I first used this account in my Sermon at the Methodist Conference in Huddersfield on Sunday 25th June 2000, using the name “Graham” to maintain confidentiality. The story has been widely used and commented on and I have now spoken with Albert who is happy for his real name to be used.
Albert is homeless. He says people call him a “tramp” and sometimes give him money. He lives on the streets of Sheffield where I have got to know him well. As a walker, he gave me sound advice as I prepared to walk along roads from Sheffield to London. I saw him recently, he was sitting on a concrete bench in the city centre. He had a bandage round his head and one round his foot. “Banged into a wall,” he said.
As we got into conversation, I asked him to help me. “I’m working on a sermon about tables and bread and parties in the wilderness,” I said, “it seems a bit odd but can you help me?”
“ I love bread,” he said.
He reached into a carrier bag beside him. His boots and walking stick were by the bag. Out of the bag he fetched bread.
“I always have bread,” he said, “I know a shop. I turn up just before closing time. They give me a couple of loaves. With it I feed myself and my brothers and sisters who are poor.” He talked to me about all those homeless ones who walk at night as others sleep.
He held out a large round cob.
“This is made from rye. I love it – my favourite,” he said, “try some.”
He broke off a large piece with his rugged hands and held it out to me. I received it and said “Amen” and ate it in bits over several minutes.
As I ate it, he unpacked his carrier bag and brought out different kinds of bread and placed it all on the concrete slab bench which had now become a table. Suddenly I was having a meal, and he was the host. Each loaf was held up and its contents were described. I was given a piece from each loaf.
“You need good red wine with this bread….it would be a good one for your communion at church.”
“You need to eat this bread with cheese….”
All around us a city centre environment with its own beauty, but a wilderness with a lifestyle of grabbing and greed and of profit before people. People racing about. Some sitting down to rest. Before me now a parable of the text: “a table in the wilderness.”
I was being fed by one of the poorest people I know. I was a guest of honour at a table in the wilderness. “You treat me like an honoured guest.”