I received a phone call from one of my Vestry members last week, Sue, who with her mother is in charge of our work this month at the Community Meal. Thanks to the work of one of our saints, Thelma, all the churches in Davenport are able to prepare meals for the homeless, the hobos, and the other needy, marginalized citizenry in our community. Now, many churches have one assigned night each quarter, but, in an ackowledgement to Thema, we are one of nine churches (so I am told) that are allowed to participate each and every month. Woe be to my successor who decides to give up some of that ministry!
Anyway, Sue called with a problem. Over the course of the past couple years, St. Alban’s has become very intentional in providing a meal rather than just food. In Novemeber of the past couple of years, we have provided turkey or ham with all the trimmings. We have had comfort meals of meatloaf, meatballs and the like. We have even had theme meals of “Italian” or “Mexican” or foods from some other such ethnic origins. I have been known to bring the Seder to the homeless the past couple of years. What started out as a fun idea was recognized to feed the recipients in ways we never imagined. People broke down because the meatloaf “was just like mom used to make” or the lamb was “way too expensive for a bunch of rejects like us.” And we, serving, recognized how important that call to an abundant feast was to the lost and forgotten in society. Sue’s problem was that she had a feast idea and no money to accomplish it.
It was both exciting and heartwrenching to get this phone call. Sue recognized the very real financial difficulties facing our congregation. Yet Sue had listened to her pastor and to her Lord. He provides for all our needs, and His people needed to be reminded of the abundant life to which He calls everyone. Plus, the readings for the end of the “green season” looked specifically at how our Lord should find us when He comes again, feeding His hungry, visiting the sick, giving drinks to the thirsty. I told Sue to ask. If God thought it was a good idea, He would bless it.
Sue threw the idea out there for the congregation. Once she thought she had enough money, she called a local grocery store which we, as a congregation, like to frequent. Fareway is closed on Sunday’s so that its employees can spend time in worship or with their families. Anyway, the guys in the meat department gave her a discount. Sue had collected 75 cents more than she needed!
Later in the week, as we heard that the numbers at the mealsite had increased, Sue asked again for money. The short story is that enough money was raised to provide a feast of Prime Rib for everyone at the shelter that night. Others stepped up and provided the baked potatoes, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the corn, the beans, the pies, the gravy -- everything necessary for a Christmas feast!
To say that those present were overwhelmed would be a gross understatement. They had a choice in their meal. Different potatoes, meat cooked to differing degrees, desserts. Many commented that it was like going to a fancy smancy restaurant. And they gave me my sermon for this week. Sunday, we will read psalm 126. Thanks to the efforts of those members of St. Alban’s and to the joyful response of those whom we fed, I am once again humbled and reminded that we are “like those who dream. Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” For a moment, for the briefest of moments, mercy and righteousness kissed at a shelter in Davenport, Iowa. For a moment, all of God’s people were fed and glad indeed! During Advent, we are called to look expectantly toward His second coming and the fulfillment of all of His promises. For just a moment, a group incarnated that idea and reminded that “those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”