The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Sermon preached on November 23, 2014
Christ the King Sunday Year A: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20- 24; Matthew 25:31-46
This morning I want to tell you a story about a sort of amazing thing that happened about a week ago. It’s a story about grace and strangers and surprises. I’d invite you to put your feet up, but the person in front of you might not like that. So just get comfortable, settle in, and listen with me for a few.
It was a dark and stormy night . . . literally. This was a week ago last Thursday when we got hit with the one of the first and toughest waves of what has fondly become known as “Snow-Vember.” It was actually raining snow, with a little ice and wind thrown in for good measure. At one point when we were outside, someone actually looked up into the sky, put out his hands and said, “What is this?” And we pondered the pellets that were falling on everything and everyone. We decided to call it ‘snail’ – snow and hail having merged into little round hard, white and seemingly endless pellets.
Some of you were wiping tables to keep them as clear as possible. Others were shoveling the ground so people could walk the circle more easily. All of you were making room, clearing pathways, preparing.
Others of you were down in the undercroft where there was no snail, but there were about a hundred and fifty or two hundred people who had come to Grace that night from all over the community. You had prepared a warm meal and were sharing it. There were at least five different languages being spoken in the undercroft that night. Kids were coloring. There were a couple of babies being passed around one of the tables. A couple of older folks needed walkers to navigate the space. Two younger ones needed strollers. There were a few of teenagers, some people in their upper seventies and all ages in-between.
Everyone was doing their best to be patient. They were waiting, together.
Someone whose name I don’t know played the piano. It started with a birthday song and then became this lovely collection of jazz that this man who had come for food played throughout the whole evening. The music in itself was gift.
When the truck arrived with over 8000 pounds of food, you got to work. All of you who were out there got to work. And some who had been in here, members and guests went out to help unload too. You cleared the snail off the tables, shoveled another round, wiped off the plastic tubs, and before we knew it there were potatoes, and yogurt, and bread, and Pop Tarts, and vegetables and milk and more. And there was enough for all who had come.
We were all so layered that you could really only see eyes and noses. You all brushed off your faces and hats and prepared to greet people as they gathered the food that they needed.
And so we started inviting people up and they came, and those who had to wait downstairs listened to the music that continued to fill, and in its own way, continued to warm the space inside.
People walked around the carefully shoveled circle and got food, got fed, got life.
And if that wasn’t amazing in itself here’s what happened about half-way through:
A man came up to me -this is someone whom many of us know as an on-and-off-regular of these Thursday night Feeding America experiences. He’s a man who was homeless. When we first met him a few years ago he was living in a tent community behind the cemetery on 16th St. Most of us didn’t know that Holland had a tent community, but it did, maybe it still does. At that time it was a group of about eight folks who didn’t fit in at the Mission and were sort of making it in this world together, barely making it, but making it in this world together.
And we got to know this particular man because he was gently conversational and his eyes smile easily; he talked with us when he came on one of our Thursday nights a few years ago.
And we got to know this man because a few of you were drawn to this tent community and we took turns “secretly” at times not wanting each other to know, that we were taking gloves and hats and a few of you even took sleeping bags. I think that was around Christmas time. And some of you took food. And one of you became a companion to this person, walking with him, talking with him, befriending him over months and years caring for him in illness, sitting with him regardless of the circumstances or the weather.
And now this man is in an apartment. He’s out of a tent –for now. And he has a job, mostly. And he invites people who need a warm couch for the night or who need a shower to come over and share with him what he has.
And so back to this dark and stormy night which happened just over a week ago. . .That night, this man was walking around the freshly shoveled circle, gathering food; he was here because he still lives on the edge. And he probably always will for reasons that are complex, and for reasons that I don’t fully understand and probably never will.
I do know that his pieces don’t come together like mine do. My pieces are complex too, just differently so.
So after this man with eyes that smile and whose life pieces come together differently than mine do walked around the circle and filled his tub, he waved me over and we moved off to the side. He talked about his life a bit and how much Grace means to him. That’s what he wanted me to know. “I’ll never forget what you all have done” were his exact words. His exact words to us, to all of us.
And then he gave me a little piece of wadded up paper and told me to tuck it in my glove and look at it later. And I did what he told me because I wasn’t going to remove my glove. Remember the snail for heavens’ sake.
He said he wanted to give something too – to this whole cause, to this whole vision, to this whole thing we call feeding one another.
And so later, much later, after the last guest had left, when we were turning off the lights for the night, I took off my glove there was a hundred dollar bill there.
And this story isn’t about it being $100. It’s not even really a story about money. It’s about the gift of it all, the humanity of it all. The grace of it all. It’s a story about what happens when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give shelter to those who need it.
It’s a story about Christ being present in food, in music, in hospitality, in the “other”. It’s about us seeing Christ in them, and in blessedly surprising ways, them seeing Christ in us! That’s what this man explained to me. We had been Body to him and he’ll never forget that. He brought out our best, our most together, our most holy best.
Which isn’t to romanticize anything – it’s to sanctify it.
This isn’t a story about end times; it’s a story about our times. It’s about us seeing Christ in them and them seeing Christ in us, to the point that there is no ‘them and us’, which is the truth of it. There are just people on whom snail falls, each and every one of us, ‘one family’ the gospel says. There are no sheep and goats, just a bunch of shoats and geeps whose pieces fall apart and come together differently over time.
And since this world doesn’t quite know how to handle all of that, we have been called to handle all of that with love and with care. We have been called to allow the other to shape us as Body.
And so that’s what we do. “When did we see you, Jesus?”
Every day. In everyone. May it be so.