By Rev. Rhonda Pigott-Thorndale
John 6: 1-15
Psalm 22 and 23 (selected verses, paraphrased)
Today is World Food Day. I think most of us would automatically think of hungry, impoverished, street people. But I wonder how many of us think about Thanksgiving and the big dinner we shared last week with family and friends. Then, maybe the question arises… have I given anything to the community fridge behind of church recently, or the food bank here in Lake Country? Or do I think about it when it is mentioned and then it slips my mind afterwards? I not talking about what our church gives in general. As a church family together we do a lot, but of our personal donations…of time and talents too.
Years ago, I use to teach up in a school in Vernon, I was shocked at the numbers of kids that came to school with no breakfast. These were elementary students. Some of them had to get themselves up, find something to wear, mostly yesterday’s clothes and run for that school bus with no adult help. When they got there, although they wanted to play with their friends before the bell rang, they would run to the staff kitchen as they knew there would be food… a bowl of cereal, milk and a piece of fruit waiting for them. The teachers, the church across the street from the school, l and some of the congregants always made sure there was something there. So many victims of hunger, so close to home. Maybe even next door or down the road from our homes.
There was a well written article in MacLean's written by David Long, in the summer entitled “I work in a BC food bank”. He said:
“We’re serving triple the number of people we use to. For the first time, many of our clients are people with jobs who can’t keep up with the cost of living. How did we get here?”
Long talks about a young single father. He was working full time, but his rent had gone up 20 per cent and he just couldn’t make ends meet. Unable to adequately feed his children, and with no other choice, the food bank was his last resort. He was distraught. Like many people, he felt the stinging stigma of accepting charity. I wonder how many people use our community fridge and food bank for the same reason and feel the same way?
This, sadly, is a typical story. Most cities and towns in our province are finding the same thing. Last year, the Greater Vancouver food bank gave out eight million pounds of food. And they are not the only organization with such staggering numbers. We’re seeing similar situations all across Canada, the States, Mexico, and the U.K.
The clients have changed as well. Food banks have traditionally fed the working poor, people on social assistance, people with disabilities—the most impoverished and vulnerable members of our society. I remember this well as I spent some time at the People Place Street Mission in basement of Metropolitan Unite
d in Victoria while promoting the WLB book Out in the Open.
In the last few years, we’ve seen many people who are working full time and still can’t make ends meet. Some being parents who have been skipping their meals so their children can eat. People who are earning $40,000 or $50,000 per year and, after they pay their bills, there’s just nothing left. People making modest incomes are overwhelmed. People who struggled through Covid, lost their income through isolation or automation. Food banks use to be called a Band-Aid solution. But now you hear people saying they’re a tourniquet.
Many food banks, got their start in a church, the first one in Edmonton in 1981. The Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver followed in1983. Food banks were a new thing then—different from the times of soup kitchen or food stamps. They were to be a temporary response to the tough, recessionary times of the early 1980s. Interest rates were rising, inflation was high and people were going hungry. They served homemade sandwiches and, over time, added sit-down meals.
When I served at Cranbrook United, Wednesday was our day to serve breakfast to those in need. Pancakes, sausages, scrambled eggs and fruit was basically the menu and our small congregation averaged about 100 meals each time.
Food banks were established as an emergency stop-gap, to meet the immediate needs of people unable to put food on their tables. What began as an emergency response quickly became permanent fixtures in many cities.
Income is directly tied to food insecurity. People don’t have enough money to buy groceries. Once someone pays rent, pays for a vehicle to get to work or buys a transit pass, food is the last expenditure. People try to save money on food because they can’t anywhere else. The price of gas goes up 10 cents and we see more people coming to the food bank. That’s how close to the edge people are living.
set out a single chair in the view of the congregation.
Imagine for a moment that you are that someone is sitting in this chair. Imagine that you are feeling the anguish of not having enough food. Think about the question the psalmist asked: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We can all identify with that. Who of us hasn’t sat in that same chair from time to time? Suffering is part of what it means to be human.
For a slight twist let’s imagine who in our society echo’s this psalm, who sits in this chair. We can see those who are isolated, violated, broken down, left out, sitting there. We hear cries like this from all sectors of our society every day. Sometimes they are so painful to listen to that we tune them out, distract ourselves, turn off the television or computer. Now think about the it takes for most of us to ask for help? Think of the example in our Word for all Ages.
Set another chair alongside the first.
As hard as it is, the call of the church is to sit in the forsakenness. To sit in the pain and the suffering. To show up in the despair. To listen. To act with love. As a denomination, we do that when we listen deeply to Indigenous peoples, when we proclaim “Black lives matter,” and when we encourage everyone who will listen, to pay attention to the needs of those who are relegated to the margins of society.
As a denomination, we transform poverty by joining together and giving to the Mission and Service Fund so that we can make a bigger difference than we could on our own.
As a church family, we participate in our Thrift Shop, our Tuesday morning coffee, the Fall Fair, our support of the community fridge and food bank, etc., everything helps.
And as individuals when we show up, listen, and act with love, we to help form the transition from despair to hope. Where there is hope, God is not far away and there is relief from suffering, poverty and work towards justice for all.
In those grinding moments, that makes this seem like an impossible dream, foreign words, someone else’s story gets tacked on. But it isn’t, it’s very much our story.
It’s the genius of Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 inviting us to own both the lament and the praise.
Move the chairs together so that the seats form a bench.
Think of lament and praise not just as isolated chairs but more like a bench. Not as opposites, but as a continuum. Part of the ebb and flow of doing the work of justice. It is normal in doing anything worthwhile to slide between despair and hope. Doing God’s work is not easy.
And we need each other, each to help in their own way. Every little bit helps. That’s why we are connected to congregations across our country. That’s why we are a “United” church. We are united in our call to join our call to serve, to support, to celebrate together when the going is easy and encouraging each other when things are difficult.
That is why the contrast of Psalm 22 and 23 fit together so well. We are invited to gaze out at the green pastures and the still waters of Psalm 23 and hear the whispers to us that even in the darkest valleys, “I am here”.
Life happens. Sometimes we are the ones called to show up in the midst of despair, to listen and act in love. Sometimes in doing so, we can despair that what we are doing isn’t enough. That’s when the God Spirit, inside each of us, feeds and encourages us, “Goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.”
And that restoring enough to get us off the bench and take another step on the path of love, stewardship and justice for which we are all called.