Pantry Times. Despite busy lives, we cook a large meal for the destitute twice a month at St. James Park in downtown San Jose. The meal typically feeds 40-60 people. We usually cook the night prior, and warm the food in the morning before distribution. If you would like to cook, serve warm food, or witness with us, please contact Mr. & Mrs. Bartlett (also cell: 408-564-2435). We can always use help either by potluck or joining us for an evening cook at our home followed with the joy of family prayer. The essay below give scriptural as well as a traditional basis for works of mercy like feeding the poor. Please join us!
“For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt surely open thy hand unto thy brother, to thy needy, and to thy poor, in thy land” Deut. 15.11 (ASV)
Almsdeeds Commanded. Our Almonry launched in the early part of January 2013. Our rationale for making a public pantry was simple: First, works of mercy Glorify the Lord, and as Christian people we are exhorted by the Apostle to remember the needy, “Comfort the feeble minded, lift up the weak, and be charitable toward all men” (1 Thess. v, 14). And again: “To do good to the poor, and to distribute alms gladly, see that thou do not forget; for with such sacrifices is God pleased” (Heb. xiii, 16). Second, it is good for our children to witness a charitable example with their parents. Since our family reads the litany every Friday, we consequently beseech the Lord “to defend, and provide for, the fatherless children, and widows, and all who are desolate and oppressed” (BCP, p. 56-57).
Although we sometimes find it difficult to meet our own ends, we usually find ways to deck our table with food. Food can be inexpensive– like rice, noodles, hamburger, chicken, beans, and punch. Moreover, the Lord promises to especially provide for us if we’ve been charitable to others. The book of Homilies says, “stick not to give alms freely, and trust notwithstanding, that God’s goodness will minister unto us sufficiency and plenty, so long as we shall live in this transitory life, and, after our days here well spent in his service and the love of our brethren, we shall be crowned with everlasting glory” (Book of Homilies, p. 399). And, “if we will first seek the kingdom of God, and do the works of righteousness thereof, we shall not be left destitute, all other things shall be given to us plenteously.” ibid, p. 397 The example of the poor widow is given who gave her last meal to the prophet Elias (1 Ki. xvii). Though we lack material goods, ultimately the Lord shall supply our wants. Hence, works of mercy are predicated upon a trust in Jehovah’s attributes as very liberal and plentiful.
Some might then ask,”who is my brother?” The time of the Homily’s compiling is curious because it belongs to the Tudor period where every countryman is a churchman. This polity is similar to OT Israel where Jehovah commands the Jews should “open their hand unto their brethern that were poor and needy in the land” Deut 15:11. Though England’s (and English-peoples’) covenanted commonwealth is largely dissipated, there is a sense which the poor remain our brethren by simple reason of their humanity. The Homily speaks quite literally about the “poor” being the “least of Christ” as well as even “his little ones”. Yet, the Homily does not spiritualize or dismiss the worldly poor as if it only included the humble or those mysteriously elect. Rather, it seems to include anyone who lacks physical sustenance. For example, the Homily describes quenching thirst as a very literal act, “Christ doth declare by this how much he accepteth our charitable affection toward the poor, in that he promiseth a reward unto them that give but a cup of cold water in his name to them that have need thereof” (Homilies, p. 387). The poor are certainly the meek at heart, but they are also those generally needy or otherwise forgotten. Perhaps the worldly poor remain among us to remind ourselves of true poverty when we are fallen from the love of God?
Jehovah’s Love. The Homilist speaks of two offices for charity (Book of Homilies, p. 71). The first office is caring for the infirm, elderly, or very young. The second office involves those idle or prone to criminality who are properly corrected by the mercy of governors. Though we’ve experienced viscous men who cut in line, demand food, or were drunk at our servings, we’ve also had opportunity to feed children, widows, and persons no longer capable– for reasons of disability– of earning a living. To viscous poor, we read scripture, pray, and offer tracts urging moral reform (see Tracts below). But to all men, regardless of circumstance, we wish their heavenly favor. Indeed, though we do not know the mystery of God’s will, we know His mercy is given to all men; so we are also forbearing.
Evidently, there is a sense the poor are indeed “brethren” according to God’s design. The Prayer Book catechism describes God’s economy of working Love, “I learn to believe in God the Father, who hath made me, and all the world. Secondly, in God the Son, who hath redeemed me, and all mankind.” In so far as God the Father made creation and sustains it by His infinite Love, so we ought to Love His creatures. Indeed, his Love is the fountain of our own, and such holy tempers borne by Love ought to rule our heart. Likewise, in the sense the Son redeemed all mankind–even while they were his enemy– we also shew mercy to all men. The famous hymnist, Charles Wesley, in O Thousand Tongues, says, “ See all your sins on Jesus laid: The Lamb of God was slain; His soul was once an offering made For every soul of man“ (Hymn 1, Collections). His, perhaps more celebrated brother, John Wesley speaks of God’s Love in terms of both these creative and redemptive principles. Wesley says of our creation, “the persons intended by ‘our neighbor’ are, every child of man, everyone that breathes the vital air, all that have souls to be saved” Sermons, p. 340. In terms Christ’s redemption, Wesley soon adds,
“‘if any man ask, who is my neighbor?’ we reply, every man in the world; every child of his who is the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Nor may we in any wise except our enemies or the enemies of God and their own souls. But every Christian loveth these also as himself, yea ‘as Christ loved us’. He that would more fully understand what manner of love this is, may consider St. Paul’s description of it. It is ‘long-suffering and kind’. It ‘envieth not’. It is ‘not rash or hasty’ in judging. It is ‘not puffed up’; but maketh him that loves, the least, the servant of all’ p. 7, Sermons.
The American Articles of Religion (1801) commends the second and ‘former’ (or first) Book of Homilies since both volumes “contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine”. Nonetheless, there’s some question how far the doctrine in the Homilies applies respecting matters like ceremony or even good works. Regarding the latter, especially almsdeeds, the Homily makes great use of the apocryphra, quoting from Tobith how wholesome and profitable it is to relieve the needy and help the afflicted, “Mercifulness and almsgiving purgeth from all sins, and delivereth from death, and suffereth not the soul to come into darkness”. And from the apocryphral book of Sirach, “as water quencheth burning fire, even so mercy and alms resisteth and reconcileth sins” (p. 389). However, the Homilist is quick to understand these verses according to scriptural truth, so not defacing Christ’s merit nor shedding ‘His blood in vain’. Thus, almsgiving like all good works are meant,
“that God, of his mercy and especial favor towards them whom he hath appointed to everlasting salvation, hath so offered his grace effectually, and they have so received it fruitfully, that, although by reason of their sinful living outwardly they seemed before to have been the children of wrath and perdition, yet now, the Spirit of God mightily working in them unto obedience to God’s will and commandments, they declare by their outward deeds and life, in shewing of mercy and charity, which cannot come but of the Spirit of God and his especial grace, that they are the undoubted children of God, appointed to everlasting life” p. 390
The above squares with our Articles which say “we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God , without the grace of God by Christ preventing us”. Having established the cause of good works, the Homily continues to explain why almsgiving completes our salvation working in Love:
“that we, doing these things according to God’s will and our duty, have our sins indeed washed away and our offences blotted out, not for the worthiness of them, but by the grace of God which worketh all in all; and that for the promise that God hath made to them that are obedient unto his commandment, that he which is the Truth might be justified in performing the truth due to his true promise. Almsdeeds do wash away our sins, because God doth vouchsafe then to repute us as clean and pure, when we do them for his sake” p. 392
Giving Thanks. As a general rule, we make hot food in the winter and cold in the summer, serving perhaps a thousand meals from our table scraps since 2013. The people we have fed have been generally thankful and polite, though we reserve, for more than a few, moralistic tracts against swearing, drunkenness, and whoredom. As a habit we read scripture aloud, briefly exhort upon the text, and then bless the meal with a prayer (taken from the ’28 BCP), namely, “Remember in pity such as are this day destitute, homeless, or forgotten of their fellow-men”. Grace at meat aims to remind men of God’s general, if not particular, benevolence, and the similar charity we owe our neighbor. So, meat without prayer is a kind of gluttony that risks forgetting the Love of God, so says the Homilist:
“feasting and banqueting maketh men forgetful of their duty towards God, when they give themselves to all kinds of pleasure, not considering nor regarding the works of the Lord, who hath created meats and drinks, as St. Paul saith, to be received thankfully of them that believe and know the truth. So that the very beholding of these creatures, being the handywork of Almighty God, might teach us to use them thankfully, as God hath ordained.” p. 298
Of course, the idea of thanks for meat has eucharistic overtones, but the primitiveness of the common meal found its way back into Protestant devotion partly by the popularization of methodistic Love feasts. Here, the methodists typically sung their blessing upon the meal (often consisting of simple buns with water or tea), usually inspired by the poetry of John Cennick, “Be present at our table, Lord; Be here and everywhere adored; Thy creatures bless; and grant that we; May feast in paradise with Thee” Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Lewis Bayley’s Practice of Piety, a Puritan devotional book of wide-circulation in the 17th-century, also explains why we bless our meal, “After every meal, be careful of thyself and thy family, as Job was for himself and his children (Job i.4), lest that, in the cheerfulness of eating and drinking, some speech slipped out, which might be either offensive to God or injurious to man; and therefore with the like comely gesture and reverence give thanks to God, and pray…”. So, Bayley asks the Lord at mealtime,
“give us grace to receive them soberly and thankfully, as from thy hands; that so, in the strength of these and thy other blessings, we may walk in the uprightness of our hearts, before thy face, this day, and all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen”
So, right use really depends on Christ’s preventing power within us making our object the Love of God. This is why we pray for Christ to be present among us at meat. Charles Wesley writes,
“Jesu, we thy promise claim; We are met in they great name; In the midst thou appear, Manifest thy presence here! Sanctify us, Lord, and bless! Breathe thy Spirit, give thy peace: Thou thyself within us move, Make our feast a feast of Love. Let the fruits of grace abound; Let in us thy bowels found, Faith, and love, and joy increase, Temperance and gentleness, Plant in us thy humble mind, Patient, pitiful, and kind: Meek and lowly let us be, Full of goodness, full of thee.” Collections, Hymn 506
Thus, we have a description of Love working righteousness in our hearts, namely, the Holy Ghost, and therefore Christ, ruling our tempers whereby good works are borne. Where grace, even the common sort, is abused, Christ’s presence is absence, so prayers over meat can be seen as a plea for ‘right use’. Thus, we bless our relation to the food; namely, we “satisfy our bodies” without neglecting the profits of the soul, i.e.,the Love of the Lord and our neighbor.
Our Rule. As Anglicans stirred by olden methodistic practice, our family follows Wesley’s General Rule. Wesley’s Rule required the love of all men, including the worldy poor. Therefore, we apply these tenets to feeding, plus sometimes correcting, the indigent. It says ,
“It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation… By doing good, by being in every kind merciful after their power, as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as is possible, to all men… To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.”