TV commercials generally annoy me. That’s the sole purpose of a remote control... to avoid watching those sales pitches that we don’t like, don’t want to hear, or think don’t apply to us (or we just don’t want to waste time watching!). Oh, to be sure, from time to time, there’s a good one, like the 1979-80 ad about the great “Mean Joe Greene” being stopped in the tunnel, as he limped from the field to the locker room by a boy who offered him a Coke. “Mean Joe,” a hulking, incredibly fast defensive tackle for the Steeler’s “Steel Curtain,” had been having a bad game, and the 9 year old boy, Tommy Okron, called out to him and offered him his freshly opened cold drink, saying “I just want you to know, I think you’re the best ever.” After drinking deeply from it, he looks over and says, “Hey, kid, catch!” and throws him his jersey. Wow.
Ok, so that was probably the best TV ad of all time. (Google “Mean Joe Greene” and watch it for yourself!) But ‘way down on the other end is the current one about the kids who get a certain snack food along with their lunches, and one after another of their friends (and a stranger or two, too) offers to swap something (mostly food items) for it.... even a Linus-type “security blanket.” And steadfastly, the owner of the prized bag of treats declines.... they want what they want. End of the matter. He eats them solo.
What if the child had offered to share their prized goodie? What if the owner of the special bag of snacks had simply given them all to the other? I suppose it would not have been “good advertising,” as the consumer is supposed to side with the central character, but in this case, I think they missed a “teachable” moment - to wit, sometimes sharing, if not outright giving, is the higher value! Imagine how the story would have been different if the boy with five loaves (more like biscuits, without the leaven) and 2 bits of dried fish had declined to offer them to Jesus. It was, after all, his only meal, and it was a long way home, and there were no other obvious resources. A case could be made in defense of his keeping his resources all to himself! And there were others in the crowd who would have taken pity on him, scolded his mother for sending him out without sufficient supplies, and given him a taste or two of their own precious goods. In that day, remember, there were no “fast food” places on every corner, and you had to plan for your next meal(s) well in advance!
But, no, he offered his food to Jesus, who did something in a 4-fold, sacramental way with the meager gift. Just like on the eve of His betrayal and crucifixion, He took it, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to those who were nearby. It was a gift. Freely given, gratefully received, and it became a blessing all those who received it. And it had more impact than a bag of salty, highly processed “nothing” that the kid in the commercial kept all for himself, and ate solo.
In one of his sermons, Dr. Fred Craddock tells of going to visit one of his parishioners at lunchtime in her retirement home setting. It was always the best time to go, as she had a great many friends and gathered around the table, they were always full of good fun, laughing and talking, and enjoying each other’s company. But this day was different. She was not to be found anywhere in the dining room. Upon inquiry, he was told that she was in her room, and he hurried around to see if she wasn’t well, or just having a mid-day nap. But when he knocked on the door, she was sitting in the middle of her room at a small table, with lunch on it, unopened, and her face was buried in her hand. She was, in Craddock’s term, “full of tears.” When she was able to compose herself to talk, she said she’d been sent to her room because she’d patted a new resident on the head in a friendly way, asking how she was adjusting to the new place.... and the woman “threw a tantrum,” yelling and screaming that she’d been assaulted, hurting her head and neck, and making a range of accusations. “So they told me I’d have to eat by myself until I learned how to behave better,” she told her pastor. In reflection, Craddock says, “It seems to me that there’s nothing more painful in all the world than being forced away from the table, and having to eat by yourself.... Beginning in the early Church, one who offended the ‘house rules’ was put aside for a while. It was called ‘ex-communio,’ meaning ‘being separated from the community of the saints....’ Nowadays, it’s pronounced Ex-communication.”
To exclude another from the “breaking of bread“ (in whatever form it comes) and sharing in the fellowship of the table is heavy business! To decline to include another is virtually the same thing! The most painful words we often say to others go along these lines: “You don’t fit in! You don’t belong. You’re not acceptable. You’re not a part of us.”
Over the next half-dozen years, our fair city may be growing by nearly 10%, if the Legacy Woods project comes to fruition as projected. 400 housing units, meaning 800-1200 new people will be coming to share in the community we call home, living on the western side of Wythe Creek Road, around the Civic Center area in an L-shaped development (as I understand it). It is germane to the gospel, at its very core, to prepare, invite, and include these newcomers at the table around which we gather. It’s going to take some “out of the box” thinking and planning, trying some approaches that we’ve never used before, prayerfully considering getting outside our “comfort zone” here on the side of Poquoson Avenue, and meeting them where they are going to be living, shopping, and perhaps working. In the next few weeks, I want us to begin to consider our ministries of welcome and hospitality, our outreach-life of service and inclusion, and the diversity of ways we open up our “bag of goodies” to share the Bread of Life with those whom we don’t yet know.
You may be confronted with an opportunity to decide whether to offer up your Coke or “5 loaves and 2 fish” - or a cup of cool water, or some coffee and grilled cheese, and affirm to “new” folks in our midst that we believe fervently that the love of God is for them, too. Be in prayer toward that end, and let’s find some new “ways and means” of including some who may be considerably different from all we’re used to being among. It may look like something ordinary, but really, it’s a taste of the Kingdom.
Grace and peace to you,
Jim Earley, Pastor
Responses? Send me a note via: RevsRUs@Cox.net