Words of thanks, words of power

Posted on March 27, 2012 by Audrey Riley

Not long ago I read a good book: Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly. (Her second book, Jesus Freak, is pretty good too.)

In brief, her first experience of Eucharist as an adult shakes her down to her shoes, and she acts on that by setting up a food pantry at her congregation, even though she has no idea where to begin. Some of her adventures along the way are hilarious; some are heart-rending. It’s a great story and Miles tells it well.

At one point, a group of high-school kids shows up to volunteer at the pantry. This isn’t their idea; it’s their teacher’s idea, and they’re not especially pleased about it. These are tough kids from a tough neighborhood and they don’t want anything to do with this goody-goody church stuff. But their teacher is tougher than they are, so there they are. Miles puts the kids to work.

As the pantry’s customers go through picking out their poultry and produce, they say “thank you” to the volunteers — to the ones bringing out more food from the back, the ones organizing the shelves, the ones bagging the groceries. Over and over, people say “thank you.” And that melts the kids’ hearts. That’s what turns their stony hearts into hearts of flesh, the words “thank you” spoken to them. It shakes them down to their shoes, that people respond to their acts of service (no matter how grudgingly offered) with thanks. Their lives are transformed.

Powerful, powerful words.

I know how good it feels to say “thank you” because I have so many opportunities to say it. The people who support ELCA World Hunger are so incredibly generous in so many ways — it’s inspiring how dedicated you are to helping people who are hungry. But what really amazes me is that whenever I thank a Hunger Leader for his or her generous service, what does that person always do? Turns around and thanks me!

From Miles’ story about the tough kids whose hearts were touched by other people’s thanks to that sweet little dance of “thank you/no no, thank you,” words of gratitude are powerful. As a fundraiser, I know that. As a Christian, I know that “thank you” is the only possible response to God’s generous and never-ending act of grace, poured out on us like a good measure pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. And that’s why they call it Eucharist.

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