Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Out from the shadow

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” 
                                                                                  -- Jeremiah 29:11
            Today (August 21, 2017) the skies darkened, and in some places day turned to night.  Not unexpectedly, for our solar eclipse had been hyped up since the last one in 1979.  Today the news channels tracked the eclipse as it fell across the country from Oregon to North Carolina and we saw again and again the amazed reactions of crowds who knew full well what was coming.  After all, many of them had driven hundreds of miles or taken trains, planes, or boats to reach the best view.  But still, when it happened the crowds went wild.  People cheered and clapped and gaped in amazement at the show put on by sun and moon, and over and over when asked how they felt about witnessing this cosmic event, people said, “It really puts us in our place.”

            Thinking about the immensity of space, the consistent clockwork of our celestial companions, and the fragility of our planet as we spin about on it can certainly fill us with wonder.  But when witnessing the effects of the moon’s 70 mile wide shadow sweeping swiftly across the land, what can we do but marvel at the powerful forces of God’s creation and the might of His hand?  We knew that shadow was coming, but in times past an eclipse was an omen of dread, a sign that things were out of whack.  If the sun could wink out in the middle of a bright afternoon, who knew what else might happen?  Maybe the ground would suddenly disappear out from under our feet, or the crops would fail, or our friends and neighbors would suddenly turn and attack us.  Maybe creation is not as stable as we thought.  Maybe God decided to take a coffee break and let the world go wild?

            The people of Jeremiah’s time felt that way as they witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, the murder of their king, and the removal of all the officials, skilled workers and artists of the land.  The trained and educated people were taken to Babylon, where they could be watched and controlled by the powerful Babylonian Empire.  In their fear and despair at the devastation they wondered if God had deserted them.  God’s Word to them through the prophet Jeremiah was NO.  God had not forgotten them.  In fact, God had plans for them, a future in the works.  Despite the dark shadow that they were living under, a bright new day would dawn.

            Even now in our time and in our country there are people who live every day under a distressing shadow of uncertainty.  Poverty and homelessness should not be a problem where we have such wealth and resources.  The truth is, family, health and employment issues can leave people without means to care for themselves to the point where even day to day survival becomes a challenge.  As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to give a hand up to those who have fallen in dark times.

            Our annual “God’s Work Our Hands” service day is Sunday, September 10, and this year we are partnering with other ELCA congregations in our area and with our local Roman Catholic neighbors to provide a meal and worship at their Pinellas HOPE homeless shelter.  Run by Catholic Charities of St. Petersburg, Pinellas HOPE stands on the site of a previous homeless tent city in the Clearwater area.  They have about 200 residents who live in tents and converted storage units.  They are a model program for serving the homeless.  In operation since 2007, Pinellas HOPE brings not just food and shelter but also case workers, medical attention, and assistance finding housing into the lives of people in need.  Check them out at www.pinellashope.org. We will be joining the residents there from 3-6:30 pm, and our visit will include a tour of the facility, and sharing worship and dinner with them.  By partnering with our Roman Catholic friends, we are also showing that the Reformation that divided us 500 years ago can bring us together today.
            A Helping Rock is a ministry in Zephyrhills that has been serving homeless and needy people for the past year.  They have a thrift store and moving service, but their focus is on transitional housing.  They have over 20 acres on the east side of Zephyrhills, with a church building and small cabins, where qualified people can stay for up to a year under the supervision of a case worker.  Check them out at www.ahelpingrock.org.  On October 17, they will be hosting Stepping Stone, a community outreach event for local programs and organizations that support the needy.  Their hope for the event is bring these groups together to network and strengthen the caring capacity of our locale.  Atonement will be present there with information about our Helping Hands Food Pantry, ACCESS and Caring ministries.

            When God’s love and mercy are eclipsed by poverty and people fall into the shadow of need, programs like Pinellas HOPE and A Helping Rock are there to help bring them back into the light.  We are blessed to have opportunities to partner with these ministries as we do our own part helping people find God’s plan to give them hope and a future.  Thanks for all you do to care for and support those in need as we work together to help the light of God’s love shine brightly on all people.

Pastor Scott