The lay-off of 530 workers from Walmart in April of 2014 happened at Pico Rivera, the store with some of the most vocal leaders in the Our Walmart movement. It was a tough blow to them… and their families. Finding work to replace what was taken from them takes months, sometimes years. And of course those who suffer the most in the short term are those who depend on these workers to provide and put food on the table and pay the bills; their children, spouses and families.
And though I’m sure any Pico Rivera Walmart employees who were transferred to other stores and even those workers at other Walmart stores who were never laid off are grateful to have employment. But because Walmart refuses to pay dignified wages, many are still struggling to make ends meet, and put food on the table for their families.
But as a person of faith, in times of trial like this, and in times when scarcity seems to rule the day, I look to the scriptures of my tradition for hope.
There’s a story from the Gospel of Mark, when a large crowd of people—they say 5,000-- got together… also to hear a word of hope. You see, this gathering of 5,000 people took place RIGHT after one of their leaders—John the Baptist was… taken out… after criticizing the way King Herod conducted business as usual. This leader named a truth that Herod found unpleasant and uncomfortable.
So after Herod lashed out at one of their leaders, this crowd came together looking for hope. And after a long day of talking, and listening, and finding hope with the words of one another and the actions they planned in response… there came a moment when the movement leaders huddled together. One said, “we’ve met all day, said all we can say, now these people are probably hungry and we need to send them out so they can go buy some food for themselves.” And Jesus, one of these leaders said to the others, “no… YOU give them something to eat.”
But all they had was a little bit; just 5 loaves of bread and two fish. How on earth were they going to feed themselves—such a massive crowd?!? This one leader asked them to sit in groups. Then he blessed the bread and fish, and broke them, they shared bits of the bread and fish with each of the groups. The little food they had was multiplied, and at the end of the day, they were ALL able to eat their fill. And after all the food was passed around… in the end there were 12 baskets of broken bread and fish left over.
Many say what happened was a miracle; I take it to mean the crowd somehow pooled together what they already had. Maybe in breaking a little bread, they were simply given hope to see that they already had it in them to meet their every need, and find strength to carry on.
You see, Herod thought that lashing out at this vocal movement leader would break the others. But it only made them stronger—because it brought them together to love and care for one another even more powerfully and discover the strength in their unity.
And now, today, we see bread on this table. It is a symbol of the bread that we all work so hard to put on the tables for our families. It is also is a reminder of our unity, and our strength, and the hope we find in coming together to stand up to the King Herod of our day—Walmart. They think we can be broken by lashing out at some of our vocal leaders. But all they have accomplished is to bring us closer together, and deepen our resolve, and helped us see that in our unity, we can find strength to carry on.
In the end, did King Herod win out in defeating their movement? No, the movement grew and grew and grew to be so much greater than his tiny kingdom.
Today, THIS movement—OUR movement—is launching a food drive to support these workers who were unjustly laid off, and to support any and all Walmart workers who are experiencing food insecurity.
I want to invite CLUE faith leaders to show themselves—we have brought food items as the first offering of this food drive. As part of this food drive, faith communities and other supporters are invited to adopt a Walmart worker to share a story and collect food for workers who have been displaced; it’s open for all Walmart workers who are experiencing food insecurity.
Let’s close now with a blessing.
God of Justice—and provider of our daily bread. You see the pain these Walmart workers have experienced. You know the injustices we have all witnessed. Bless this bread, and the gathered food, so that it might be a symbol, a reminder not only of your presence, but of the strength of our unity. Give us sustenance to persevere and help us look to one another to find hope and stand up to the King Herods of our day, for greater dignity, equality and justice. Amen.
- Rev. Andy Schweibert
First Congregational Church of Pasadena