Homily - June 1, 2014

Homily – Church of Gethsemane – Seventh Sunday of Easter – June 1, 2014Rev. Sandra Obarski – Deacon Acts 1: 6-14

The book of Acts begins with the ascension of Jesus and the three promises to his apostles: the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spread of their witness to the ends of the earth, and the eventual return of Jesus. The group of followers who had witnessed the ascension of Jesus had returned to Jerusalem and when they entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zeolet, and Judas son of James. “All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including, Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”

Though the times have changed radically, it is still real human beings, men and women with names, identities, histories, and hopes, who gather to wait for the coming of the Spirit. It is we who make up today’s church as we gather to pray for the coming of the Spirit in our own lives and in the life of our own congregation.

At least by implication, this passage recognizes the central place of community in the life of the church. It is not enough to go it alone. They met, they traveled, and worked together. We too must meet, travel, and work together in Christ’s name. We need each other’s witness and support, challenge and care, in order to live into the possibilities and expectations of God’s realm.

We know in our own congregation we are witnesses to the call of the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit calls each of us to our own ministries. Last month we took time out to thank all those who so generously volunteer their time and talent in the service of God at the Church of Gethsemane, especially our musicians, those who care for our buildings, and those who serve in leadership roles. Today we would like to recognize the ministry of the volunteers who serve in our food shelf outreach ministry serving the neighborhood outside our doors and beyond. On Wednesdays from 10AM to 1PM we welcome and serve all who come to the Shelf of Hope needing food for themselves and their families.

When I arrived here as your deacon on Sept. 1, 2006, the congregation had been collecting food for families for about six months. We decided to gather the food for a month at a time and then bring it to Community Emergency Services which has an emergency food shelf. It is located about a mile from us housed in a church building formerly used by a congregation. We continued bringing our food there for a year and a half when a homeless man, Roger Greene, who had started attending our Sunday morning worship services, asked our priest if he could start a food shelf in the lower level of the Parish Hall. With the priest’s permission, Roger and several other members of Gethsemane cleaned out some of the rooms. The non-perishable food items the congregation brought were taken to the lower level of the Parish Hall sorted, placed on selves, and given to those people living in our neighborhood who were in need of food. Roger walked around the neighborhood attaching 8 x 11 sheets of paper to fences and poles which advertised our food shelf to the neighborhood.

Some members of the congregation started giving money to support the food shelf and we started purchasing some food items from discount stores such as Sam’s Club. About four years ago we decided to apply to become partners with Second Harvest Heartland in St. Paul. When our application was accepted, we received an on site visit from a Second Harvest representative who helped us prepare our site to meet their requirements and the requirements of the Minnesota Dept. of Health. From that point on we ordered our food once a week from Second Harvest at discounted prices and it was delivered by a Second Harvest truck to our location. Several members of the congregation volunteered to help Roger prepare the food shelf to be open on Wednesdays. At first we were open from 10AM to 3PM, but then decided to close at 1PM because the number of visitors was considerably less in the afternoon.

One of the members of our congregation was a teacher at Breck School in Golden Valley. As one of their freshman class experiences, he had a group of about twelve students start coming with him to Gethsemane to distribute food to our clients on Wednesdays. They came in groups of twelve freshman students in a school van for about three years every semester. At the end of the semester they would share with all of us helping on Wednesdays how meeting and assisting the clients at the Shelf of Hope had changed them. We thanked them and gave them certificates for their participation. Sometime along the way, one of the groups from Breck School named our food shelf, The Shelf of Hope.

About two years ago we became partners in a food rescue program with the Panera Bread Store on 8th Street and Marquette Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. We have six members of our congregation who take turns picking up the unsold bread and bagels on Tuesday evenings at 8PM. After they pick up the food they then bring the bread and bagels to church so the food is ready to be distributed to the clients who come on Wednesday mornings. A few months ago we started doing food rescue with the 5th Street Market in downtown Minneapolis, which supplies us with a variety of items, including milk. These items are picked up on Tuesday mornings by Jim Cunningham as he is on his way to Second Harvest to pick up free food which supplements the food we order.

The number of clients we serve has risen steadily. We now serve between 80 and 100 clients every week many of whom are feeding families. Most of our clients come at least twice a month and some come every week. Our congregation has continued to support the Shelf of Hope with generous financial assistance and the giving of their time and talent. We also have become involved with several organizations to begin receiving grant money through the gift of the time and talent of Kathy Hoglund.

It is amazing to work with the team we now have serving in the Shelf of Hope. They each are dedicated in their roles and enjoy what they are doing. About fifteen minutes before the food shelf opens they join together in several minutes of prayer for their clients and one another. They all come to church several times a week to help prepare the food shelf for Wednesdays. We have two or three members of the team who go to Second Harvest Heartland in St. Paul or Golden Valley to pick up our orders or shop for free food.

We are witnessing the call of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all the volunteers who serve the Shelf of Hope. They meet, work, and pray together as they brighten the lives of all who come asking for our assistance in their lives. It is we who make up today’s church as we gather to worship and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the life of our congregation. Amen.