Midweek Message: "Flesh in the Game to Benefit Those in Need"

Week of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

One of my parental goals when Nathan spends the better part of the summers with me in Arlington is to provide meaningful experiences of what our area has to offer. Visiting Smithsonian museums, naturally, tops the list. But this summer, I had the additional goal of seeking to cultivate in my child a spirit of volunteerism in offering community service. Thus, we reached out to Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to see if we could volunteer once a week in their program to feed the hungry and food insecure in our community. I am told that Resurrection Church was among the organizations that was instrumental in AFAC’s founding in 1988. We as a congregation have financially supported AFAC ever since, even as we have also provided regular in-kind donations of food items which we collect now every two weeks.

So it is that Nathan and I have journeyed to AFAC’s headquarters in south Arlington each week for 90 minutes of flesh-time volunteering. One day, we bagged servings of dry beans. On another occasion, it was transferring onions from 50-pound bags into smaller bags that contained a few onions for family use. On still another day, it was going through crates of sweet corn to place into smaller bags a few ears of corn for families in need. All healthy, wholesome, fresh food options.

I likened our efforts to the factory work that I briefly did as a temporary worker at the time AFAC was founded in 1988 when I was waiting for a congregational call as a freshly graduated seminarian approved for ordination. The factory-style work was physically rigorous for Nathan and for me. Our efforts were made all the more challenging because the manual dexterity needed to get the jobs done efficiently was hampered by the requirement, for hygiene reasons, of wearing gloves. This was honest labor, evoking in me a sense of thankfulness that I am privileged to have the kind of job that I do, and that I do not have to do physical labor eight hours a day every working day. Accompanying my appreciation for my spiritual vocation has also been thankfulness for the many people who do in fact do this kind of work that keeps us all fed.

Nathan and I were among a cadre of volunteers and staff members from many walks of life. Some volunteers were retirees meaningfully giving back to society time and energy. Some were likely people in the criminal justice system required to do community service. Others were college students doing community-oriented work on summer break. But there we were together in shared effort, motivated variously, to benefit those in need in our community. These were lovely occasions of togetherness, even if we did not have a chance to really get to know each other because we were focused on our volunteer efforts.

If you’ve not had a chance to visit the AFAC headquarters just off South Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington, I encourage you to pay a visit. It’s a large, clean facility, run efficiently, at least from my vantage point. And they are expanding their square footage in the renovation of an adjacent building for ever expanding social service.

As I’ve observed several times previously in my writing, teaching and preaching, I am heartened that a hallmark of our congregation’s ministry and mission is its commitment to financially support local organizations like AFAC. And as I’ve also said, I am hopeful that we as a congregation can grow in our capacities to put “flesh in the game,” as it were, with incarnate, in-person donations of time and talents to these same and other community organizations.

I pray that I have planted a seed of volunteerism in my child through this summer activity at AFAC. For when we offer ourselves in person, inspired by the generosity of our gracious God, we offer the world ongoing expressions of the divine word still being made flesh in diakonia, in service, extending in incarnate ways God’s love and mercy in Christ Jesus for the world’s most vulnerable people in need.

Thanks be to God in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman