Sermon for May 2, 2010 "Worthy and Unworthy"

See below for manuscript (not including excerpts from Sara Miles' "Take This Bread" and other commentary) or listen Here.

*Grace to you, and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Story of Milton.]

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It’s a simple command, but a complicated request.

We’re hungry for that love – though we’re often too suspicious of each other to ask for it, or to give it. There are as many different kinds of love as there are people we can offer it to; but we act like it’s the Great Love Recession, and we ration our trust. We’re watching each other. It’s easier to go through life NOT judging others, NOT worrying about who is more or less deserving, NOT fretting over what the other guy did, or might do; but when you’re hungry, it’s hard to imagine a world where there will always be enough to go around.

Jesus sets the bar incredibly high. The Gospel of John emphasizes God’s love for the world in all its diversity and imperfection, and in particular God’s love for those who see in Jesus the tangible manifestation of God on earth, God immersed in human experience. Jesus washes our feet, serves us dinner and then dies for our sins. How do we get from this miracle of abundant, transcendent love, to the scarcity of daily life? How do we embrace each other with this complicated love, when we’re worried about getting fooled, getting hurt, being disappointed?

People disappoint each other, it’s a relational hazard. It happens at home, between friends and everywhere relationships are formed. Jesus was betrayed by a close friend. It happens at our Little Kitchen food shelf, where we’re constantly challenged by Christ’s example, AND, constantly surprised. Running a food shelf requires a love for justice, and love for the stranger. What should stop us from giving that love?

Reverend Alexia Salvatierra, an ELCA pastor in California and an immigrant rights activist, has devoted herself to discrediting what she calls “the great lie, that some people are worth more than others.” She is a leader of the nation-wide New Sanctuary Movement, an interfaith coalition taking a public stand against immigration-related injustice. In her line of work, threats of violence are commonplace, but the workers and leaders receiving those threats are fighting for justice not just on principle, but on the basis of Christ’s love for the poor and the oppressed. “We hold these truths to be self-evident (says the Declaration of Independence): that all men are created equal…” The first immigrants to this country knew it first-hand: the love of justice requires courage, and commitment.

When Simon Peter journeyed to the home of Cornelius the Gentile, he was met by a crowd of strangers. Cornelius and his family were outsiders. The call to Peter came as something of a surprise. Were it not for his trust in the Holy Spirit, Peter probably wouldn’t have made that journey. But Peter had a vision, and Peter’s vision began with hunger: He felt hungry, and while waiting for his dinner, he “fell into a trance,” and the Lord gave him a vision, the kind you might expect: he dreamed about getting something to eat. But what he was offered looked decidedly un-kosher. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,” said the Lord. In other words, show your faith – try something new. And the crowd of Gentiles was hungry too – hungry for peace, forgiveness, and love.

The Holy Spirit told Peter to go with the Gentiles. To open his heart to someone different.

I’d like to share with you a short reading from a book titled “Take This Bread” by Sara Miles. It’s the story of a political activist and former chef who was converted to Christianity, through the act of taking Communion for the first time. After years spent in war zones on the front lines, Miles somehow found herself raising a child with her partner in a middle-class suburb of San Francisco. After her conversion she felt called to open a food pantry, right in the sanctuary of her church.


Later in her book Miles describes the altar at her church, the Communion table at the center of the sanctuary on which they piled bread and vegetables for the food pantry each Friday. “It was inscribed in gold letters with …the words of the seventh-century mystic Isaac of Nineveh: Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So do not distinguish between worthy and unworthy. All must be equal for you to love and serve.”

I know lots of people who won’t give cash to strangers, or panhandlers, because they’re sure they’re being scammed. And I know people who won’t give money because they think the person in need will just spend that money on booze or drugs, even if they say it’s for gas or food, or formula for their baby. It’s frankly difficult for most of us to imagine even being willing to approach strangers and ASK them for money. How can someone so different from us be trusted?

People visiting the Little Kitchen food shelf for the first time as volunteers tend to ask this question: How do you know whether the people getting free food really need it? What if they lie to you?

In response to that question, I’d like to read one more paragraph by Sara Miles:


The people God chose for me. Who deserves Christ?

From a young age we learn how to judge others, and it comes naturally. We assign people to categories as we try to understand them. As adults we generalize and we fret. We worry that there’s not enough to go around, and that someone might take what’s ours. We rank ourselves in relation to others. We pick winners, and losers. Like most kids, we don’t really want to share.

We also avoid intimacy, as hungry as we are; we avoid each other’s hands and eyes even though nothing feels better than giving ourselves away. Wouldn’t it be easier, if we all just fed and loved each other? If we all shared, there would be enough. You might want to feed some people with a longer spoon than others; but if God gave them the same gift he gave us – the gift of life, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ – who are we to hinder God?

Jesus left the disciples the way a loving parent leaves their children with the babysitter: You can’t come with me. Be good while I’m gone. Love each other.

Thanks be to God. Amen.