Monday, February 15, 2016

Celebrating Our Volunteers

Rev. George Miller
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Feb 14, 2016

A few weeks ago we welcomed 8 New Members and 1 Jr. Member to the Emmanuel UCC community.

One of the things I enjoy about teaching the New Member Class is the chance to watch folks reactions when they learn how significant the UCC has been to US history.

That a UCC Church hosted the original Tea Party. A UCC Church hid the Liberty Bell from the British. The UCC was basically run out of Mississippi because we had the courage to speak out against discrimination.

Our New Members learn of the four branches that make up our denomination.

One branch, called the Congregationalists, was the Pilgrims and Puritans who came to America to seek religious freedom and the right to worship God as they saw fit.

Another branch of the UCC was the Evangelicals who fled persecution in Germany and Hungary and settled in Missouri. They were literally living in fear of being killed because they didn’t believe what the church was telling them to believe.

Not only is our denomination rooted in people who came to America to seek freedom of religion, and freedom from persecution, but so is our entire country.

The United States is ultimately grounded in the notion of being free.

The United States is grounded in the idea that this is a beautiful and bountiful land, flowing with milk and honey, produce and prosperity, cattle and compassion.

But we, as a denomination, and we as a people, have failed to remember.

We have forgotten that not too long ago our ancestors who settled here were aliens and wanderers; some who came here by choice, some who came here against their will, some who felt this was their only shot at having a good and abundant life.

Because we have forgotten, we have strayed, as humans are apt to do. But thankfully, there have always been those who remember.

And by remembering, they re-root us back in the Call of Christ and what it means to be God’s people.

For example, in the most recent edition of Heartland Living there is a 10-page pictorial spread about a mission in Bartow called “Mosaics Community CafĂ©.”

Mosaics is a meal-based program designed for anyone who is trying to overcome an addiction, as well as seniors who are having difficulty getting by.

Throughout Mosaics are artfully created signs that inspire and educate. One sign says “It’s not what you Get. It’s what you Give.”

Another sign states “Americans throw away enough food every year to fill 730 football stadiums.”

“The United States spends about 1 billion dollars a year just to dispose of food waste.”

“33% of all the food on the planet is either wasted or spoils before it can be consumed.”

“40% of the people in the US are Hungry.”

That is sad. That is scary. We have become a nation in which over 1/3 of us are overfed, while over 1/3 are underfed.

What would our Congregational and Evangelical Ancestors say, the ones who left their country for freedom and fled their country for safety, who settled along the Atlantic Ocean and the rivers of Missouri?

Would these statistics be, for them, signs that we are a people founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs?

How did we get to this point?

We hoard, we consume. We throw away; others starve.

Is this way of living what it means when our politicians claim we are a Christian nation?

…That is why, today, I am so proud to stand before you and to give thanks to all of our volunteers.

That is why I am proud to celebrate the ministry we are doing, and continue to do through our Shepherd’s Pantry.

That is why I am proud, and we should all be incredibly, faithfully humbled that in January, everyone here gave over $1,100 to the AGAPE OFFERING in which-

Every. Single. Penny. Is going directly to our community and to our Pantry clients.

The offering of your 1st Fruits was enough that we could purchase 3 days worth of food for over 80 families, and still have some money left over.

The generosity of the EUCC Community meant that basically each person in attendance on Sunday unselfishly donated $8.50, and that was enough.

And I would venture to say that we are blessed enough that no one misses that $8.

God is good; can we get an “amen!”?

But the work of a church, the work of the Shepherd’s Pantry is not solely based on the goodness of God, or the generosity of folk with their goods and finances.

It also is dependant of those who volunteer. Those who give their time. Those who shop. Those who sort.

Those who show up every month to sign our clients in, who work the Miscellaneous table, who set up and serve food in the kitchen.

Those who bag the groceries. Those who greet the guests. Those who walk them through the mini-store. Those who go from table to table to teach, to talk, to reach out.

At this time, we’d like to ask everyone who volunteers in any way at the Shepherd’s Pantry to please stand up. “Thank you.”

Of course the Pantry is not the only place in which people get to volunteer at Emmanuel UCC.

There are those who have spent months preparing for the upcoming Yard Sale. There are those who participate in the Harvest Home Sale. There are those who came in for the Cotton Pickin’ Chicken Pickin’ Noodle Makin’ Night.

If you in any way, shape or form, volunteered for any of those events, please stand or wave your hand.

“Thank you.”

Of course we at Emmanuel don’t just sell- we cook, we bake, we eat.

We’ve had our Spaghetti Supper, our Sunday Brunches, our weekly Hospitality, our Global Mission Fair, our Cake & Pie Walks, and the meals prepared for Vacation Bible School.

If you, at any point, cooked a dish, served a meal, shopped, donated, cleaned a plate for any of these events, please stand.

“Thank you.”

We don’t just serve, we don’t just sell, we don’t just spaghettify the city, we also sang and make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

Anyone here who has sung in the choir, played an instrument, been a Hope Street Ringer or chimed one of our chimes, please stand up.

“Thank you.”

We don’t just serve, we don’t just sell, we don’t just spaghettify, we don’t just sang, we also safely keep-care of our property.

We’re talking of our Willing Workers and everyone else who has moved a chair, mowed a lawn, trimmed a tree, taken down a light bulb, put up a banner, polished the floor and kept our church looking nice, inside and out.

Please stand up. “Thank you.”

Then there are those who come in each and every week to participate in crafts, who make things to be sold, who create prayer shawls to be blessed, who’ll do anything that Christian Ed asks them for if it means giving something to our children.

Please stand or raise your hand.

“Thank you.”

What about our teachers? Those who have taught a class, led a retreat, hosted a Book or Bible discussion, who created a curriculum for VBS?

Please stand up so we can say “Thank you.”

What about those who lead worship and make every Sunday possible. Those who acts as ushers, greeting our guests at the door and serve the Sacraments?

Those who lead the liturgy, who create the visuals, who ensure the sound system works? We could not do this each and every Sunday without you.

Please stand up. “Thank you.”

Finally, there are those who sit on the committees, those who head committees, those who make up the church leadership by committing to their Council duties.

Please stand up. “Thank you.”

Our denomination and our country is not what it could be; it is not yet what it should be.

However, I believe that because of our volunteers, we are getting closer and closer there.

When we see those moments we work together, those moments we wrestle to figure out what’s right, our Congregational and Evangelical ancestors are proud of us.

When we volunteer to keep our church ministering; when we volunteer to keep our church compassionately caring for our clients, I believe our Congregational and Evangelical ancestors are cheering us on.

Friends and Family of Emmanuel UCC, in Christ we are wanderers no more; in the Good News we are grounded.

We have been blessed with our own lovely and abundant land, in which we are invited to give God thanks; we are encouraged to continue volunteering our gifts.

Amen and amen.

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