A Gift of Inspiration

Message for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A (4/30/2023)

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

John 10:1-10


If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Bonney Lake Food Bank on highway 410, it’s well worth your while. What an amazing experiment in building community. If we have some conventional ideas about what a food pantry ought to be, the Bonney Lake Food Bank challenges them all.

At first glance, you’d never know it was a food bank. The sign outside the building reads “The Market,” and every aspect of the customer experience matches the name. There are no long lines, no eligibility constraints, no cap on available items. Instead, the space is elegantly laid out like a grocery store, complete with neatly stocked nonperishables, locally sourced meats and veggies, specialty foods, and spices. Signs are printed in multiple languages, and culturally specific foods are widely available. Customers are free to select what they need and leave what they don’t, and when they’re finished shopping they pass through one of several checkout counters where their items are recorded for inventory purposes. Finally, when checkout is complete, there’s a toy bin for customers who want to reward their cooperative children, and a coffee station for those who want to reward themselves. Friendly associates, paid and volunteer, are available to help at every point along the way.

Why such a purposeful approach? What’s the philosophy? Hear from CEO Stacey Crnich in her own words:

One of the most damaging roadblocks to seeking food resource[s] is the stigma and shame that occurs in the process. Sometimes people silently suffer just so they don’t have to experience this. Shame leaves an imprint that can last a lifetime. We know this. So what is preventing us from trying to change [it]?

The Market is daring to imagine the possibility of eliminating this stigma and believes that no child in our community needs to experience shame due to hunger. With innovation and a dignity forward approach, we are actively changing the narrative of food insecurity in real time. This project is about food justice [versus] food charity.[1]

The aim, in other words, is to honor the whole person in community with other people. The Market’s design breaks with our assumptions about need and provision, emphasizing abundance in terms of both resources and relationships – there’s enough food to go around, yes, and there’s enough dignity. And, since everyone at The Market is equal in worthiness, absent is the notion that “beggars can’t be choosers”; when access to food is a right and not a privilege, no one is a beggar in the first place.

Peace Councilmember Jen Berube and I witnessed all this for ourselves on a visit this past week, and we were compelled. Still, you might be wondering, can The Market maintain its success? Is the commitment to shared abundance really sustainable in the long run?

If it sounds too good to be true, consider the famous depiction of the early church in our first reading from Acts today:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This description has become the “emblem of the early Christian community.”[2] And, although commentators fall all over themselves to insist that this arrangement was short-lived and ultimately impractical, Acts 2:42-47 nonetheless remains a model for Christian community. That is to say, this portrait of genuine devotion to God and genuine love for neighbor is “a vision of what could be.”[3] We have to scale the mountain and get a glimpse of the Promised Land before we can take the necessary steps to reach it. And, in spite of our misgivings, what better season than Easter to dream of what is possible with God?[4]

The image of the early church in Acts, like the example The Market is striving to set in Bonney Lake, is a gift of inspiration. It prompts us to ask again and again, what is truly abundant life, to borrow Jesus’ phrase in our Gospel from John today, and how are we primed to partake in it? In other words, what does a shared investment in community actually look like? And for Christians, how can our faith and generosity generate a spirit of unity, breaking free from existing structures for the sake of something better?

Easter is an occasion to affirm that God is not finished with us yet, no matter the direness of the circumstances we face in our world today. There is still a vision for the appointed time,[5] and God is still sweeping us up into the movement to make that vision a reality.

Consider, for instance, a new project at The Market aimed at expanding access to food throughout the region. Rather than require customers to shop at the main location, The Market is installing lockers at various sites in Bonney Lake and beyond where custom orders are available for pick-up twenty-four hours a day. With both public and private support, and by the leadership of your Council, Peace Lutheran Church is seeking to become a site for food lockers in Downtown Puyallup. So, stay tuned!

Friends, come to the table this morning and receive the good things God has prepared for you there. There are no eligibility constraints, so you need not bring anything except your hunger. Since the Lord is your shepherd, you shall not want. And, since the Lord is your shepherd, you can expect him to lead you from here to an even longer table, to a place where divisions between deserving and undeserving are permanently erased, where goodness and mercy never fail, and where abundant life flourishes once and for all.

[1] www.bonneylakefoodbank.org/ceo.

[2] Susan B.W. Johnson, in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, 426.

[3] Timothy B. Hare, in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, 427.

[4] See Matt Skinner, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-easter/commentary-on-acts-242-47-2.

[5] Habakkuk 2:3.

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