"I didn't bring a bag. It is my first time here. I didn't know...I-I forgot my bag." The woman's voice spoke at a racing clip, shaking from nervousness and apprehension.
I quickly reassured her that it was absolutely fine that she didn't have a bag. We had plenty of plastic bags at the food pantry and I'd be happy to get her some.
"I'll bring my bag with me next time."
"Even if you don't we'll be happy to provide a bag for you."
A calm seemed to come over my new guest. "I'll be happy to take whatever you have to offer."
For the rest of my time with my new guest I was repeatedly thanked for each item with a spirit of genuine gratefulness. She was thankful for the two boxes of noodles and surprised that she was able to choose her own bread from a variety of options fresh off the Giant Eagle donation truck. When we reached the last table I handed her a box of pancake mix and she gave me a heartfelt thanks. "Thank you so much. I'm new to this and...thank you."
Nothing out-of-the ordinary had been discussed in that woman's short time at the pantry. We didn't talk about her struggles, dreams, or even faith in Jesus Christ. All we did was fill some plastic bags with cans, boxes, fresh fruits and vegetables. But that was all that woman needed. The woman who entered the pantry anxious and filled with nerves left with a renewed calm and peace that was evident on her face. She didn't need me to provide a mini-sermon, she just needed to be accepted.
Isn't that what we are all longing for deep down inside? We are all yearning to be taken in and loved just as we are. When we come to Christ we often come with the same worries that my new friend at the food pantry held in her heart this morning. She came without a bag to hold her food; we come to Christ with more sin than we can carry and we wonder, "Will He take me in this way? Will He love me even though I have a dark past and a troubled present?" Yes, He will take us in. Just as easily I gave that woman a few plastic bags, God will take away our sins and forgive us. It is no trouble for Him, He is happy to relieve us of our guilt and shame when we willingly come before Him seeking repentance, forgiveness and a new way forward.
John 6:37 quotes Jesus as saying, "All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." Receiving what Jesus has to offer - grace, mercy and new life - is as simple as coming to Him. He won't turn us away because we are too old, too lost or too broken. If we come He will always take us in and begin His redemptive work in our lives.
The transformation that God has in mind for each one of His wayward sheep begins when we walk through the door and into His presence. Just like a first-timer at the food pantry the gift can't be received until the person makes the decision to come into the building. Once they are inside they will find that they didn't need to come prepared to be served. They don't even need to know how the system works. They will learn. All that person needs to do is show up and they will be provided food to eat.
Entering God's presence we are offered the greatest food of all, the bread of life. It is free to all who seek to partake because the debt has been paid and the door is open. We simply must take the first step as a newcomer and cross that threshold. When we do we will enter into the presence of God and be accepted, taken in and loved on by our Heavenly Father and Provider who never turns a single one of His beloved children away.