It took nearly getting struck by lightning for Martin Luther to figure out that his works could not save him.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, Lutherans stand boldly by the belief that nothing we could do could ever justify our lives before God. We also believe that the grace of God frees us to help our neighbor.
We believe this so deeply, that despite all the things we may argue about, Lutherans of different synods, denominations and countries have been able to come together to fight poverty and advocate for justice around the world.
Sometimes, even when we can do nothing but fight with our words, when we stop talking and do service together, we are able to unite as Lutherans in ways much more important than whatever it was we were fighting about.
Imagine what would happen if everyone was infected by the same lightening provoking Spirit that creates an unapologetic, unmovable commitment to faith over works. This is precisely the kind of change our nation’s public conversations need if we are ever going to end hunger in this world of plenty.
Each political cycle, public debate centers around the questions of how much people should have to work to feed others who are unable/unwilling to work because of illness, disability, racism, addiction or luck. After 9/11, food banks became a part of Homeland Security, so the question of who is safe and deserving assistance and support is an ongoing question in hunger politics.
As a pastor who has been working to feed the homeless for the past nine years in San Francisco, it’s pretty easy to see what I believe we ought to do.
Still, I believe that Lutherans have a particular voice in public conversations about how to end hunger. We know for certain that faith is more important than works. Why would we hold our neighbor to a standard higher than God holds for us?
I believe Jesus gave a commandment that we have not been following. In the Gospel of Mark (chapter 6) when the disciples encourage Jesus to let the crowd go so that they can eat, Jesus responds: “You feed them.”
The disciples respond in the familiar voice that I often hear from congregations and individuals who really don’t have money to spare. But still, the commandment remains and Jesus asks the disciples what resources they have and continues to expect them to feed the people who are gathered.
This commandment is echoed in John’s Gospel when Jesus three times commands Peter to: “Feed my sheep.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, I challenged Lutheran congregations to feed the hungry in their neighborhoods and to trust that the resources needed would be found. In response, four congregations (St. Mark’s and St. Paulus in San Francisco, Shepherd of the Hills in Berkeley and Bethlehem in West Oakland) converted their unused land into community gardens that grow food.
We asked for seed donations on Facebook and in the offerings of other congregations who didn’t have land that could be used for gardening, got free soil from the local dump, got tool donations from other congregations, manure from local horse stables and have grown more than 3,000 pounds of food in 11 months with very little money.
There are hungry people in this world of plenty because we’ve neglected God’s commandment to feed people. We’ve forgotten how to be creative when money is tight. We’ve been unwilling to do the manual labor it takes to grow food, and we’ve not used our Lutheran voice to shape hunger policy in our country.
The current economic crisis is our lightening. We must wake up and stop wondering if people are working enough to deserve food. Thanks be to Jesus, who reminds us again and again: “You feed them.”