This reflection goes under the category of “What happens at church when you are not here… but yet you ARE!”
Last Sunday, before most of you arrived for worship, something happened. Here. In this sacred space. Around this table. A covenant was formed. Ben Hilgers, Brandon Fritz, Lynn Hilgers and I were embarking on a cross-generational confirmation trip (Sarah Fritz and Steve Gorton were here as well). Together, we put together a covenant. A covenant of how to get along with each other, with God, with ourselves, and our faith, over the course of the upcoming week. Earlier this year when the confirmation group met, the youth decided that they wanted to go on a rural immersion trip. As the conversation and planning developed, Lynn Hilgers suggested Shannondale UCC, In Missouri, as an option. Five hundred miles south of Fitchburg.
A mission site of the United Church of Christ, nestled between Salem (with a population just under 5,000) and Eminance (population 600), Shannondale lies in the poorest section of the poorest county in Missouri. Shannon County statistics indicate that 22.6% of the people in the county live below the poverty line. This number is above the national average of 14%. In comparison, the poverty rate in Wisconsin in 2016 was 10.8%, and in Dane County was 11.3%.
As we stood here, in the sanctuary last Sunday, and listened to the discussion emerging around the covenant we were creating, questions rose for me that intertwined with the uncertainty voiced by the people who gathered around Jesus in today’s story in John:
How do we connect Jesus to our lives today? How do we make the time to pause, reflect, pray, when there are hungry people looking to be fed? Physically? Mentally? Spiritually? For the crowd around Jesus that day were questioning. Uncertain. Just listen to the echoes of the pleading, the urgency, the desire, reverberating in these words:
Rabbi – When? When did you come?
Rabbi – What? What must we do?
What? What are the signs?
How? How might we believe?
What? What work is Jesus doing? Here? Now?
How do we “Be the Church” amidst the busyness of our lives? The chaos of the world around us? The social media tentacles that snare us? We can feel disconnected. Alone. Overwhelmed.
And Jesus picks bread. Of all the symbols, all of the descriptors, all of the metaphors, that Jesus could have selected, he picked bread. I am. I am the bread of life. In our moments of desperation, our times of greatest need, when we are the most hungry… for… something… anything… Jesus is the morsel of hope, love, welcome, forgiveness, companionship – the nourishment that gives life. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually.
I am bread.
I am life.
How do we understand who this “I am,” this Jesus, is for us today?
I invite you to listen for the Holy in the words that Ben, Brandon, and Lynn have to share:
Ben shared his experience engaging with the artisans at the craft store on the grounds of Shannondale UCC. He brought in the walking stick he purchased there. Ben thought that the support that the church gave to the artisans—the use of a building and a place to stay for the volunteers who work at the store—was important to the economics of the region. He noted that 100% of the proceeds from each item purchased goes directly to the artist.
“It was like a whole different world.
The people live very differently. They live a life similar to their ancestors. For example, their grandparents ate game… and they still live on the land and rely on the land to survive. For example, deer meat is a main meat source. They need to hunt to survive.
We did good work at Shannondale UCC.
Thank you, Memorial UCC, for supporting us.”
Lynn talked about her connection with Shannondale UCC, which she attended as a youth, as had her immediate family for 3 generations. During the week, she had multiple opportunities to reconnect to the people and the land: participating in a blue grass jam one evening, kayaking the Current River, and talking to others who were revisiting Shannondale this past week who also resonated with strong emotional ties to the land.
Pastor Kris then summarized the reflection:
So this was our covenant. Our covenant of with each other, this this church, and with the Great Mystery of Life, as to how we will get along with each other, with God, with ourselves, and with our faith, over the course of the past week:
Everybody pitch in.
Be respectful of others.
Listen and learn.
These are good, guiding words. This is the Bread of Life. The Body that feeds us. Nourishes us. Connects us to one another. To God. To Jesus. To the Living Spirit.
And I offer these words to you, to us as a faith community. I encourage:
Everybody to pitch in.
Be respectful of one another.
Listen and learn.
Make time to reflect. Process.
And connect Jesus. Connect the stories of our faith to our lives today. Your individual encounters with the Holy. See God in all the beauty, all the challenges, all the everything today and every day brings.
Reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16 and John 6:24-35 offered on August 5, 2018
 “Shannon County, MO.” Data USA. Accessed August 1, 2018. https://datausa.io/profile/geo/shannon-county-mo/.