Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018

‘Who did Jesus come to serve?’

By Rev. Trey Hegar, First Presbyterian Church | Sep 22, 2017

Karen volunteered for 20 years as the secretary for the food bank. She arrived first thing on Thursday mornings to unlock the doors, turn on the lights and put on the coffee before the people arrived for food assistance.

Things had really changed at the pantry over the last 20 years. More people needed help, yet there was less money to buy food for the pantry. Plus in the last few years helping at the pantry had become stressful. Some of the volunteers were mad because some of the “needy” didn’t look like they needed help at all. They drove nice cars, smoked cigarettes, and had beer.

The upset volunteers wore on Karen. She often left at the end of the shift feeling angry. She used to feel like she was doing God’s work. She imagined her job at the pantry was like being one of the disciples passing a basket of loaves and fishes with Jesus to feed the hungry. Now, she resented the people in need. She also didn’t want to spend time with the other volunteers because they were bitter, too. Karen told her husband she was ready to quit the pantry.

I was called to lead a board meeting to help save the pantry. I wondered aloud about people cheating the system at the meeting. I asked, “What kind of person would do such a thing?”

The rants quickly began with one voice saying, “A sick person,” and another saying, “A crack head,” and another piped up saying, “Well that lady who doesn’t need help is just stealing from us. She is a thief.”

So then I asked, “Who did Jesus come to serve?” Everybody groaned. They knew the answer. I could feel what they were thinking. It was probably something like “Of course the compassionate, senseless pastor would say that Jesus came to save and serve the sick and the sinner but this is the real world. We don’t want to serve these people. We want to help the ones who are working to help themselves.”

I asked another question, “Do any of you know somebody who owns a business?”

“Yes,” they all said.

“Would you recommend any of these people you described as cheats and thieves to your friends to hire for employment.

“No, of course not!”

“Well, neither will anyone else!”

Then I did something crazy. I invited some of the people who used the pantry to come to our board meeting and serve with us.

I asked them, “Would you hire any of the people who volunteered at the pantry?” They said, “No! Those people think they are better than anyone else. They are rude, except for Mrs. Karen.”

My board members were heartbroken. This was supposed to be a loving ministry. It was broken. The people who ran the pantry were just as poor as the people who needed help. They were all poor in one way or the other. They were all in need of sharing the love of Christ and seeing one another as broken humans in a fallen world.

At that board meeting, a new model of service was proposed. Each person was to be seen as a guest. They were to be offered a cup of coffee as they waited their turn for food. Once it was their turn, they were no longer just handed a bag of canned goods from a grumpy volunteer. Instead they were asked their name and told, “Welcome.” Then they were allowed into the pantry to get whatever they wanted. They walked the isles like it was a small grocery store, picking and choosing their goods. Then when they were done, they were asked if there was anything else they needed. Anything at all! They were asked if they could come back and help. The hierarchy of server and served diminished.

Karen still helps at the pantry. Although she isn’t needed as much. Someone else has taken over her job.

We serve because Christ first served us when we were broken and undeserving. That is the radical hospitality of Jesus who helps all of us sinners and cheats who try to beg and steal our way into heaven. May you serve all as guests like Christ.

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