Word for Word

by Rev. Grant VanderVelden

“If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” – Acts 16:15
They say no good deed goes unpunished, but in the case of the monthly Waukon Community Meals that we host in our Fellowship Hall in cooperation with other churches and organizations, it’s more like no good deed goes uncriticized.
There’s some buzzing in the cafes and on the street corners about the fact that people who aren’t “poor” are coming to the meals.
I’m not sure how anyone can judge accurately and fairly whether someone is “poor”– if indeed we should be judging in the first place! Those who organize the meals truly hear Christ’s call to “feed my sheep,” and I’m not sure how we in good faith could stand at a gated, fenced-off doorway and make someone “prove” that he or she is “poor” before allowing him or her to sit down and enjoy a hot meal. Neither am I sure what “proof” would be adequate.
But I am sure that there’s more poverty in that fellowship hall than meets the eye on the last Monday of the month. What I’ve learned – from actually talking with our guests – is that there are all kinds of poverty, and Scripture bears that out.
Acts 16 tells the story of Lydia, a successful businesswoman who deals in purple cloth. By economic standards, Lydia is not poor, yet she suffers from another kind of poverty. Despite all her riches, Lydia has a poverty of spirit, a certain insufficiency of faith, and a hunger that needs feeding. And along comes the apostle Paul, whose path crosses with Lydia’s in Philippi, along a riverbank, where Lydia gathers with other women for prayer. A simple man with little more to show for himself than the clothes on his back, Paul offers all that he has to address Lydia’s poverty and feed her hunger.
Paul shares the Word of God with Lydia, and the Holy Spirit draws her to the place of proclaiming Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Paul addresses Lydia’s poverty of relationship with God, and in thanksgiving, Lydia opens the doors of her home to Paul, his traveling missionary companions, and other new converts in Philippi. Lydia’s conversion generates a spirit of holy hospitality that builds relationships and creates community, and that same Holy Spirit is who’s moving us to follow Lydia’s lead.
Yes, there are people of some financial means who come to the meals, but like Lydia, some of those people struggle with a different kind of poverty – a poverty of relationship. Many of our monthly guests typically eat their evening meal alone. It’s hard to cook a decent meal for just one person, and it’s not very appetizing to face the prospect of eating alone night after night. And there’s even poverty of relationship in busy families whose jam-packed schedules make eating supper together a rare occurrence.
From singles, widows, widowers, mom and dads, I regularly hear thanks and appreciation for the community meals, which are addressing this poverty of relationship that exists in and around Waukon. And many of these people – in gratitude for what we and other churches are doing – are sharing their financial treasure to make sure that the poverty that exists in their lives and in this community is knocked down a peg or two – poverty that’s as much relational as it is economic.
It’s no secret that we’re ever-more becoming separated by race, class, and politics, so a little community-building that brings different people of God’s equal creation into closer relationship is a very, very good and a very, very holy thing.
That’s the surprising work of the Holy Spirit that takes place in Waukon, in God’s house, in our Fellowship Hall, among a group of strangers who are becoming friends – just as it did in Philippi, on the riverbank, at Lydia’s house, among other hungry people starved for meaningful relationships.