the dough. Right about that time, I found someone with a car (Freshmen and Sophomores weren’t permitted to drive or park their cars on campus) and I spent the better part of the next 2 1/2 years eating at the local MacDonald’s unbeknownst to my parents who were still paying for my dining hall food.
Though my food selections were pre-determined, I was fortunate. I had choices. If I were hungry and motivated enough, I could hunt for something more appetizing to eat than Slater food. I could find what I needed and wanted and I could pay for it. I didn’t realize it then…being a middle class kid from the burbs, who never had want for anything, that there were those around me, off campus, who lived lives of constant need; who didn’t have the means to find a way to fulfill those daily requirements of life…food, medicine, and shelter. And there it was, right in front of me. I just didn’t see it.
The other day, I was driving through Manchester heading to hospital. At a traffic light I slowed and stopped to wait for the signal to change when I looked right to the sidewalk propped against a local market. I couldn’t help but notice a young woman with her head in a street trashcan. She was fishing inside for something, pushing the contents around with her hand. She was probably in her late teens or early twenties. That was sad enough, but just behind her, parked on the sidewalk, was a baby stroller and in it a two small children. The light changed and I drove through but obviously, I didn’t leave that corner in the same frame of mind as I had arrived.
Jesus calls himself “the bread of life.” It is just one of seven different ways in which he describes his life, mission and purpose to his followers. I am the bread of life, light to the world, the gate, the good shepherd…these are just some of the self-descriptive statements Christ makes. We can wonder why he makes these statements, but then again, I think we know. We are in need of all those things…bread, light, a way in, someone to shepherd us to safety…food for our bellies; food for our souls…someone who cares. We all need those life sustaining necessities. What we don’t always recognize is that we can the means by which Christ can fulfill his continuing ministry to the world. We’ve been invited into the grace and gift of Christ’s life so that through our witness and our actions, “whoever comes to [Christ] will never be hungry, and whoever believes in [Christ] will never be thirsty.”
We begin our Stewardship emphasis today recognizing that we come with expressed and unexpressed needs. But, we also come with the means, the ability and, hopefully, the desire to meet the need of others. That’s what church is about, but more than that, it is what Christ is about. We do make the claim that we follow Jesus Christ, the same Jesus Christ who seeks to fill the hungry with life sustaining bread for both body and spirit. The same Christ who saw that young woman with her head in the trashcan and who won’t let me forget I saw it too. The same Christ who, throughout the world today, invites us all to a common table, but he reminds us to make room, at that table, for those who haven’t yet found their place.
We have an opportunity in the next four weeks to educate our minds and our hearts to truly understand what it means, “To learn that Jesus is the Bread of Life [which] means that we turn from running after temporal bread…[bread that grows stale and loses its taste] to feast on the real bread. To learn that we are members of [Christ’s] kingdom means we take up the task of the kingdom – to become Stewards of creation.” More than moving through life observing the hardships around us, those within our sight, and those hardships within our own lives, we engage, we commit, we reach in for the grace, the food, the gift that will help us reach out to others. And then, we reach forward, we reach forward together with all Christ’s committed followers to transform the world by our prayers, through our actions, in the words of compassion we offer, we make a difference…stewards, good and faith-filled stewards of all with which God has blessed us.
What an extraordinary gift God through Christ has given us! The bread of life, a gift to the world. With those around the world, we offer our thanks this day “World Communion Sunday and pray for a time when no one has to search for food in a trashcan, when everyone can be assured of a safe home and have their health needs met; leading lives that honor Christ and Christ’s life in us. Amen.