The Pastor’s Pen – October 15, 2017

IMG_4150hunger is a local issue…

October 15, 2017

 

Today marks the first time we will be celebrating a second opportunity to share the Lord’s Supper each month.  And as I tried to share a couple of weeks back, while our first Sunday sharing will continue to pretty much follow the worship pattern we are used to, I plan to take the third Sunday each month to focus in on an issue of concern for us as a people of faith.

As our Book of Order states: “The Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice of praise and a sign of our gratitude for God’s steadfast love.  The Lord’s Supper also reflects our calling to feed others as we have been fed.  The Lord’s Supper is at once God’s gift of grace, God’s means of grace, and God’s call to respond to that grace. Through the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit renews the Church in its identity and sends the Church to mission in the world.  We recommit ourselves to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.

So, coming together to share the one cup and to break bread together is not just a sign or symbol of our common faith, it is not just a ‘worship event’ we do out of religious duty periodically each month, but rather it is an opportunity to be challenged by the Holy Spirit and to respond actively both personally and through the ministry of our church.  Each third Sunday we will be blessed to encounter a theme of challenge by the Holy Spirit which by grace will help to guide and to lead us into ways of being a more effective force for love within our own community.

Our theme this month is hunger and it is my hope that by the end of our time together in worship today we each will have been challenged to look a little more closely at this issue which is of great concern to so many in need.

And it is not just an issue that solely affects others in foreign lands, although the poor and disenfranchised are to be found everywhere humankind has settled, but rather hunger is an issue that is of deep concern right here in our own community.  Many are those who spend each day hungry, and many more are those who are forced to dwell in a place of ‘food insecurity’.  Food Insecurity is defined as: lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.  And studies show that fully “60 percent of our nation’s population is classified as food-insecure”, including many within our own area as we shall see later on.

Theologian Leonardo Boff contends, “The most threatened of nature’s creatures today are the poor: 79% of humankind lives in the immense and poor south; 1 billion people live in the state of absolute poverty; 3 billion (out of 5.3 billion people on earth) do not have enough to eat; 60 million die of hunger every year;  and 14 million young people under fifteen years of age die each year as a result of hunger-caused diseases.  There is practically no solidarity among human beings for dealing with this dramatic situation.  Most of the well-off countries do not even devote 0.7% of their gross national product (GNP), which is the amount prescribed by the United Nations for aid to needy countries.  The richest country, the United States, devotes barely 0.15% of its GNP…

Now admittedly this does address those who are poor and many of whom are not from around here, however in the last several decades there have been some major changes to the financial health of our own region causing many more people and families to be added to the ranks of those who go to sleep each night feeling hungry.  Those factors include the deep downturn in the market of 2008 which forced many who were previously stable to begin to seek out various sources of support as they looked futilely for a new job.  That fact coupled with many older folks in our community who are living on fixed incomes who are being strapped with ever increasing local tax burdens contributed as well to forcing many to have to choose between sufficient food on the table or a roof over their heads.      And finally, the influx of immigrants from other lands seeking out a better future for their family was also a contributing factor in increasing the number of those in need of reasonable food prices and assistance from local food pantries.  While these individuals are much like our own ancestors were and willing to work hard to get established, deeply entrenched prejudice and fear on the part of many within our community and nation along with local and federal government policies arrayed against them make these neighbors of ours some of the most in need within our community.

At the moment we have two primary outreach ministries to our community within our church.  We seek to feed the hungry through our food pantry initiatives and to clothe those in need through the ministry of our Blue Door Thrift Shop.  Each week we are blessed to serve many within our community who are in need and who are extremely grateful that we are there for them.  However I feel that there are ways we can do even more within these existing two outreaches and I invite all to join with me in prayer asking the Spirit of our Lord to reveal to us how we might be an even greater source of comfort and supply for our neighbors and friends.  And I challenge the Church Council as well to continue to look for ways to increase our ability not only to serve our community but also to find effective ways to partner with others in our area to multiply this outreach such that more are able to find sufficient healthy food to meet their need.

Each week we are given many donations of clothing and housewares along with substantial donations of food from the Acme Market.  This food, along with critical foodstuffs we are able to procure through the Hudson Valley Food Bank allow us to reach out to many who depend on our assistance to lessen their food insecurity.  But it is so important to always remember that it is not we ourselves who are the source of this grace we extend, but rather our Lord who is the one who provides all of our own needs and sufficient resources to be able to offer this ministry to others.  If we are doing a good thing, it is that we are allowing ourselves to be used of God as a channel through which love and grace might flow outward to those who come seeking assistance.

Currently, much of the focus and conversation regarding how we might begin to build more ‘sustainable communities’ is solely on humankind’s relationship with and responsibility for the natural realm, for the environment as a whole.  I would hold that such an understanding needs to be broadened to include a deep responsibility to and for our fellow human beings, whoever and wherever they may be.  True sustainability, in fact truly grace-filled living as people of faith, must include the prospering of all of Creation including a responsibility for the equitable distribution of all natural resources including food between the center and the margins of our society, and a conscious and determined effort to willingly and graciously share the surpluses of the center with those less fortunate.

In this way those surpluses would reacquire a holiness of purpose and become a tool of peace and caring rather than potentially a tool of division, control, and fear.  It is my firm conviction that in a just and holy world a healthy earth produces in abundance, and that abundance is sufficient to feed, to clothe, and to care for all of humankind in a healthful manner.  In this we have the true fullness of sustainability- the sustainability of a whole and healthy natural realm and the mutual Godly care of humankind one for another.  The “fruit of the earth” must be recast as “the bread of sufficiency for all”, that all might live in authentic and compassionate relationship with the earth, with our fellow humans, and with God.

…and again from Matthew’s gospel…

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry..?”

        “The Lord will answer…, ‘I tell you the truth… whatever you do for one of the least of these…

…the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, co-bearers with you of my image…

…whatever you do to restore, to preserve, and to honor the breath of life within the Creation I made for you, the Creation I myself called “good”…

…the Creation I gave to you for your abundant enjoyment’…

…the Creation still waiting for my final pronouncement that indeed “all is good”.

“Whatever you do for my image bearers or for the health and wholeness of my creation…

…that you do unto me”…

 

Oh Lord our God, let us ever hasten to the task you place before us, to hear the cries of need and to do all we are able to feed our brothers and sisters in need…Lord bless our efforts as we seek to honor you…amen

 

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