I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. I mean more than usual.
Like many of you, my family life has been upended since Friday the 13th when governments and other institutions started to take the Covid 19 virus more seriously. Within days, my semester of lesson plans ground to a halt. My youngest, a junior in High School is now my only student, although he prefers the other teacher on campus (my wife). Our middle son’s day program has been suspended as well. Our oldest still has a part-time job, so his life is pretty much the same except there are more people around during the day.
Friday, my wife and I went grocery shopping. Our first stop was Aldi’s, where we go to get most of our food. Now, shopping at Aldi’s is like getting your food from a parallel dimension. The items are similar, but not exactly what you are used to buying. This particular Friday, the checkout line stretched all the way to the back of the store. People were stocking up, filling their baskets to overflowing capacity as if grocery stores were going to be the next thing to close. There were empty shelves where items such as mac and cheese, bottled water and toilet paper once occupied in bulk. Many items had handmade signs that limited how many you could purchase at one time.
Usually, before we go shopping, my wife does meal planning in order that we just buy ingredients for specific meals. This cuts down on impulse buying. She had decided not to do this since there was no guarantee that certain items would still be available. As we went through the store, we spotted items that could be combined with other items in order to make meals. We spotted a ham, so we went back and found two boxes of scalloped potatoes, some canned vegetables and a can of pineapple. Our goal was to gather enough for ten meals.
The reason I am writing this is to tell you how truly blessed we are. I am blessed that I am still getting paid at this time and I can provide those ten meals. We are blessed that we found all the ingredients necessary to not only feed our family but also add a little variety in what we were eating. We are truly blessed that we can put something on the table every night.
As I have written before, I am very active at a local food pantry called Ebenezer Stone Ministries, or Ebenezer for short. I know when you hear that word you think of a Christmas story about a miserly old man who cared for nothing but lining his pockets. Our Ebenezer is the opposite. We are about putting food and other essential items into the hands of people who desperately need them.
Unlike every place else in Milwaukee, Ebenezer is committed to staying open. There are two parts of our mission, a food pantry, and a meal program. Of course, due to social distancing, both have changed. Instead of letting clients into our building, we are asking them to stop at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement of a church we operate out of. They tell us their name and the number of people in their household. We then gather canned goods, bread, meat and produce into bags and then place them on a cart at the bottom of the stairs. We retreat into the building as they descend the stairs to claim their items.
On Wednesday we also gave out a bag lunch, one for every member of their family. Yesterday, a small team created a hot breakfast to go and served up 150 meals to those waiting to pick up food. It felt useful to give back in some small way. It also felt good to have a reason to get up in the morning and leave the house.
I’m not telling you this because I want you to see what a great guy I am. I am doing this because I have also believed that no matter how hard you think your life is going, many people out there would give anything to be in your shoes.
As I was making bags for distribution last week, the following dialog from the Bible kept coming through my mind. I’ll paraphrase it here but you can look it up at Matthew 25:31-46.
One day, you will die. Your soul will leave your body and you will be transported to a place of such beauty and wonder that there are literally no earthly words to describe what you are experiencing. Everything is similar to what you have known your whole life but more intense. Every sense has been cranked up to 11!
As you are getting your bearings, you are approached by a man. He is both familiar and unknown at the same time. His demeanor suggests that he knows you implacably. He welcomes you and tells you “Well Done”. He thanks you for the meal you gave him and the time you shoveled his sidewalk and cut his grass. He recalls the time you held the door for him when he was trying to get through with a bag of groceries in one hand and a two-year-old throwing a tantrum in the other. He thanks you for taking care of him that time he was sick in bed with a cold and when you came and played cards with him one afternoon in the nursing home. He fondly remembers when you let him out the parking lot before you after church service and when you cleared his table for him at McDonald’s so he didn’t have to manage his garbage and the walker. He loved you for the tender goodnights you gave him when you put him to bed and how you called him once a week to check up on him for years after you left home.
Of course, you remember none of this and he laughs at your confusion. He simply tells you that every interaction that you have with another human being, he (Jesus) is on the other side. This makes you feel good until the true meaning of the word “EVERY” hits home.
Every unkind word to a spouse. Every broken promise to a friend. Every “Not Now” to a child. Every action that you are not proud of has been directed at him as well. You hang your head low, ashamed of how you have treated him. You turn to go, but a hand stops you on your shoulder. He gently turns you toward him, the other hand lifting your chin until your eyes are locked to his. His eyes are full of tears as are yours when he gently whispers, “I forgive you!”
So, my actions are not intended simply to earn an “attaboy” from others. I not looking for acknowledgment or a “look what I am doing” No, I am simply using what time, talent and treasure I have been given to show My God, My King, My Lord, My Savior and My Friend how much he means to me and how much I value what he has made.
Jesus’s earthly ministry revolved around food, mostly bread. From the feeding of the five thousand to the last supper, many of his lessons implied that we should be working as hard to gather spiritual food as we do physical food. He often referred to himself as LIVING WATER and the BREAD OF LIFE! Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which literally means HOUSE OF BREAD!
He taught us that before we can attempt to talk to anyone about spiritual things, we must meet the physical needs first. That is why I am at Ebenezer and will continue to support it, even long after this current crisis has gone like a bad dream. I do it because I know that the person on the top of the stairs will be the same person that greets me when my time on earth is over.
I urge you. If you have found yourself in a similar situation where you have extra time, treasure or talent that you are not using due to Covid 19 and all the implications, find a way to give back.
Remember Jesus words in Matthew 25:40
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Prayer: Dear Lord, be with us during these days of uncertainty and help us to remember that others are going through the same as well. Father, during this time of self-isolation and social distancing, please help us to find ways to love others.
Please comment with ideas of how you can help show the love of Christ to others while maintaining social distancing. Feel free to share these words if they have impacted you.