John 21:16-19
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Soup and Such

Soup and Such

Jesus made breakfast for us!
Jesus cooked for us.
We ate food cooked by Jesus.
First he showed us
how to get the big load of fish—WOW—
then he showed us
what to do with them.
Chow down!!!
And that’s when it got weird,
I mean, ZOUNDS,
weird as in telling us
that if we really loved him
we would feed his sheep.
he doesn’t have sheep.
He doesn’t even lease a farm
to have sheep.
But he kept saying it
over and over and over and over and over.
And then we got it…
he meant, like,
and then we realized
something else with implications
generation upon generation
of those claiming to be his followers
would find ways to squabble about—
he actually was resurrected,
and if that were true,
he actually was,
Feed his sheep meant feed all.
It meant no borders,
no boundaries,
no religion,
no denomination,
no doctrine,
no budget,
no fear could
be used to
keep anyone away,
or allow us to keep anyone away
from God’s table,
from the sacredness of food,
of blessings.
It meant no withholding,
but it also meant we actually
had to be
proactive and aggressive
at finding those
who most need to eat,
and then feed them.
According to Jesus,
we cannot claim to love him
if we do not do this.
But how?
How can we get over
so much fear?
How can we get beyond
all of our feeble excuses,
and feed Jesus’ sheep?
And how many different ways are there to do this?

# # #

Allow me to introduce a member of our little Geyserville Christian Church, Christiane Swartz. She is a social worker with the Veterans Administration. She works placing homeless vets. She is one of those people who kindly and gently rage through our lives showing us how to get this gospel right. I asked her to speak this Sunday after I read my sermon/poem, and tell us about a recent experience she had at work housing and feeding “her vets.”

# # #

Feed My SheepChristiane Swartz
Christiane Swartz

“Feed My Sheep”
Many of you know that six months ago I transitioned to a team at the VA that houses the chronically homeless. The old me would have never agreed to doing what I essentially saw as “social work without a net,” but from a place in my own spiritual journey that I didn’t understand, and in a voice that was not mine, I said yes to this job that has become something of an amazing spiritual adventure for me. This story of the last couple of months at work, along with the impact of a fantastic book I read helped me really understand the sacredness of feeding others.
I should preface this by saying I have a love-love relationship with food, as far back as I can remember. Food is community. Food is love. I’ve believed in food longer than I’ve believed in love, or even God for that matter. And if I love you, at some point I’ll be cooking for you. It is the highest form of love I know. That could probably be a warning for all of you!
It was no surprise I loved the book I found a couple of months ago, by Sara Miles called “Take This Bread,” (Miles, Sara. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008. Print) her beautiful account of what she termed her “unexpected and terribly inconvenient conversion,” which strongly resonated with some of my own journey. But more than a spiritual memoir, it was also a book about her own call to action.
At 45, she found herself in an Episcopal church for the first time in her adult life, completely moved by the sharing of communion and the idea that it was open to everybody. She began to imagine a food pantry at that very church in San Francisco, open to everyone, in a sort of extension of the communion that happened there. The book is about her process, battle and journey to bring this food pantry to life, in spite of countless obstacles. In fact, she not only brought it to life, but drew funding from the outside community and served groceries to over 200 people every Friday. People who initially came for food became her volunteers at the pantry, and one of the things she began to do that I found particularly moving was to cook lunch each week for those who volunteered. She talked about the “Feed my sheep” exchange between Jesus and Peter. “If you love me feed my sheep.” I can’t get it out of my mind. …If her story spoke to my own spiritual journey, her call to action fairly shouted to the social worker in me!
By the time I read this book the social worker in me was in love with the vets in our program who had not had a place to call home, some of them for decades. And I was in love with a brand new housing community we were starting up, one of the first of its kind in the nation; the VA and a local nonprofit partnered with each other to fill and manage a local privately owned motel that had been converted to permanent housing for the homeless. We spent two rainy months filling 100 rooms with chronically homeless men and women from tents, cars and shelters.
By the time I read this book we had every week for two months found ourselves sitting across from the nonprofit admin and property management staff, struggling to find common ground to manage and grow this community in what felt like co-parenting with someone you really like but don’t understand even a little bit. They wanted rules and structure and accountability. We wanted to give them wings and let them fly! We vacillated between humor and thinly veiled hostility and everything in between. (In fairness, while we went home at 5:00 every day it is they who were responsible for the legal and financial well-being of this venture, who staffed this property 24/7 and who dealt with the fallout that inevitably happens when you house 100 chronically homeless, many with drug addictions, felonies and mental illness in an old motel at the south end of town.) So we tried to cut them a little slack.
Our most recent and heated battle revolved around bringing a food pantry distribution point to the site. For a month the food pantry guy came to the meetings, saying they were ready to start anytime. They encouraged us to open the distribution point to the outside community, for funding purposes and also because this site is in what they call a “food desert,” or an area with no supermarket or food bank distribution within two miles. The social workers were so excited we could barely contain ourselves. The nonprofit dug in their heels HARD. They were worried about bringing in “locals” from this admittedly rough part of town into the housing project. They feared them loitering on our property or engaging in behaviors that would lead to bad publicity for the project. Anytime three different agencies come together for a single project there is bound to be some struggle, and struggle we did, searching for a way to hear each other and work toward some common ground.
Confession: At this point I really do want to tell them all about the book. Badly. I managed to stop myself. They already roll their eyes every time I open my mouth, and honestly both sides of the battle were pretty well covered. I let myself say, exactly once in each meeting, that it would be a huge gift to the tenants to help feed their larger community and a huge gift to the community to be invited to the site for something besides its long history of drugs and hookers. The argument dragged on, and it seemed we were deadlocked.
In an amazing turn of events, the food pantry guy came one day with the social worker supervisor who finally just kind of wore down the opposition. It was masterful! Victory played out, almost casually before us. I was in awe. And just like that, the food pantry was scheduled for Tuesdays at 2, open to the whole community!
At this point, with Sara and her beautiful book about bread, and Jesus and his sheep still on my mind, I could not even stop myself… I stood up in the meeting and mused, that since we were all there Tuesdays anyways for all of these meetings, that if two staff would partner with me we could feed the tenants who volunteered at the food pantry each Tuesday! I got my volunteers from my side of the table (and some patient level gazes from the other side.) And Tuesday last week, we laid a tablecloth, set up lunch and ate a home cooked hot meal like a family with the seven tenant volunteers who showed up. I baked bread. We served my husband’s chili and a salad. One tenant help me set the table. Another said grace. We held hands. And in that moment, it did not feel like I was hanging out spending my lunch hour with a bunch of homeless people with drug addictions, felonies and mental illnesses. It felt like we were human beings, hungry and full of love at the same time.
And we fed each other.


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