Last month our congregation hosted a food-packing event for Feed My Starving Children. Along with congregations in Peoria, Scottsdale and Mesa, Ahwatukee Foothills residents packed over a million meals for hungry children in over 60 countries. It is a classic win-win. The result was terrific, but the process may have been every bit as important. In a time when people of faith are beating each other up, feeding hungry children seems to be common ground. Not just for people of faith and differing faiths, but people of no faith at all. We had church and civic groups, employee and school groups, children and adults – over 5000 volunteers brought together from many different places to become neighbors to each other and to children they will never meet.
One of the ingredients in the food is a vegetarian chicken flavoring, and on the Sunday morning after the event as I was preparing for worship, I noticed a layer of dust on top of the water in the baptismal font: chicken soup. It’s a sign.
This has been a really hard year. Few of us don’t know of someone who has lost or is fearful of losing their job. Many more have had salary reductions or unpaid furloughs. Government services are being cut and even as we trim household budgets, we wonder how or if we will be able to get through it.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus and the disciples were sailing when a storm came up. The wind was strong and waves were coming over the gunwales. Jesus was at the helm but he was taking a nap! “Why are you afraid?” he asked sleepily. “Have you still no faith?” Some 365 times the Bible has some version of the fear question. That’s one for every day of the year. Could we be wasting the opportunities that come with crisis?
John Tarrant teaches Integrative Medicine at Duke University Medical School. He is also the director of the Pacific Zen Institute. He writes, “We are now in the new world. In the new world, winter is still cold, summer is still warm, bread, cheese, pickled onion and a glass of ale is still a ploughman’s lunch, the sky still has windows of translucent distance at sunset after rain, and a wet dog still smells like a wet dog.“ That last part is my favorite; a wet dog still smells like a wet dog. Perhaps the first thing I need to do in a crisis is to remember that I am still alive. Then, as my sister used to say, “You’re not mashed potatoes – do something.”
We could wring our hands and hang our heads and stay awake at night filled with all the “what ifs.” Or we could be like the disciples and panic, shouting to God, “Do you not care that we are drowning?” But they were not drowning. And neither are we. The boat is still afloat and the sails are still full. Perhaps we need to adjust the sheet and make a correction with the tiller, and if you have nothing else to do you could bail a little water. And if there is no wind, by all means start to row.
Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? A wet dog still smells like a wet dog, and there is chicken soup in the baptismal font.
Steve Hammer is the associate pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.