Sunday October 23, 2016 Temple Talk, Good Shepherd Outreach, by Gil Vatter

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations in our hearts be perfectly acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The crowds asked Jesus, "What are we to do?" ....He replied, "The person who has two shirts must share with him who has none and anyone who has food must do the same." (Luke 3:10)

And Jesus said, "Whoever gives so much as a cup of cool water to one of these little ones, won't go without a reward.".. ..and again....... "For when I was hungry you gave me food, when thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When naked you clothed me, when I was ill you came to my aid, when in prison you visited me. I will tell you this, anything you did for my brothers, however humble, you did for me."

As the challenge of these commands ring in our ears, we cannot deny that there is no room for debate in what Jesus proclaimed to the crowds and to the twelve. He was not ASKING for their opinion ....he was TELLING them, if they expected to be one of his followers, if they wanted to demonstrate their faith, they had a mandate, a responsibility to care for those who could not care for themselves; the old, the sick, the handicapped, the poor, the very young. These words were to be "square one", the foundation of Christianity............ You and I are, indeed, our brothers keepers.

Hunger and disease were constant, haunting facts of life 2000 years ago in the Middle East and little has changed in the present day. Farming, herding, tending orchards and hunting did much to feed the families in Israel, so many years before modem supermarkets fulfill this function. In those days, bazaars, village markets , home gardens and and small flocks of livestock fed those who were able to work for a living or who had inherited money from family. If you were too young, too old, too ill or too handicapped to work or raise your own food or especially if you were a female, you had to rely on the family of a male relative to guarantee a warm, dry place to sleep and food to sustain your life. Otherwise, your only outlook was hunger and cold.......... and eventual death.

Enter now Jesus of Nazareth, telling all who listened ..........these cold, hard facts.... If you meet anyone who needs something to eat, something to drink or a warm place to stay, YOU HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO DO WHATEVER YOU CAN TO HELP PROVIDE WHAT IS NEEDED BY THEM. "If you don't or if you won't, you not only are not going to be hanging out with me, you have missed out on a reward for those who understand what I'm saying... .who do pitch in and help" .............. This is really laying it on the line . EITHER .............OR! ! ! ......You must do the right thing......"You must feed my sheep."

So, now, here we are, at the beginning of the 21St century, more than two thousand years have passed since Jesus roamed the hills around Galilee and yet, little has changed. We read in Saint John's Gospel that six days before that most fateful Passover, Jesus said, "You always have the poor among you but you will not always have me." He was right.....We do, indeed, still have the poor among us in the towns and villages of every country of the world and, like his disciples, we are confronted with the evidence of our needy neighbors every day of our lives. We must continue to ask ourselves ....What am I and my church doing to follow the admonition of "feed my sheep"?

What is this congregation doing to follow the precepts that make Christianity the demanding religion it is? How can our congregation strive toward meeting the challenges of the Gospel? What have we already done and what can we do in the future?

First of all, let's examine what's been going on here at Good Shepherd in past years:

It has long been the practice of Good Shepherd's Congregation Council to look at the balances in the church's financial accounts at the end of each year. In effect, once all the bills are paid, once all the salaries are distributed and the repairs made, a good portion of what's left is then simply given away. These funds have been the basis, the keystone of this church's support of its social ministry. The total, annual gift of this church to others has almost always been well more than 10% of the income for that year. Administered by the Social Ministry Committee, this money, along with additional funds supplied by you, the members of the congregation in your personal gifts to various charities, constitutes this church's response to the dictates of the Gospel.

Here are the kinds of organizations where some of the money goes:

1.      A small portion of the money we place in the offering plate goes to the New Jersey Synod. A small part of that money goes to the national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Lutheran World Action sends money to all parts of the world to fight disease, improve living conditions, feed the hungry and meet the challenges of natural and man made emergencies. For example, our church participated in the "100 Wells" project in 2013 through a spring concert produced by our Minister of Music, Miae Park, we helped buy mosquito netting to combat malaria another year, to aid the victims of an earthquake in Haiti another time, for "Family Promise" another.

2.      Community Outreach Group - Partly funded by its Calico Cat thrift shop, partly by a group of local churches (including Good Shepherd) COG supports many local and regional organizations. Good Shepherd also sends personal and household supplies for the COG Evening Pantry each summer and supports their "Back to School" effort.

3.      Lunch Break - Generally focused on hunger and social needs in the Red Bank community, funding comes from a wide group of organizations and people.

4.      Love,INC Provides social services for Monmouth County and is funded by churches and individuals from the county.

5.      The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties - A very large, well supported organization, which provides food for many of the soup kitchens and pantries along the shore. We presented a check for $1,480 to the Food bank last spring, the money collected at another Miae Park concert.

6.      Project Paul - Headquartered at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Keansburg and founded in 1980, Project Paul is basically funded by Roman Catholic churches of the area. It provides a variety of social services in the Bayshore area. Our cash gift back in 2013 was actually used to purchased a furnace for an elderly victim of Hurricane "Sandy".

7.      Red Bank Crop Walk - Good Shepherd has participated in the "Crop Walk" each October for many years and has always sent several hundred dollars and some dry food each year to be used for local food banks, soup kitchens and pantries.

8.      Bayshore Lunch Program - Supported by local churches and civic organizations who provide food or serve a meal for 50 to 70 persons at the Community Church in Keyport.

9.      Good Shepherd has also sent support to other social service groups over the years, such as "Interfaith Neighbors", the "Buck-A-Chick" project, "Lutheran Social Ministry" and others.

Today I want to focus on one particular segment of this church's outreach, the "Sponsors Project" for the "Bayshore Lunch Program" in Keyport.

Good Shepherd Church has been supporting the same non-profit kitchen group since April of 1998, first serving a hot meal for ten years on the first Tuesday of each month at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Keansburg. The collection of food here has been underway since 2005 and the food has been taken to the Keyport soup kitchen since 2009 and, during that period, over 13,000 cans of food and pounds and pounds of dry food and other needed accessories such as rice and pasta, coffee and tea have been purchased by you and given mostly to the Keyport organization.

The Bayshore Sponsors Project was begun in 2008 as a means of helping to supplement the food collection program by enabling BLP to have additional funds to purchase things like meat, fish or fresh vegetables. To date, the Sponsors Project has contributed almost $20,000 to help feed our hungry neighbors.

Each fall, we ask the families of the congregation to volunteer as "Sponsors" for the following year and today is the day we begin to assemble the new list for 2017. Again, I ask all those who are able, to join us in helping to feed the needy families of northern Monmouth County. All you need to do is say a word to me, Patty or Pastor Pete and we'll take care of the rest. You will be assigned one month during the coming year and you will be notified by mail when, where and how to send your contribution to the kitchen. All that we ask is that you make your annual contribution at least $75, the estimated cost to prepare one meal at the kitchen.

It's that easy. Last year we sent over $2,700 to the kitchen and this year we are on track to send at least as much. BLP is very grateful for any contributions, no matter how small, that will help them prepare a hot meal or, at least, to augment their daily menu.

So, over the years,we have been doing SOMETHING here at Good Shepherd to help our neighbors. But as I often say in my articles about BLP in the "Voice ........... the need is great............the need seems to be growing.... and ....................the kitchens are finding it increasingly difficult to meet theĽ demand. The food collection program and the "Sponsors Project" have become an important part: of BLP's ability to provide a hot meal every day, 52 weeks a year to people who, otherwise would not receive the benefit of hot, nutritious food. Actually, for some time now, Good Shepherd has supplied almost all the vegetables served each day by BLP volunteers.

An NFL coach said in a recent TV interview, "Our philosophy is, we can always do better." I like that philosophy and perhaps we should consider it for our motto as so many social problems continue to challenge us.

As Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Philippians, "So live your lives to be worthy of the Gospel, that I may know you are standing in spirit ..... one in mind ..... meeting the challenges".

"You and I are engaged in the same struggle, you saw me in the same struggle before and, as you can see, I am in the struggle still."