The Spirit Calendar
A Weekly Devotional from the Connecticut Conference United Church of Christ
July 31, 2017
This week's author is Drew Page, News & Media Editor for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Matthew 14: 13-21 (NRSV)
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
While in Baltimore for General Synod 2017, I had several encounters with people experiencing homelessness. More than a handful approached me asking for money. One ran up to me while I ate dinner in an outdoor restaurant and asked me for food. I even watched painfully as a young, sunburned, teenage girl spent over an hour in the hot sun routinely walking through lines of stopped cars with her cardboard sign, returning empty-handed to the lamp post at the corner, and waiting for the light to turn red again.
As I watched this young person from a restaurant with a $20 plate of food in front of me, I felt a mix of guilt, shame, and helplessness.
There are approximately half a million people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States. More than 42 million people suffer from hunger throughout the nation. In the world, that number approaches 800 million. Whenever I hear these statistics, I wonder how this is possible, especially in a nation as prosperous as ours.
I also wonder where the miracle is now. Almost a billion people are in need – not a mere five thousand.
Then I remember that Jesus's didn’t feed five thousand; Jesus didn't feed anyone that day. The story tells us that Jesus told the disciples "give them something to eat." When they said they did not have enough, Jesus took the food they had and blessed it, making enough for all. Or did he?
The passage above says he took the food, looked up to heaven and "blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples." But the scripture is unclear about the blessing itself. In Young's Literal Translation, the scripture reads "having looked up to the heaven, he did bless." In the New American Standard Bible —often cited for its accuracy in literal translation — it reads "looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food
." But the NASB translators note that any italicized words were added for clarity, and do not appear in the Hebrew or Greek sources.
So perhaps the blessing wasn't on the food, transforming it into a magical Loaf of Feeding to satisfy all. Perhaps the blessing was on the disciples, so that they might have the means to go and feed those who needed it, transforming ordinary people into the working hands of God, to show God's love for all and capacity to provide all that is needed. In my mind, this is no less a miracle than the Loaf of Feeding interpretation.
In our times, when economic divides are widening and social assistance programs are under funded and targeted by those who wish to preserve their own wealth and security, it feels like we need a miracle: someone to bless a single home so that whenever someone needed shelter and food, there stood a house with a full pantry just waiting for them – a magical Home of Hospitality. But the blessing has already been given. We are the disciples. We have been blessed, and subsequently charged with caring for those in need. The miracle didn't end with 12 baskets of leftovers; it continues through us whenever we care for and provide for our neighbors.
Loving God, thank you for all that you have provided. To often we forget that we do have enough. Open our hearts and minds, so that we may recognize our abundance and spread your blessing to all our neighbors.
Special Prayer Requests:
- The people of Venezuela where violence has marred efforts to promote democracy in recent weeks (July 31); and
- transgendered people serving or considering serving in the U.S military as their future becomes uncertain after President Trump's message on Twitter stated that they will no longer be allowed to serve (July 26);
- Those grieving after a U.S. military place crashed in Mississippi, killing 16 people, on July 10;
- the families and friends of those found in a truck in San Antonio in extreme heat, on July 23;
- the family and friends of the Rev. Virginia Black, retired Interim Minister, who died on July 22;
- those grieving or effected by flash flooding in Arizona where 9 were killed on July 15;
- those suffering after a night club shooting in Arkansas which left 28 injured on July 1;
- those suffering or grieving after a shooting at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York on June 30;
- those grieving or suffering in Germany after a bus accident which killed 17 and injured 30 others on July 3;
- Mark Engstrom, member of the CT Conference Board of Directors, and his wife Nina, who are facing health issues;
- the community of Conway, MA, and the United Congregational Church, UCC, Conway after a tornado touched down on Feb. 25 causing significant structural damage;
- the people of South Sudan where nearly 1 million people are facing famine;
- John Polglase, husband of the Rev. Betsey Polglase, Pastor of the Columbia Congregational Church UCC, who has chronic pulmonary disease;
- the members and staff of Thompson Congregational Church after a fire severely damage the building on Dec. 29;
- Michael White, former Operations Manager at Silver Lake Conference Center, who was diagnosed with colon cancer;
- Juliane Silver, the daughter of the Rev. Jim Silver of Middletown, who is in dire need of a liver transplant. We pray that a donor will come forward giving the gift of life and a portion of their liver to Juliane;
- Chacy Eveland, husband of the Rev. Marcia Eveland, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Ansonia, who has been moved to a full-time facility for care of dementia;
- the thousands of migrants worldwide who flee from violence and persecution in search of safety;
- our ecumenical partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery in South Korea;
- the Conference's partners working for peace in Colombia amidst violence;
- the leaders of this nation, that they may meet the challenges of the day with insight, wisdom, and compassion;
- this nation, that it may continue its difficult work to end the practices of racism; and
- those serving or living in war or conflict zones around the world, or where terrorists have struck.
To be added to the prayer list, please send an email to Drew Page at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
First Congregational Church of Norwich UCC
Susan Marie Prichard - IN
Park Congregational UCC
Gale Grayson - IN
The First Congregational Church of Greenwich
Richard S. Denuyl Jr - SP
Avery C. Manchester - AP
Patrick Collins - AP
Rosemary Lamie - CE
Craig S. Symons - MM
First Congregational Church of Old Lyme
Steven Jungkeit - SP
Carleen R. Gerber - AP
Joan W. Priest - AP
Cynthia Willauer - AP
David W. Good - PE
Cynthia Willauer - PE
First Church of Christ in Saybrook (Congregational)
Edward F. Cornell - DT
Corrine Pasquale - CE
The Spirit Calendar:
July 31, 2017