16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
The Share Table
Presenter:Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date:Sun, 08/29/2010
It was one of those accidental conversations that happen after the kids get home from school as everyone is going in different directions getting homework done and collecting snacks. My son mentioned that he needed money for the cafeteria again. In fact, he had needed money for several days - so many days, actually, that even Montgomery County’s free-cheese-sandwich-while-you-remember-to-give-your-parent-that-crumpled-slip-in-the-bottom-of-your-backpack allotment had run out, and the cafeteria lady had cut him off that day.
Being completely cut off, apparently, is a decent enough incentive to get your mom that reminder slip.
I don’t know if other parents are like this, but I have a visceral, panicked reaction to the idea of my kids not eating. (I have the same reaction, just for the record, to the prospect of my kids being cold.) So upon hearing about the empty lunch account, I immediately, well, shrieked, “You didn’t eat LUNCH today???” to which I got a roll of the eyes, much like the eye roll I get when I suggest that socks might be appropriate garb for 50 degree weather. “No, mom, I was fine,” my son said. “I just grabbed something off the Share Table.”
I had never heard of the Share Table in all my years of parenting elementary aged children.
“You know, it’s the table where if you don’t want something in your lunch, you put it on there, and if you like something there or you forgot your lunch or something, you go there and get something.” He went on to describe how the Share Table enables him to regularly score extra pizza on Fridays and, on one golden day, a second serving of the precious and apparently delectable Cheese Dippers. My fear of him not eating quickly dissipated into horror over what he WAS eating, but I was able to overcome all of that because of my delight, my pure and utter delight over there being a Share Table at school at all.
What a great idea, for a school with the regular number of kids who throw away half or more of their lunch every day, and with a good number of kids who may not have as much food at home as they need. What an elegant solution to the age-old, “I hate my lunch” problem.
And what a perfect, perfect metaphor for what I hope all of us, adults and children, can add more of in our everyday lives. I love the idea, the simplicity and ease of a whole group of people who, when they don’t need something, offer it up for someone who does need it to take. I imagine scenarios where the item or offering is so undervalued by the giver that the giving of it seems natural, that they’re delighted to give because it is so obviously not right for them. And then I imagine the taker, the recipient, who has such a need for the item, and the grace and miracle of finding that offering just there for the taking, with a giver happy just to get the thing off their hands! What symmetry, I love it.
It fits right into my theological conviction that we are all individual puzzle pieces, and when we fit together in the right way, we make a vast and complicated and miraculously beautiful puzzle that likely has a picture on it of the very nature of the universe itself, the face of God.
The trick being, of course, to find ways for our puzzle pieces to fit with each other comfortably. That’s not too easy, but that’s why we come to church, to figure that all out.
The elementary school Share Table may not be bringing you to this happy place in the way it has me, especially if you are thinking about your carefully packed lunches, your hard earned money, or your desire to monitor your child’s nutritional intake. Perhaps it would be easier to share in my glow if I talk about four other places in our society at large where the Share Table concept is being put into practice.
The first example is Freecycle.org . As many of you likely know, Freecycle is a website begun in Arizona in 2003 by a guy who worked for a non-profit recycling organization. Rather than watching perfectly good, but unwanted, items be thrown away, he launched a website where folks could list the things they wanted to get rid of, like furniture and televisions and baby gear and so on, and others who needed those things could contact the givers and simply pick up the goods. With a couple of ground rules – such as that all transactions need to be “free, legal, and appropriate for all ages,” and can’t involve the giving away of people in any form, the website now supports free exchanges of goods between people in “85 countries, where there are thousands of local groups representing millions of members.” Freecycle’s website claims to be keeping over 500 tons a day out of landfills. Ecologically impressive, to be sure, but even more, it’s socially elegant, an easy way to meet a need with a service with little fuss and no cost. I love it.
But even more, I love the two examples of Share Tables that have been mentioned in local newspapers over the past few months, both relating to health concerns.
In May, the Gazette reported on a new nonprofit organization that has been started by a Gaithersburg resident and physical therapist named Claire Wong. Wong found herself working with several families that had members with special needs who couldn’t afford particular sorts of medical equipment that would greatly enhance their quality of life. She also knew of other families who had equipment they no longer needed or which didn’t fit anymore. Her non-profit brings these two groups together.
The Gazette article talks about a family who have a child named Christopher with cerebral palsy. Christopher had an adequate wheelchair, but it so happened that his wheelchair wasn’t tall enough to reach the home dinner table. As a result, Christopher was unable to eat with the rest of the family at mealtimes, which was not only inconvenient but further separated him out from everyone else. A new wheelchair would cost $3000 and would not be paid for by insurance.
Wong hooked Christopher’s family up with another family who had the exact wheelchair that Christopher wanted, but which wasn’t meeting their needs at all. A quick transfer of goods, and now Christopher just pulls up to the dinner table and joins in the food and conversation with the rest of the family. His mom reports that it’s made a world of difference . Another Share Table, an easy exchange for the good of all.
But most impressive of all is the Share Table that was created when, between May 26 and June 12th of this year, 28 people became involved in a chain of 14 kidney transplants in the Washington area. Let’s say your wife needs a kidney, but yours isn’t a good match for her. That happened to Brenda and Ralph Wolfe. Brenda ended up being the lucky recipient of a kidney donation from another person who died accidentally. After that transplant, the Wolfes could have called themselves fortunate and gone home to rest and recover. But Ralph had been planning to donate his kidney, and he knew how many people there were out there waiting. So he went ahead and donated his kidney anyway, to a man named Gary Johnson. Johnson’s wife then donated her kidney to a guy in Arlington. The Arlington guy’s sister gave a kidney to another woman from Temple Hills. And so on.
14 kidneys, 28 people, gathered around their Share Table. Three of the donors had no connection to someone who needed a kidney – they weren’t anyone’s husband or sister - but they just wanted to help out. The director of transplantation services at the Washington Hospital Center thinks it was the “largest [kidney exchange] within a single city.”
And where would those people have been, if there was no Share Table for them? Just hoping that luck would go their way, like it did for that first couple, the Wolfes? But what if luck didn’t turn out for them? The difference between the Share Table and blind luck is that with the Share Table, people get cared for deliberately, not accidentally. The Share Table is a community taking care of each other on purpose, not letting some folks get by easier because they are more fortunate, and others fall by the wayside because things didn’t work out so well this time around. A Share Table means you notice each other, and you’re aware of each other’s needs. A Share Table means that you care enough to do the minimum, the bare minimum of offering to fill the needs of others with stuff or services you have that you don’t even really want anymore.
The fourth example of a Share Table happens at church – at least when church is at its best.
One way the Share Table happens is with the work of the church. There’s a lot of chatter and concern here about volunteerism, because it takes rather a lot of work to run a church, and in a small church, almost everyone just has to help out in some way. That happens here at Sugarloaf.
What I love about church volunteering is that it’s run along a Share Table model. The church is the one with the needs, in this model. Let’s say we need someone to maintain the lawn mowers. Or make sure we have adequate insurance. Or take care of babies on Sunday mornings. Or stand up here and give a sermon. Or talk to our teenagers about sex. Or play us a hymn on the piano. Or create a budget plan. Or plan a party for everyone to attend.
I’m sure there is at least one of those tasks that makes you shudder, just as I am sure that there is at least one of those tasks that you could do pretty well and gladly. The person sitting next to you, however, may well have responded to your most hated and most loved tasks in a completely different way. In a church with enough diversity, a church that is able to be welcoming to enough different sorts of people, matching folks with the work of the church becomes easy. All you have to do is ask people to come up to the Share Table and give the thing they are most happy to give, that which is the easiest for them to give. They can give the thing that makes them feel the most alive to give, and the rest of us do the same, and we all benefit, and the work of the church gets done.
That’s one sort of congregational Share Table. It’s an important one, but there is another one that is more so. The more important one is the Share Table implied by our reading today, the emotional and existential one where each of us shows up with our little patch of quilt, and we all do the work of stitching our patches together to see what kind of quilt we end up with in the end, and who we can cover with it.
Remember the reading – some of our little patches are neat and clean, cautiously preserved, while others have been carefully repaired. Some of our patches are shredded and worn, held together with scotch tape, and some need to be mended before they can be added on to the quilt. But all the patches belong, and all the people with the patches give to the quilt and also benefit from the quilt. That is what makes us a community, an intentional one and, on our good days, a beloved one.
It makes you wonder what a congregation needs most in order to succeed in our quest towards community. Certainly having loving intention towards each other is important. That’s what leads to the creation of the metaphorical Share Table to begin with, the idea that when people in our community need something, then they should be given it somehow. That’s an important baseline.
But the second most important factor in creating this community of love and intention is surely communication. We need to see each other and to listen to each other and to notice where the needs are.
We can’t have an actual Share Table at the back of the room where we bring our car rides and our hugs and our concern and our friendship and leave them there for someone who needs them to pick up. We can’t create a website where we say, “My kids are grown and I miss them, so if anyone needs some child care, it’s right here – come pick it up anytime!”
In church, we can only create a Share Table through our careful listening to each other, through our gentle questions and our attentiveness and the time we take to understand and to respond to one another. We have to say when we need something and we have to be quick to give when we can. That’s how a Share Table works at church.
Being a Share Table community matters in a world where so many of us are disconnected and get left behind. It is my hope that at Sugarloaf we will continue to foster the good intention and the good communication that it takes to be a true Share Table place. And I hope that our giving is done with joy and ease, and our taking is done knowing that it is only a matter of time and situation before it is you leaving something on the Table, and someone else gratefully taking it away.
(n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2010, from Freecycle: www.freecycle.org