June 24, 2012
Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
1st Reading: Job 38:1-11
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13
I remember in the early planning of the pantry Debbi saying to me, “Maybe one of these days you’ll preach about the pantry.” And now I feel like I preach about the pantry almost every week. King’s Cupboard has become such an integral ministry to King of Kings. It has taken us places I never dreamed we’d go, sometimes headfirst into brick walls and other times with doors and relationships and hearts opening wide before us. I see it as a sign of health that it can continue and be passed down to another set of leaders. I see it as a sign of health that even this old frail congregation can sustain a ministry as big as this and be rejuvenated by it, and experience leadership development by it, and stretch our compassion by it to people we’d never otherwise meet.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus and the disciples get into the boat with a plan to cross to the other side. Many times this congregation has crossed the sea by night. Crossing to the other side means taking a risk. It means going to a place where you aren’t sure you want to go—where there are a lot unknowns. It means crossing boundaries to where you won’t be comfortable, where you might not belong, to the people who are different from you and who you don’t necessarily like. This congregation has headed across the dark seas when you’ve worked through your feelings of betrayal when you were hurt by a previous pastor or two. You’ve risked meeting people you might not like when you opened the church to the homeless for the Westwood Guest House. You’ve stepped onto a listing boat when you started tithing our offerings to help those in need around the world. And in starting the pantry, we took a leap of faith to cross the sea by night, to an unknown destination, where we didn’t know if we’d be welcomed, to unknown perils and risks.
And yet it seemed we couldn’t not go. Trudy was moving away. She’d run the pantry for JOIN clients from her home. The food moved to the church. We had to make room for it. We stuck our big toe in the water as we delivered bag after bag of groceries to people clear out in Gresham to overcrowded apartment buildings, sometimes not even knowing for sure that they’d really be there to get the groceries since they couldn’t afford to pay a phone bill.
So we were saying, we can do better than this. We can be more effective at this. Looking at our gifts, we had space downstairs that went mostly unused. We had supplies taking up room on the shelves—items that hadn’t been used in years. In digging through all that there were some wonderful surprises, purple die cut crosses to give out at Lent, supplies we could use if we just knew they were there, bookmarkers to give out to the kids, craft paper and about glue and on and on. This was the time we were preparing our boat to make the journey. And among our supplies we found a passion for feeding the poor, for crossing boundaries. As people who like to eat and are passionate about it, we found that we wanted others to eat well, too. And we found we had a new member with experience at the Oregon Food Bank with a vision of what would need to happen to get these boats on the water where they would be useful. We had Debbi who had confidence and vision and who could articulate that vision. When she talked about the pantry, she made it come alive in other people’s imaginations. They could imagine crossing this big sea even in the night, not knowing exactly what would be on the other side, but trusting in her experience and God’s providing to help guide us across.
Once you embark on God’s journey, you want it to feel like a blessing right? Don’t you know it will be smooth sailing if God is on your side? Not so much. God’s journeys are fraught with peril. Inevitably, you get a distance from shore and the storm comes blowing in. I was looking through this list in 2 Corinthians of all that they had been through as they were serving the Lord, every kind of terrible thing—beatings, hunger, imprisonment. Well the pantry hasn’t been that difficult, but I could easily call to mind a list of storm contents faced by the pantry, arguments between those in line for food, language and cultural barriers, boxes of rotting produce, the cost of pears and cauliflower, volunteers who don’t let you know whether they can come help, the ambulance being called a couple of times for clients who fell, somebody’s kid running loose clogging the toilet with TP, a volunteer who isn’t being friendly and welcoming, a client who takes more than their share, somebody’s bags of groceries going missing, and on and on. It is a regular soap opera here some Thursdays!
And we’re in the boat rowing to where we’re supposed to go. And we’re getting grouchy with each other—everyone loses patience occasionally. And we’re yelling at God, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing here!” Shouldn’t God give us an easy ride since we’re doing what we’re supposed to?
Of course it doesn’t work that way. Following Jesus means following the road to the cross. And it isn’t an easy road. We’re marching to our death. I don’t mean our literal death, but that we are marching to the place where we let go of
expectations, where we let go of who we thought we were. We thought we were this compassionate, welcoming church. We’re about to find out if we really are, when someone’s kid colors on the back of the pew. We said we wanted children, well here they are. Are we willing to deal with it, with grace? Will we reach out in love to that family or will we get excited that the furniture is getting ruined? Do we care more about our things than our relationships? Is there a way to take care of what God has given us (our church building) and take care of what God has given us (the people of God here on Thursdays who need lots of love but sometimes aren’t that easy to love.)
And here we are rowing, not sure if God is noticing, hoping that God will make it easier for us, and we don’t hear a peep from the bow of the ship. Our Sunday church attendance is staying the same. We’re getting tired of rowing—some of our volunteers are experiencing fatigue. We’re not sure if we’ll have enough bread this week. “Answer us, God! Wake up!” we shout.
Through all this our God is calm. He’s been through this before. He is in charge even when it seems like chaos. He’s not afraid. He is the boss whether we live or die. We will be with him whether we live or die.
If you’ve ever been here on a 2nd or 4th Thursday, you’ve seen that kind of chaos. People are moving in and out of the building. There might be a parking spot or there might not be. The line can start forming at 8 am some days even though there is no benefit to being there that early and there is no explaining that to some people. Children are playing. Clients are sharing pantry tips—where the new pantries are, when they are open and how to get there. Names and numbers are being called. Volunteers are carrying groceries this way and that. It looks messy a lot of times. And yet a lot of good things are happening. Smiles are shared. Clients bring in hats and scarves they’ve made for JOIN and we give them yarn that’s been donated. Sick clients are being prayed for. They are putting in prayer requests for friends and family in need. They are getting food they’ll actually eat and recipes that are easy to follow and affordable. They are getting samples to try that encourage them to cook from scratch or to use some weird item they are going to get downstairs. And people leave with more than bags of food. They leave with dignity. Many of them say, “Thank you!” Even this chaos leads to something good. Even the wind and sea obey him. God can make sense out of a mess like this one. God can teach an aging congregation how to grow their welcome. God can teach grumpy volunteers to love the toothless, the pushy, the smelly, the batty.
And now God has spoken the words “peace, be still” to Debbi. And she’s actually listening. She knows it is time to let others row the boat. They might not row it just how she pictured it, but the sea will be crossed and the boundaries will be crossed and this stormy miracle will continue to happen. I hope we all listen for those words. I looked for a blessing for today for those on which there are so many demands and who need to take a step back and all I found was prayers to help us power through and keep on working harder and harder. This is an unhealthy pattern. At some point we have to stop and be still. We have to give up control. We have to trust our storms to Jesus that he can work through other people too to row the boat and do the ministry.