Monday, November 24, 2014

A Distant Comet & a Growing Food Pantry

What were you working on in 1984, thirty years ago?  That is the year I headed off to seminary.  It seems both like just yesterday and five lifetimes ago.  That same year a group of European and American scientists began to plan an audacious expedition aimed at landing a space probe on a distant, speeding comet.  Engineered in a clean room, the probe – named Rosetta – was launched in the spring of 2004.  It took ten years for it to reach its destination; a journey that included several delicate, deep-space maneuvers and a three-year hibernation to conserve energy. 

On August 6th, after travelling over 3 billion miles, Rosetta went into orbit around 67P, a comet roughly the size of downtown Suffolk.  It is an amazing achievement.  Imagine standing on the beach at the Outer Banks and trying to launch a golf ball to land in a moving bathtub on a beach in California.  That is what has been accomplished.

But the mission did not end there.  Rosetta carried with it a lander named Philae, which is about the size of a washing machine.  On November 7th, Philae successfully landed on 67P where it is now conducting experiments and transmitting data and images back to earth.  It has already detected the presence of water and amino acids (the building blocks of life) and this discovery may help us to answer some important questions: What was the early solar system like?  How did earth come to be covered in water?  Where did the stuff of life come from?  Rosetta and Philae will be on a wild ride for the next twelve months as they journey with 67P on the comet’s trip around the sun.

The mission raises for me some big questions: Who are we?  Where did we come from?  And, perhaps most intriguing, what are we capable of achieving? 

I wonder who is working now at an initial phase of a project that in several decades will revolutionize what we know or how we live.  I read recently sections of a book called Physics of the Future, which looks at technology we now have or are in the process of developing and relates how it will change everything about computing, medicine, energy, and space travel in the next ten, twenty-five, fifty, and one hundred years.  Much of it seems like science fiction, except it is not fiction.  It is science possible. 

We are doing things the builders of the Tower of Babel could never have dreamed.  And yet their story from the book of Genesis is still relevant to us today.  Theirs is a cautionary tale reminding readers down through the ages of the dangers of human overreaching; of striving so hard for achievement that something essential is lost in the process.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the church year.  On this day we proclaim, as St. Paul wrote, that Christ sits at the right hand of God in glory, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, in this age and in the age to come.   From this preeminent position Christ speaks to us with authority. 

In today’s Gospel reading we hear him lift up other questions for us to hold as we strive to learn who we are and test what we are capable of doing.  Christ demands that we also consider who we are with and ponder what is required of us to be in relationship with others.  These are the essential questions lost at Babel and the result was a fragmenting not only of language, but of human relationships in general.

I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you gave me clothing.  I was sick and you took care of me.  I was in prison and you visited me.”

Who are we with?  Notice in Jesus’ parable there are two groups of people.  One group has no recollection of ignoring Christ because they never saw the need around them.  Or perhaps they did see the need, but never considered that Christ could care about anyone they did not care about.  The other group never understood that their acts of compassion were in fact offered to Christ himself.  Who are we with?  As we test ourselves to push our capabilities, what does it mean to be in relationship with others?  What does it mean that every person – every single human being on this planet – matters?

The Food Pantry is one way we here at St. Paul’s acknowledge those who are with us in our community.  As you may know, it has experienced tremendous growth over the past six weeks.  During the summer months we averaged between 75-85 clients each Monday night.  This fall we have been over 100 every time we have been open.  On October 20th, we set an all-time record with 117 clients on a single night only to see that mark eclipsed one week later when 151 people came through our doors.

Each client shops for up to five food items.  If you do the math, 100 people coming through the pantry on a given night means we are handing out 500 items of food.  This translates to as much as 2,500 items each month.  Because we have partnered with the Hampton Roads Food Bank we are able to get much of what we distribute at a greatly reduced cost.  Still, the dollars add up.  If each item costs roughly a dollar for us to purchase, you can see that we need to raise $2,500 a month to keep the ministry going.

Because this amount far exceeds congregational giving to the ministry we are beginning to look at creative ways to raise additional funding.  For the last few years we have been blessed to receive a grant from the Ruritans for $2,000.  This summer we applied for a grant from the Diocese of Southern Virginia’s Seeds of Hope fund and have been awarded $2,400.  For the Christmas Dinner Basket Distribution we have created a fundraising site with CrowdRise and have already received on-line donations from folks outside the parish.  All of this helps, but does not get us to where we need to be.

You can help.  Does your employer make charitable contributions?  If so, can you put in a request for our food pantry?  Does your employer make matching gifts, and if so, would the Food Pantry be eligible?  Your personal contribution to the food pantry could be doubled.  Are you a part of a civic group or organization that makes charitable donations?  If so, please consider making an appeal for our food pantry.  We are developing a “Facts Sheet” about St. Paul’s Food Pantry to help you make a compelling case to get support.  Do you have any other ideas that might help us do the work God is calling us to do?  If so, please feel free to contact me or anyone else associated with the pantry.

It is thrilling to be alive at a time when the human race is capable of landing a probe on a speeding comet in an effort to unlock mysteries hidden for over 5 billion years.  It is equally thrilling to be a part of any effort that connects one human being to another, that recognizes how need and blessing can be shared experiences, and to sense that the God who created the cosmos can somehow be present and known through these kinds of relationships.  Think about what we will proclaim in a just a few moments: that the body and blood of the King of Creation is contained in a little piece of bread and a sip of wine.  It is no less miraculous and equally as true that our King meets us and greets us through every human we encounter.  So, as we amass data from a space probe on a speeding comet telling us about what our solar system was like billions of years ago, here is something else incredible to ponder: present in each every person you encounter today is the King and Creator of the cosmos.  When you respect that person, you respect the King.