Saturday, October 16, 2021

Beggars and bread. . .

Everyone in the world knows how, on his death bed, Martin Luther wrote a few words to be his last before he died.   “Wir sind bettler. Das ist wahr.” “We are all beggars. This is true.”   Scripture is filled with stories about beggars and with stories about bread.  It does not take long to put them together.  I do not know who was the first to say it: “We are all mere beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.”  D. T. Niles said that evangelism is just one beggar telling another where there is bread.  Perhaps others said it first.  I do not know.  The key to being a beggar is knowing that you may be hungry but at least you know where to find bread to satisfy the hunger.

We have miracles of few loaves that feed thousands.  We have Jesus saying that He is the bread of life.  We have the Holy Supper in which He gives us His body in bread and His blood in wine.  None of these are strictly figurative or symbolic although they are figures and symbols.  They are not only that.  Jesus does provide bread for the hungry bellies of beggars, in sheep in need of a shepherd.  It was true when He walked the earth with His disciples and it is no less true as He walks with us the glorified and triumphant Savior.  It is true that He is the bread of life who alone satisfies our hunger and it is true that He gives us His real flesh and blood and not some imagined communion in the Eucharist.  It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the hunger.  But it is also the Holy Spirit who emboldens us to offer other beggars the clue to where bread may be found -- where Christ is.  

How terrible it is what we have done with that term evangelism!  How sad that we have made it committee business and presumed that it is about marketing strategies and public relations and the effective use of social media!  How sad it is that the first image we have of evangelism is someone unbidden knocking on the door of the strangers who do not want to talk to them!  How sad it is that have made evangelism a gift instead of an ordinary part of the vocation of all the baptized and rendered it some work for which one must have an aptitude, must be trained, and must work according to a plan!  How sad that we have turned evangelism into our story and presumed that there is something so compelling about our story that it alone will encourage others to know the Lord!  How sad it is that the story we tell says more about us than about the Lord and about our want or need to be in the spotlight!

We are all beggars.  This is true.  Whether we know it or not.  We are all the hungry searching for bread.  Our restless souls will not rest until they rest in the Lord.  Sometimes we feed our hunger with things that cannot satisfy and try refuge in that which cannot provide any rest.  Perhaps most times.  But there is not simply something satisfying about the idea of one beggar telling another where there is bread, but something compelling.

When I first came to this congregation we had a solid wood door to the office end of the building.  Inviting former pastors back, one of them went instinctively to the door to look at it from the side.  He saw the outline.  It was, he said, the panhandlers mark that you can get something from this place.  I could see that it had been painted over many times but was still there -- unnoticed except to those who looked for it.  In the end it explained a lot.

We are all beggars but some beggars know where the bread is.  The Holy Spirit working through the Word and perhaps through people who speak that Word to us have shown us the bread.  Whether we have money and property and incomes and stature in the community, we are all beggars.  And beggars show other beggars the bread.  Perhaps this is why the apostles each had a basket of leftovers from the miracle of loaves and fish multiplied.  If there is enough for leftovers, there is enough for everyone who comes and we need not guard the bread against others.  We are all beggars.  Some of us know where the bread is.  But the miracle of the loaves multiplied is that there is enough for all beggars.  God is not stingy with His grace and we do not compete with others for His goodness and mercy.  Beggars all, let us at least have the wisdom and courtesy to tell other beggars where the bread is.

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