Monday, July 30, 2012

Who Can Compute?

John 6: 1-21

Pilgrim Hall was abuzz with activity each morning this past week.  Heidi did a fine job of organizing our outreach to children in Norwalk by making lunches each day for the kids through Bridgeport Rescue Mission.  There was a sandwich assembly line and a filling area with 175 brown bags each day ready to receive the sandwiches, a juice box, an apple, and a snack. 

Now someone had to figure out how many loaves of bread to buy and how many packages of bologna to purchase because 175 times 5 is 875 bag lunches that were needed.  Luckily, Justin was ready to compute it all out.  1,750 slices of bread were needed or rather 175 loaves of bread excluding heals, as well as 1,750 slices of bologna, 875 pieces of cheese, apples, juice boxes and snacks.  It all worked!  For 5 days 175 kids enjoyed fresh lunches and we at WCC put our faith into action.

Let us now listen to another story of feeding from the Gospel of John the 6th chapter.

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberius.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him; ‘Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

Looks like the disciples too, initially, were trying to compute the cost of feeding so many people.  They needed figure out the dilemma that Jesus posed to them, ‘Where are we to buy food for these people to eat?’ Well Philip didn’t need Justin to compute the cost to feed those 5,000 very hungry people on the side of the mountain by the Sea of Tiberias.  He was right spot on; he went right into the computing mode, why “Six months wages wouldn’t even be close to buying enough bread for the people.”  All Philip knew was that they needed a lot of bread.  That would be an awful lot of sack lunches – according to Justin’s figures it would amount to 10,000 pieces of bread and bologna (or fish) to make 5,000 sandwiches. 
Then Simon Peter’s brother Andrew noticed there was a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish.  You might think that he had trust that Jesus would come through, yet he too questions Jesus, ‘What good are only five loaves and two fish that this little boy has?’  It just didn’t compute in Andrew’s mind how they would possibly feed all of these people with so very little.
Feeding the Five Thousand by John Reilly
The feeding of the 5,000 people is one of the most familiar and beloved stories that is recorded in all four of the Gospels.  John’s Gospel was the last to be recorded and is different than the other Gospel’s on a couple of levels.  In John Jesus tells no discernable parables like he does in the other Gospels and he talks extensively about himself making the famous ‘I Am’ statements.  And John refers to Jesus miracles as ‘miraculous signs’ conferring a very high Christology on Jesus; that Jesus is the risen Christ, Son of God.  It makes reading John’s Gospel quite poetic and beautiful and it elevates Jesus to a much greater divine level than the other Gospels.

In our reading today John has linked two Galilean miracle stories together.  They are two stories that speak to our deepest human needs; our need for food and our need for protection from harm.  If we were Abraham Maslow we would immediately identify these needs at the base of his hierarchy of human needs: physiological and then safety.  In his hierarchy one needs to be grounded, before one can become an individuated adult, in other words, basic needs must be met first.  You can’t determine your life’s course when you are so starved and can only think about where and when your next meal will come from.

John, Andrew or Philip didn’t have Maslow or his hierarchy chart; they didn’t have a clue about modern psychology.  They just knew that people had needs and that Jesus could fulfill those needs if he so chose to, and of course he did.  The disciples, and 5,000 people were able to witness God’s almighty power through Jesus Chris through fish and loaves.

We too witnessed the power of Christ through our actions but we didn’t come close to feeding 5,000. 175 children seems significant when you are slapping those sandwiches together although, and unfortunately, we were able to help just a very minute portion of this region’s hungry children.  The statistics from End Hunger Connecticut[i] are staggering.  Connecticut has the third highest median income of all the states yet 11.7% of our children live in poverty.  That translates to 94,985 children so the 175 children that we fed is merely a proverbial drop in the bucket or 0.18%, not even one percent.

11.4% of Connecticut residents are ‘food insecure’ and 4.6% are VERY ‘food insecure’.  We are last in the nation for the percentage of schools with a school breakfast program at only 58.4% of schools that participate.  It is hard to believe that so many children go to bed hungry at night in this well endowed State or even just next door in Norwalk. How can one be educated, or work or play even a day without food to sustain them?  And sadly, who can possibly compute the mental and spiritual toll that physical hunger will take over time on a child or person, or any sort of hunger for that matter. 

This is why it was so vitally important for us to actually make sandwiches this week. It was Desmond Tutu who said, “When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, "Now is that political, or social?" He said, "I feed you." Because the good news to a hungry person is bread."[ii]  Jesus met the 5,000 exactly where they were.  And they were tired and hungry.  He told them to sit down on the hillside and he fed them, real food.  Not rocket science, not a social or political statement.
Although we know that hunger now does have a political and social side to it and we cannot close our eyes to it.  We know that there is enough food in the world and for heavens sakes in our community.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is distribution of food and aid to those in need.  While we have no obligation to give aid can we morally turn a blind eye to starvation and hunger when it is presenting itself at our doorstep or when we know that it is widespread through the world?

I think not.

When opportunities like this past week emerge our initial question should not be, ‘Should we do this’ rather it must be “How can we best accomplish this?’.  This is the Gospel truth.

Hunger, scarcity, fear.  That’s what the people and the disciples were experiencing when Jesus comes to their aid.  Jesus comes to heal, he comes to feed, and he comes to assuage fear and he accomplishes this through five barley loaves and two fish.  Never doubt for a moment that when left up to God, a lot can be accomplished through so little.  875 bag lunches were our beginning but it doesn’t have to be our end. 

The apostle Paul said to the people at Ephesus, “His (Jesus) power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20 CEV)  If we allow the ultimate power of God through Jesus Christ filter through our hearts and our hands we can imagine to do just about anything.  Certainly we can imagine 5,000 people being fed that day on the sunny mountainside overlooking the Galilee with plenty to spare for yet others.
Feeding of the 5,000 by Justino Magalona

May the great good news of Jesus Christ rest in your heart this day.

[i] End Hunger Connecticut.
[ii] Stop Hunger Now.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Come Away

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Come Away

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves 
and rest a while”
Mark 6: 31

Imagine a place where the pressures of life, the time frames, deadlines and bills aren’t piled on top of your head like a cold, wet blanket thrust upon your head and shoulders.  A place where the dog doesn’t need your immediate attention yet again, another sermon doesn’t have to be written or a presentation completed, or the demands of family illness or issues don’t consume your daily living. 

Imagine a place where birds can be listened to and watched uninterrupted for a few hours, where the clouds roll by, both white and grey, against a virgin Mary blue sky, where you can walk a straight path between a wheat field and a sunflower field and turn your head upwards to see mountains around you and a big sky, big, big sky, a place where the work for the good of the community in the glory of God is first and above self. 

Imagine Grandchamp.  A monastery in the Canton of Neuchatel Switzerland inhabited by the Sisters of the Communaute of Grandchamp where work is performed in silence and is punctuated by prayer in the Taize tradition four times a day.  A place where you are left alone to meditate or pray, stroll or hike the Jura mountainside, ride a bicycle, or sit in the garden under the apple trees and eat Swiss chocolate or drink herbal tea and taste and remember once again how sweet life really is.
 Just imagine.  In the Gospel of Mark Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” to his worn out, overworked, underpaid or really more than likely ‘not paid’ disciples.  They had just buried the beheaded body of John the Baptist which I’m sure was a loathsome task.  And they were tired and stressed; large crowds were following them.  Jesus knew what his disciples needed when they came to him and told him all that they had done.  He knew they needed rest. 

They needed time away from the hungry throngs of people that would soon be upon them and they needed to be at rest.  You see they had had no time for themselves, not even did they have time to eat it had been so harried. So they boarded an old fishing boat on a calm Sea of Galilee and sailed away to their deserted place.

It was Jesus’ idea for them to rest, to stop what it was they were doing and take a break from the usual, the everyday, and from all that depleted their strength and their energy.  It wasn’t a question that he posed to them, ‘will you come away with me?’ or ‘do you want to get a way for a while?’ but it was an imperative that he gave them:

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”

I do not have to imagine Grandchamp, I have just lived Grandchamp and what it means to come away to a deserted place and rest.  It is a community ‘…out of the Reformed churches rooted in the monastic tradition and in ecumenism marked by prayer, work and the spirit of the Beatitudes: Joy, Simplicity, and Mercy.’[i]

For three weeks I worked in community with the sisters and other volunteers, mostly in silence.  I prayed and worked alongside them throughout the day and evening and when I was free, I was left alone to rest in whatever way that I wanted to. To walk, to sleep, to read or stay in my room, to explore the beauty of Switzerland, the land that my grandmother was born – all of this was there for my personal retreat. 

It was an incredible gift of grace and I was able to renew my spirit, examine my life, think about what matters most to me and to absorb the absolute goodness of our earth that God has entrusted to us for this short while.
Grandchamp however is by far not a deserted place!  What I came to understand about this piece of scripture is that when Jesus says go to a deserted place he doesn’t mean to go to a forsaken place, or a place of abandonment or some barren and dried out wasteland where there is nothing that can possibly renew your soul, a place that is void of the very essence of life itself.  What would be the use of that?  He actually meant the opposite.

When he said to go to a deserted place, he meant to come away to a place that is life giving but different from the usual places of your life. It is a place that suspends your daily challenges and tasks for just a moment in time.  It is someplace that will allow you the time to commune with God and be in prayer without distractions that can ultimately deplete you of your energy and your strength.  It is a place where unfilled jars can be replenished and empty baskets can be refilled once again.

One of my tasks at the monastery was to slice bread for each meal, funny I should get this job, my dad being a baker and all.  While this might seem mundane, for me it was not.  It brought back childhood memories of the bakery and it gave me a sense of being of value to the community doing the work of Christ, which is to feed others.  My father used to say, ‘bread is the staff of life’, meaning we need it to function.  Like a shepherd needs his staff to negotiate the rocky terrain of life and keep the sheep in line, we need wholesome bread that will steady us and keep us filled and help us stay in line when we wander to far off the path.  We all need to be fed.  Slice after slice I thought about him as I smelled the bread and placed them into the baskets.  

Jesus also came to mind when he said, ‘I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never hunger.’ (John 6: 35)  Christ is so very present in all aspects of living at the monastery.  As I filled the empty baskets with the sliced bread I couldn’t help but think of the words of institution from our communion liturgy, take and eat, this is Christ, given for you so that you might have life

Everything at Grandchamp is intentional, every task is accomplished in silence with the presence of God in your heart.  For me living into the presence of Christ in silence was life giving and the rest that it provided was enriching and so beneficial to my well being.  Who knew that slicing bread would bring me inner peace?

Yet even the sisters need a break from their daily tasks and each Monday morning is what they call their ‘desert’ day.  There are no communal prayers, and work that needs to be done can wait.  It is a time of rest and trust.  Rest from work and trust that God will sustain them until they resume their activity once again.  It is like a breath being held for as long as it can be and then released or like the sadness of Good Friday’s death held in tension until Easter morning when death finally relents and gives way to life.   

Rest is not a new invention.  From the beginning of time, ‘God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.’ (Genesis 2:3)  Even God rested.  Why should we think that we don’t need rest?

We work so hard don’t we?  All of us, no matter what it is that we choose to do with our lives, are driven, especially here in the Northeast.  If you don’t step aside and cease what you are doing for a while how will you know how far you’ve come?  How will you know that what you are doing is the right thing and the decisions that you have made for yourself are accurate decisions?  How will you be able to listen for God speaking to you if you don’t set aside time to listen?  How will you be able to discern your future in light of your past and in the fullness of the present?  How will you ultimately get rest? 

None of us are superhuman, all of us need a break.  Even if you love what you do, which I do, Jesus still tells you to rest.  He certainly did, we hear of him leaving his disciples and going off by himself to pray.  It was essential to him and he is a role model for us.  He wants you to cease what you are doing – I mean really stop.  The Iphones, Ipads, MacBook Pro’s all powered off!  I am convinced that this was one of those times where his human nature is in total sync with ours because the compassion he shows for his disciples is rich.  His life was difficult and he knows that our lives are difficult too. We need rest.

The poet and author Maya Angelou once said, “Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.  We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops….a day away acts as a spring tonic, it can dispel rancor, transform indecision, and renew the spirit.”[ii]  

Grandchamp was the place for me to receive my rest but it may not be for you.  Where might you retreat to that will give you rest?  It could be as simple as your backyard or in your easy chair for the afternoon.  The place doesn’t matter so much as how you choose to spend your time of rest.  It is in those moments of rest that God’s presence and peace can be felt and absorbed.  Rest is essential.  Rest is an imperative. To rest separates the past from the future and allows you to come to God in your totality and just be. 

One of the songs that we sang very simply says it all, “Take O take me as I am, summon out what I shall be, Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.”[iii]

Let this be your prayer.  That in your moments of truthfulness before God, when your rest has lowered the iron shields of pretentious living and you can breathe deeply once again, you can sing out for God to take and use you just as you are knowing that God has set his seal upon your heart, never to be broken.   

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”

To view more of Grandchamp and the vicinity continue to scroll down

[i] Booklet: “Someone Accompanies You: For You Who Come to Share Our Life, Some Guidelines”.  Communaute de Grandchamp.
[ii] Angelou, Maya.  Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now. Random House, Inc., 1993.
[iii] Iona Community, Take o Take Me As I Am.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

This, that, and the other

One afternoon I decided to find the Gorge de l'Areuse.  I found it but was only able to walk about a half an hour into it since my free time in the afternoon is limited.  It took me 25 minutes to get to Boudry, another 30-35 minutes to finally get up into the gorge area and then I had to turn around and come back for scullery duty!
 So worth every short little minute.

OK, I was a bit creeped out walking through the tunnel by myself but, alas, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel gave me hope and an exit.  That was about it for the Gorge.  If one were to walk the trail through the gorge it would take 7.5 hours.
Into Neuchatel last Sunday after morning matins and Eucharist.  Outside of the Museum of Art and History were three sculptures like this looking up at the museum.

The museum itself if beautiful, up the large marble stairway to the second floor exhibits were three large frescoes.  The stories they told were a bit gruesome and strange.  
I thought Swiss people were peaceful people.
 The main exhibit was Jaquet-Droz 'Automatons'.  Some of the exhibits were absolutely gorgeous.  Did you see the movie Hugo.  That was all about automatons.

 This little guy had mechanisms that allowed him to make four different drawings.

 They also had automatons from the 21st century.  Not as beautiful (in my opinion) as the older ones but still curious to behold.
 Back to the Collegial Church, the organist was rehearsing.  Beautiful sounds from this pipe organ.
 Across from the Collegial Church is the Chateau de Neuchatel, all in the Old City.  It has quite some history dating from the medieval times but now is the seat of government for the Canton of Neuchatel.
 The courtyard.  The guide said that they wanted the yellow part of the shutters to be beige but the painter got it wrong.
Now, in between the two chimney's, in the distance is Mount Blanc.  That's what the guide said.  How about the chimney on the left?  Almost all the chimney tops are mini chalets.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Auvernier!  It is a village WAY to cute for words.  It is about half way from Grandchamp to Neuchatel.    From what I can tell it fairly well-to-do because there is a boat yard on the lake with 
gorgeous sail boats. 

This might be the police department but there was no sign.  A street worker came up and questioned me sort of since he didn't speak English and I no French.  All I know is he kept saying Policia and I kept saying photo.  We smiled and parted ways.
 The Swiss love their crazy shutters.
 This was called the Temple.  I don't have info on it right now...sorry.
 But when I went inside there were two modern stained glass windows.

 The area that I am in is famous for its vineyards.  My sister vis-a-vis says it is perfect weather and elevation for growing grapes.
 I kept walking up and up and when I turned around I was stunned by the magnificent view.  Lake Neuchatel.

 I believe that the mountain in the distance to the right that drops off is Mount Blanc.  I know that it is visible from Neuchatel.

 Caves du Ch√Ęteau d'Auvernier, founded in 1603!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


 As I got off of the tram I looked up at this view of Neuchatel.  Behind me is Neuchatel Lake.
 View down one of the streets.  I began my visit around 10 am on a Sunday morning so the streets were quiet and nothing was open.
 Fontaine de Bannert
"The Fountain was at first a small fountain for livestock and is the oldest fountain situated outside the former town wall.  It was then enlarged and in 1581 Laurent Perroud embellished it as it now stands."  Restored much later than that.
 After walking up the Chateau steps this was the view from the top.
 Again from the top, I can't get enough of the Swiss flag.
 Because I arrived so early I heard church bells, lots of them.  So I followed the sound to the Collegial Church of Neuchatel.  I was just in time for the service, which I stayed for but it was all in French as is everything here and Grandchamp.  Above is part of the Monument of the counts in the Church.  For some reason I forgot to download other photos of the monument, will do it in another post.

 Rose Window designed by Theodore Delachaux in 1936 - relatively new!
 Well now this is an interesting statue.  It is of Guillaume Farel who was the reformer extraordinaire in 1530 in Neuchatel.  They are VERY proud of the reformers here.  What you can't see on the back side of the statue is that he is standing on the head of another man....the Pope??  Not sure but he is holding up the Bible in victory.
 View of lake and the house I bought for us all.

 Just so that you know I'm really here.  On the horizon you see the lake and then some low mountains and when it is clear, which happens at random times throughout the day you can see the Alps.

 Walking back down the Castle (Chateau) steps.  Let me tell you that there were about three flights of these stairs and I was quite winded by the time I got to the top.

Place des Halles
"The Market Square opens out of Rue de Tresor, a charming square framed by the 18th century house fronts."