Message from Our Pastor
Excerpts from Pastor Cheryl Hoffman’s sermon for May 24, 2020. Relevant text: Acts 1:6-14, Acts 17:22-31.
- Acts 1:9-12 As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going, and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.
- They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
- Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, constantly devoting themselves to prayer.
Praying and waiting, waiting and praying, with no idea what is to happen to them.
Sound familiar? If ever we have understood the disciples it is now, in this in between time when we are not here, nor there, with no idea what is to come, nor when it will arrive.
The reading from Acts that we heard today (Acts 17:22-31) also rings true to our ears: The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.
Have we not learned over the past 8 weeks just how true this verse is? Through Zoom, YouTube and Facebook, we have discovered that we don’t need a physical space to worship together. In fact, in truth, we don’t need a physical place to be a church.
God doesn’t live in our sanctuary or reside at 75 Griswold Street. Surely God is present when we gather there to worship and learn, but I don’t think that anyone would say that God is any less present among us now, when we say hello like the Brady Bunch, worship and learn together virtually, or say goodbye like the Walton family.
God has been with us in our praying and our waiting. But the one thing that we don’t have to wait for is the opportunity to do ministry, to serve our neighbors.
I recently had two experiences that pierced the depths of my soul and I just can’t shake them, so I’ll share them.
The first was the handing out of gift cards and food boxes to the families whose children receive reduced and free lunches. Yes, we are still providing a ministry to food insecure families.
Two Fridays ago, I handed out grocery gift cards as families picked up their lunches at the high school. This was the first time I did the gift card handout. In addition to a gift card I gave each family a slip of paper letting them know that they could also pick up a box of food here at St. Mark. These were the last 40 food boxes we had to give away.
By the time I ran out of gift cards and got back to the church, there were already several people waiting for boxes.
There wasn’t a lot of conversation in the box distribution as we attempted to make it as safe as possible, but in the few words that were exchanged, I could hear the depth of relief and appreciation that receiving this box of food was for so many – even though they had no idea what was in the box.
One woman asked if she could have a second box to take to her neighbor, whose son fell off his bike and was taken to the hospital. Both were single moms able to work at home, but just not able to make ends meet. By the time I got back to her car with a second box, she was in tears. She had looked inside the first box and could not believe how much was in it.
When I handed out gift cards this past Friday, I received a lot more “Thank you,” and “I really appreciate it,” and “You don’t know how much that box helped.”
Secondly, I’ve recently had conversation with a colleague about if, and how, we should celebrate the Eucharist in this time of on-line liturgies.
In all honesty, you can find someone to agree with you whatever stance you want to take, as a theological question, a pastoral question, or an ecclesiological question. But one answer made me forget all the others, and wonder if we are even asking the right questions. One theologian said, “How can you sit around the table, arguing about how it should be set, when there are people that don’t have any food to put on the table, and some who don’t even have a table.”
The one thing that’s bothered me the most about this pandemic is not the stay at home order, but how it has made clear the dividing line between the haves and the have-nots.
It is the elderly in the nursing homes that make up the greatest number of deaths. It is people of color that make up the highest percentage of deaths. It is the Latino community that has the largest percentage of unemployed. It is the low-income families that cannot afford separate electronic devices or internet, let alone high-speed internet. And it is those that can least afford to get sick that cannot work at home and are serving those of us who can chose what hour to shop and curbside pick-up or home delivery.
And now that things are “getting better” and the nation is starting to open up, the first to open in most states are restaurants, malls, salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, along with the marinas that opened weeks ago, all first world businesses addressing first world concerns, while grocery stores, Amazon, and Target, are taking back the $2/hour pay increase they gave employees to make up for the risk of getting sick on the job as the virus peaked.
Do you know what the number one question I was asked that Friday while handing out boxes? “Will you be doing this again next week?”
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The two most important commandments – love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
What does it mean to love our neighbor? To be sure that everyone has the same access to food, toothpaste, paper towels, deodorant, milk? Opportunities to learn, and worship, and a table to sit around?
This is what it means to be the church. Ministry is the act of doing, not the state of being. It is in Christ that we live, and move, and have our being. It is not our building.
Those thank yous, those tears, on that Friday, they were the voice and face of Christ. He said, “What you do to the least of these, you do unto me.”
It is good to wait and pray, and pray and wait, but at some point, we have to stop looking up into the sky. There is work, there is ministry, there is church to be done here and now. Amen.