Archives for March 2011

Wilderness stories, 3 Lent (A) – 2011

March 27, 2011

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

The lectionary readings begin with our ancestors being led by Moses through the wilderness, on the journey from slavery in Egypt toward an unknown Promised Land. Memories of the long wilderness period in ancient Israel’s life are prominent throughout the Hebrew scriptures. There are many times when, as at the end of today’s psalm, Psalm 95, our ancestors seem ashamed of their behavior amid the hardships and difficulties. The psalm-singer in Psalm 95 imagines God’s voice speaking to the people:

“Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness,
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah,
when they tempted me.
They put me to the test,
though they had seen my works.
Forty years long I detested that generation.”

Various stories depict our ancestors as a motley crew of refugees traveling with no visible resources whatsoever. It was a time of great danger and high anxiety. They came close to losing their trust in Moses, their leader, but above all they could not sustain their trust in the God to whom Moses’ words and their own lives bore witness.

We are in the midst of Lent. Wilderness stories present a compelling picture of ourselves as well as a plausible record of our ancestors’ experiences with God. Perhaps Ash Wednesday raised our consciousness about the failures of our lives and the absence of sustainable spirituality in our daily tasks. By now, however, Ash Wednesday is behind us, and our repentances have probably dried up and worn thin. The business of re-examining our capacity to trust God in the bad times as well as the good has become gritty, like sand in our shoes, as we walk the Lenten journey.

Is God reliable, in fact? Can we trust in this God to provide for our needs in times when we have no resources for living? Quite often the deep questions of our faith and trust in God are urgently and powerfully connected to questions about material realities – the things we need for life – especially when basic necessities fail us for one reason or another. In the case of our ancestors in the wilderness, where oases were few and wells were missing altogether, their urgent need was for water, the stuff of life. God had provided water in the desert for them once before, in an earlier chapter of Exodus, and now they needed water again. As always, they grumbled and became quarrelsome. What was the matter with Moses and God that they could not or would not repeat the trick with the water? And in this quarrelsome fashion, the traveling refugees articulated the big question of our own so-much-milder Lenten journeys: “Is the Lord with us or not?” They did not want a God who could not deliver the real, life-giving goods. And neither, of course, do we.

God answered the depth of their anxieties, saying to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people. … I will be in front of you on the rock of Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it.”

Yes, God was among them. God heard them and answered their needs just as decisively as he had heard their cries from Egypt in the beginning of this Exodus story. When God provided the water of life, the faith question was also answered. The rocks of the wilderness were transformed into a source of life for them.

Yes, this God was reliable. Subsequent generations saw this episode on the Exodus journey as a sign of God’s endless, patient faithfulness in the face of ancient Israel’s anxieties and desperation. The event was also, and honestly, remembered negatively, as in the previously quoted verses of Psalm 95. Like our ancestors, when we are rendered anxious and desperate by crises – fire, flood, famine, joblessness, homelessness, lack of money, the terrors of war – we test God by asking him to respond to our concrete, specific needs. Like them, we need a somewhat sturdier trust. Part of the Good News about this God is that he provides what is needed without our anxious grumbling, without our desperate angry shouting. In the infinite outpouring of his generosity, God gives to all his creation what is needed for its life, without any coercion on our part. Our hungers, wants and needs, and whether they get met, are not the measure of this God’s reliable generosity.

The New Testament stories of Jesus are all framed in such a way that this amazing, tried-and-true, reliable generosity of God is seen in all Jesus’ activities and in the way Jesus lived and died. In today’s gospel reading from John 4, the conversation between Jesus and the nameless woman at the well is an artful picture of this basic claim: only God – and for us, therefore, only Jesus, his Son – provides the stuff of life. The God who speaks to this woman of Samaria at the well in the heat of the day, is the God who turned the wild, barren desert into livable land for our dusty ancestors’ journey, with manna from heaven to eat and water from rocks to drink.

John the gospel-maker has used the material reality of water in this story as a metaphor. The narrative starts with the solid, old, deep well outside the city of Sychar in Samaria. The well is named for long-dead Jacob, and it has been the source of water for the woman’s ancestors just as it is for Jesus and herself. Jesus swiftly moves to conversation about the God who is the source of all gifts, water, and life itself. In the conversation, water is not simply something to drink, it is a sign that the gift of God is the quality of life on earth, “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Then the narrative moves to focus on the woman. One might say that she has had a difficult and rocky life, but the good news is that out of the failures and inadequate resources of her life, God/Jesus can make something new, quenching her thirst for something better. The narrative also moves through this woman’s own history to the larger historical context. Jerusalem and Samaria had failed quite miserably to overcome their mutual estrangement and to heal the wounds of their histories. It had become as inconceivable for Samaritans to worship with Jerusalem Jews as it was for Jesus to be talking to a woman in public. John has drawn a picture of two people who, practically speaking, could not have shared a common life, divided as they were by any number of things: history, sin, gender, and geography.

But the outrageous good news is, of course, that with this God among us as source, support, and provider of life beyond our wildest imaginings, the stories and metaphors of scripture can become the aspects and qualities of our lives as individuals, as communities, as society. In the light of that good news, Lent continues to be a time for noticing how our faith and trust play out in our lives. It is a time to let go of our failures and trust God in Jesus to bring new life for everyone with dried-up relationships and messed-up histories. And Lent continues to be an urgent time for rethinking our relationship to the world we live in. The deep wellspring of water, providing John with such a rich metaphor for our connection to God and each other, is in our time a powerful icon for the destructibility of our planet and how our silent complicity and consent to such destruction puts God’s loving generosity to the test.

 

— The Rev. Angela V. Askew is now retired, but still lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Jesus has outlined the way, 2 Lent (A) – 2011

March 20, 2011

Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

The architecture of Saint David’s Episcopal Church in San Diego, California, is quite intriguing. From the parking lot, a long, winding path leads to the sanctuary, landscaped with trees and plants indigenous to the Holy Land. Walking through the olive trees and fragrant flowers, the first part of the sanctuary seen is a solid, cracked, unfinished concrete portico extending from the worship space. The stark brokenness of the entry is startling. Even more shocking is the support, or lack thereof; it appears to be held up by two massive concrete pillars, but when one looks closely, the pillars stop two inches below the overhang. It appears that there is nothing supporting the massive, cracked concrete structure. A wary guest recently asked, “Is it structurally sound?”

The answer is yes; it was constructed in full compliance with the state’s building codes. But the architects intentionally designed the real support to be invisible. The entry to that sanctuary represents all people as we come to Christ broken and unfinished, and although we have many visible and tangible supports on our Christian path, such as scripture, worship, the sacraments, and our faith community, that last “two inches” of our Christian journey is built on faith. Faith in things that we cannot see. To follow Christ requires faith.

In today’s reading from Genesis, we hear the story of God’s call to Abram. In this reading we hear God tell Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And Abram said yes to God. Abram went. And not only did Abram go, but so did his nephew Lot and wife Sarai. Picture how that conversation must have unfolded. One can only imagine the scene as Abram, a senior citizen, informs his elderly wife and nephew of his encounter with God, and that they are all to leave their country and head to the land that God will show them. While we are not privy to the conversation, we see that, in the end, the group must have together discerned that this was a call from God and acted with faith, despite their fear and doubt.

Abram’s response to God’s call teaches to us to have faith when we discern God’s gentle voice in our lives. We are to act with faith and go forward, even when it means embarking on a scary, unchartered course. Is there a new path, a new journey, a new way of being that God is calling you to this morning? Maybe you feel God calling you to a new ministry within your church, or a new vocation, or a new profession or workplace, but you have been afraid for some reason to act. Maybe you are passionate about something that is unjust in the world around you, but you have never been brave enough to be a voice or to act for transformative change. Or maybe there is something that you’ve needed to give up to fully live out God’s call – an addictive behavior, angry reactions, or other destructive behaviors. Lent is the time to both embrace new life and let go of those things that stand in the way of our fully following God’s call. Like Abram, if after careful discernment, our sense of call is affirmed, we are to trust in God and act in faith.

But sometimes it can be hard to hear God’s message. In this morning’s reading we hear the story of the Pharisee Nicodemus, coming to Jesus in the dark of night – a powerful leader who comes to a peripatetic preacher in the darkness of night for illumination. Clearly he senses God in Jesus, yet he seems to have tremendous difficulty hearing and understanding Jesus’ new teachings as their conversation unfolds. Perhaps he is too rooted in the world, and with those things with which he is familiar, to hear Jesus’ radical new message of love that paves the way to eternal life.

As followers of Jesus, are we like Nicodemus? Coming to God from a place of darkness, yet being unable to hear Jesus’ call to new life? Are we, for whatever reason, actually choosing to stay in a place of darkness, hands over our ears like children, chanting, “I can’t hear you,” over and over again?

Fortunately, God continues to call. This morning we hear Jesus illuminate the path to new life once again. In today’s familiar words from the gospel of John, we hear of God’s enormous love for the world, a love so great that the path to eternal life is opened to all. All that is asked of us is to believe. To have faith. Like opening the shutters to the morning sun, Jesus brings light to not only the darkness of our lives, but to the darkness of the world. “For God came not to condemn the world, but to save it.”

Did Nicodemus finally hear Jesus and act with faith? Or did he leave that night, and continue to live in the darkness? We really don’t know. But what we do know is that if we truly seek new life, Jesus has outlined the way. And like Abram, like Nicodemus, we have a choice. We can choose to retreat back to the cave of darkness, or we can hear God’s call and walk toward the light of Christ in faith, trusting that, like the church in San Diego, the broken, cracked overhang of our lives really is supported by unseen structures.

 

— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson currently serves as priest-in-charge at Saint David’s Episcopal Church in San Diego, California. Prior to moving to San Diego she served at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City for over three year in the areas of strategic planning and collaboration, Center direction, and small church ministries. She has also served in congregations in New Zealand and Carmel, California. She is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a proud mum of three teens and a tween.

Temptation, 1 Lent (A) – 2011

March 13, 2011

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 42; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

“Temptation” is a word that has absented itself from this culture’s vocabulary and thinking. It’s so much easier to just give into it. “Save us from the time of trial,” the modern version of the Lord’s Prayer has substituted in place of “Lead us not into temptation.” But everything in the current culture points to permission to enter into temptation immediately, without any hesitation, at times with admiration; there is a tendency, especially among the young, to make bitter fun of those who resist temptation. This is the environment that surrounds the Christian who is urged not to yield to temptation.

What does it mean to be tempted? It is to be pulled away from our Creator by substituting the temporal for the eternal. We are pulled away from the purpose for which we were created: to live in God, to be one with God, to delight in God, to know the mind of God. Temptation also means to disregard the words and commandments we have been considering during this liturgical season: to ignore the fact that the Beatitudes of Jesus are indeed addressed to us, to forget to walk humbly with our God, to forget to love mercy and to do justice, as the prophet Micah urged us. All temptation centers at keeping us from the observance of these injunctions. And even though we don’t face temptation alone, we still find it easier to simply give in, forgetting the promise in Hebrews 3:18: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Today’s gospel report of the temptations of Jesus, testified to by Mathew – and by Mark and Luke in their gospels – is of vital importance to each one of us because it is so much a part of our own experiences.

The first temptation deals with the immediate physical needs of the body – an inescapable reality for all of us. In all ancient cultures the word “bread” stands for all that feeds us physically. It still remains so in the languages of these old cultures as evidence that, in the past, if the harvest of wheat failed, the people died.

It is significant that this particular temptation comes when Jesus is famished and physically at his weakest. The tempter doesn’t say, “All right, I’ll give you bread, but you will have to work for me today.” That would have been a rational request. What makes it temptation is the shortcut to the miraculous: “Use your powers as the Son of God to change these stones into bread.” What is implied is that if it doesn’t work, then he will doubt his relationship to God and also doubt the Godhead.

How many times do we, too, look for shortcuts? “O, God, if this bad government were not in place, then so many people would not suffer from malnutrition or starvation. Why are you not deposing this dictator in such and such a land? Are you really God?”

Have you not heard people say again and again, “I can’t believe in a God who allows suffering to take place.” All of us fall into that temptation especially in times of disaster. Jesus puts us to shame. Even when his own physical survival is at stake, he clings to the assurance given to his faith ancestors – that we do not live by bread alone; that the word of God, the truth of God, if only we could see it, if only we would acknowledge it, leads us to life! Of course Jesus did know the necessity for human nourishment; otherwise he would not have felt compassion for the poor and hungry. He commands us to feed the hungry. It is the emphasis we put on this temporal body that he warns us against; and how right he is. These days, with gyms and personal trainers everywhere, with the emphasis on a toned body, with surgical interventions to make it perfect, the body has become an idol for millions of people the world over. We have been warned against this kind of idolatry. Not living by bread alone means that we must not give into the temptation of allowing the needs of our bodies to overwhelm our need for the word of God.

The second temptation – the use of scripture in order to put God to the test – is painfully familiar to us, if we only stop to examine our expectations with honesty. The human tendency to bargain with God is quite prominent. We complain, “But Jesus said, ‘Ask and it shall be given, knock and the door will be opened,’ so why doesn’t God give me my heart’s desire? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Why doesn’t God punish the evildoers and reward the righteous?”

These are legitimate questions, but they almost always end up in the form of bargaining or testing. “Answer this prayer, God, and I’ll be good forever and ever.” Or “Do what I think is right, God, and I will believe in you.”

Unfortunately, we do not take into account the interconnectedness of creation when we put God to the test. We don’t know the mind of God. We cannot enter into the mind of the Creator who sees and understands the consequences of our requests. What if God answered the prayers of those who want this country destroyed? What if God answered the prayers of so many in our own country who claim the name of Christ and who ask for the destruction of enemies? What would happen to the world? The answer that Jesus gives, He who could have thrown himself from the pinnacle and survived, is that even when we ask for things using the words of scripture, putting God to the test is yielding to the temptation of the easy fix without considering the consequences.

The third temptation is the one that has brought us to the brink of disaster again and again – the terrible, seductive call of power. How easy it would have been for Jesus, weakened from hunger, all alone in the unforgiving desert, to forget to whom he truly belonged. How many human beings can you name who have turned their backs to the terrible seduction of power? Look at the inequality of wealth in our country and the world. Look at people starving while their leaders hold on to power, storing billions in the banks of Switzerland. Oh, the temptation of power that comes with wealth. How well Jesus knew the fatal results of giving in to the worship of other gods – the gods of greed, of luxury, of controlling others. All you have to do, Satan tells him, is forget that you belong to God.

As George McDonald wrote in his sermon “Kingship,” “The one principle of hell is –‘I am my own.’”

Jesus rejects this temptation outright. Only God is worthy of our worship, he tells us; only God deserves our service. It is after this firm answer that the devil departs and leaves us alone. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” Job cries. “I know in whom I have believed,” Paul declares even from prison. Do we know who it is who made us, who loves us, who asks us not to forget that God loves us and will not abandon us in the desert of temptation?

The great secret of the story of temptation in the Garden of Eden is that God did not abandon Adam and Eve. The promise echoing through the centuries since Paul preached it is that even if we fall into the temptation of forgetting God, Grace will not forget us. But oh, the sweetness of knowing how to say no to temptation and yes to God!

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of Walking the Way of Sorrows (Morehouse, 2003) among other books of Biblical monologues. She lives and writes in Boone, North Carolina. 

 

 

What to do about Lent? , Ash Wednesday (A,B,C) – 2011

March 9, 2011

Joel 2:1-2,12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103 or 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Ever since the bottom fell out of the sackcloth and ashes business, we’ve not known what to do about Lent. “What do I give up?” seems to be the primary question, an inversion of Jesus’ call for us to give. Lent isn’t a time to slim or to save money by not buying chocolate or going out to dine. Too easily our resolutions begin to look like holy variations on New Year’s resolutions, and we know how long they last!

Part of the problem is that we individualize Lent. We begin with me. Because we begin with me, the whole thing slides into another form of personal spirituality, perhaps somewhat ruined by our sly hints to others about just what it is we are sacrificing.

Sacrifice in Christianity, as with our Jewish ancestors, means the offering of life. Its culmination is Jesus’ offering for us on Calvary. The central way we commemorate this is in our offering of the Eucharist, a corporate offering “together” of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. In baptism, each of us is joined to those who “in Christ” offer the sacrifice, the life-offering of the Savior. We make this offering through Jesus for the world, in all its reality: for the homeless, refugees, those starving to death, those terrified by war and civil war, and even the rich living hopeless lives of denial and indulgence. In short, we get involved with the reality of life as it is.

Lent’s forty days prepare us for the Cross and the Resurrection, and no good intentions about giving up something gets us to that “Green Hill far away.” True, once our goal for Lent is established, fasting and abstinence is a way to keep us on track, but the goal comes first. The goal is simple but profound. It begins with our parish church. How does our community of the faithful intend to spend Lent together? What extra acts of worship or study will be added to the calendar? In what ways will the parish reach out to the world? We begin there. These extras on the calendar are not for the holy few. They determine how each of us may spend Lent, and guide us to choose individual acts of love that fit into that wider program.

At the same time, we remember that what we do doesn’t earn us God’s love. The question rather is how may I, and we, as a parish, become worthy of Christ’s death and passion? How do we deserve His conquering death for us and giving us eternal life?

On the one hand, we can’t earn and can never deserve God’s love for us in Christ. But we can open ourselves to the gift and seek to rid ourselves of those things that get in the way of God’s redeeming grace. We used to call these impediments the Seven Deadly Sins. Obviously gluttony was among them. Those old sins – do look them up or Google them – were neat ways of reminding us just how “self” gets in the way of service. Now, of course, you may feel you do pretty well in avoiding these failings and fallings. But just ask your partner, your children, your parents, or your best friends. With a little nudging they will come up with examples of bad temper, feeling sorry for yourself, being envious, or angry.

The point isn’t that we dwell on these things, but that we offer them daily to God in our devotions, certain that God forgives and strengthens us.

The gospel today reminds us that the smudge of ashes on our foreheads may either be a boast, or it may be a sign to us and to others that this Lent will be about more than giving up chocolate; it will be a time when God’s redeeming work transforms each of us and our parishes.

So may it be.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery.

Last Sunday After Epiphany/World Mission Sunday (A)

March 6, 2011

Exodus 24:12-18Psalm 22 Peter 1:16-21Matthew 17:1-9

[NOTE: In celebration of World Mission Sunday, the following sermon is written as a first-person account by a missionary in Tanzania, Africa.]

I am a missionary in Tanzania. When people hear this, they usually have one of three reactions: “You must be a saint”; “I didn’t know the Episcopal Church had missionaries”; or “I’d like to do something like that someday” (often followed by a list of why they can’t).

Since today is World Mission Sunday in the Episcopal Church, I would like to respond to these reactions.

To the “You must be a saint” reaction, I smile and assure them that I am; and in the next breath I assure them that by virtue of their baptism they are as well. If I can do one thing in this homily, I would like to dispel the myth that the work of missionaries that serve in a global context is any more important or noble than any other Christian’s mission. If it were not for the faithful service of the people in the churches at home, I would not be serving in Tanzania. The outward journey first requires an inward journey. While I, and probably many of you, would like to have had a mountaintop experience like Moses and the disciples, I have not. God did not reveal Himself to me in any blaze of glory. My encounter with God was through the faithful work of the church at home – in Bible study, in prayer groups, in preaching, in the sacraments, and in the lives of the disenfranchised whom my church embraced. This inward spiritual journey provided the fuel for my outward journey. It has been observed that an authentic inward spiritual journey always results in an outward journey. The outward journey is to join Christ in the mission of becoming a new community, an unrestricted community, what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the beloved community.”

To the reaction “I didn’t know the Episcopal Church had missionaries,” I admit that neither did I until I was in seminary. But indeed, at the present time there are 62 Episcopal missionaries in 25 countries around the world. Fourteen of them are in the Young Adult Service Corp and the remaining 48 are a mix of appointed missionaries and volunteers for mission. The Young Adult Service Corp is a one-year program for young men and women between the ages of 21 and 30. The Mission Personnel Office of the Episcopal Church, in collaboration with the sending dioceses, provides various amounts of support for missionaries serving in the field. My own Diocese of Atlanta helps support three long-term missionaries in Tanzania, not only with a stipend, but also with prayers and opportunities for relationships to be developed between parishes and individuals on both sides of the ocean.

To the third reaction, “I’d like to do that someday,” I take this to mean that the speaker thinks that being a missionary requires going to a different country. This is my opportunity to reiterate that all Christians are missionaries. One of my favorite seminary professors was fond of saying that God is a missionary God. God sent Jesus as mission incarnate, and Jesus sends each of us as the same. Each week we gather to worship, and just before we scatter into the world, our liturgy reminds us of our great “co-mission”: “Even as my Father has sent me, so I send you. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Jesus’ mission was being the Light of the World. He illuminated for us the way to love and to care for others, especially the hurting, the hopeless, and the hounded. Our co-mission is the same. Peter and James and John were eyewitnesses to the Light of the World, but they were not allowed to stay on the mountain with Him. Their mission was to go back down into the valleys and plains reflecting the Light of Jesus in their everyday, ordinary lives. Our mission is also to be reflectors of the Light of the World wherever we are and in whatever we are doing.

Since today is World Mission Sunday, the church is focusing on those of us who are missionaries overseas. Our present model is not to be like the missionaries from colonial eras, but to be partners in mission. We go only at the invitation of a diocesan bishop who has contacted our national mission office requesting a person with skills in a particular arena. We do not go to dispense a culture or a set of infallible orthodox doctrines. We go to be in personal relationships, using our gifts – and often modifying them – to meet the needs of those whom we are serving. We go to enlarge our understanding of the gospel by seeing how God is being revealed in other places and people.

When my husband, Martin, and I first began on this journey seven years ago, we wrote that one of the reasons we wanted to go was to hear the gospel with fresh ears and to see with new insight. What has most profoundly touched us is hearing and seeing the deep joy of the Lord in the midst of suffering. It is transforming to be enveloped by a people whose joy springs from a deep well of gratitude. Every prayer begins with “Father, thank you.” In Kiswahili this translates as “Baba, asante. Asante, Baba, for protecting me through the night. Asante for the rain. Asante for Jesus.” Asante, asante, asante.

When two North Carolina volunteers visited Msalato Theological College last year, they had a student and his wife over for afternoon tea. When the volunteers raised their cups to take a sip, the student said, “Aren’t we going to pray first?” One of the women answered that they normally only give thanks before meals. The student pastor responded, “We give thanks for everything, even for a glass of water.” Baba, asante!

Not surprisingly, water is a favorite image for God here. As I write this in early February, it is the rainy season in central Tanzania, but there has been no rain for twenty-five days. If this continues for three or four more days, there will be no crops. Since 85 percent of Tanzanians are subsistence farmers, drought means famine and cholera outbreaks, and all the other sad things that go along with it. I will never forget the words of our former school chaplain who was working at my house when the first rain of the season began to fall. He ran to the window and cried, “When we see rain, we see food! Baba, asante!

One year when my husband and I returned from the Christmas holidays, this same chaplain came running down the path to the home of our next-door neighbors, missionaries from New Zealand. We could hear him calling out, “Can you give me a ride to Mvumi village? My children are starving.” In his hands he was carrying two small bags of maize, or corn, that he was desperate to get to his family who lived 50 kilometers away. Ugali, the staple food in Tanzania, is made from maize, and the rainfall, for a second year in a row, had been insufficient for the growing of it. After this heartbreaking incident, the staff began meeting at five o’clock every evening for the specific purpose of praying for rain. The drought continued unabated. One afternoon when some of us were lamenting the fact that our prayers had not been answered, this chaplain, the father of six, said, “Our God is great. Even if we die, He is enough.” Baba, asante!

It is our job in global mission to be a bridge between our beloved communities. In relating as eyewitnesses the stories of how the gospel is being lived out in other parts of the world, it is our hope that you will be encouraged and filled with gratitude in whatever circumstances you may find yourselves. These stories of our brothers and sisters remind us not to buy into the rhetoric of a culture of scarcity. These stories remind us that we serve a Jesus of twelve baskets left over. These stories remind us that we are all enlightened when we are mission incarnate to the hungers of every tribe and nation. With Peter, we say, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Thank you, our beloved community from home, for sending us. Baba, asante!

 

— The Rev. Sandra McCann, M.D., serves along with her husband, Martin McCann, M.D., in Dodoma, Tanzania, in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. Sandy, a retired radiologist, is the communications director for Msalato Theological College. Martin runs a busy histopathology laboratory and teaches in the diocesan Clinical Officers’ School. You can read more about their work at www.mccannmission.org.

Through mission, Last Sunday After Epiphany/World Mission Sunday (A) – 2011

March 8, 2011

Exodus 24:12-18Psalm 992 Peter 1:16-21Matthew 17:1-9

Today’s readings all speak of mountains – high mountains, holy mountains, as the writers describe them – much like the high and holy mountains that surround the Episcopal congregations in the Ecuadorian Andes in South America.

Many of these Ecuadorian congregations are in indigenous communities that lie between 12,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level. Some of these high Andean indigenous communities have been part of the Diocese of Central Ecuador for decades, while several others began to seek out the Episcopal Church just in the last few years, as those communities invited the diocese (or church) to accompany them in their journeys of life and faith.

As was true in the beginning of this process or path, the communities’ invitation continues to include the desire for the intentional and continual presence of the church in their community life. Not only through the sacraments, which they see as vitally important, but also that the church truly be a companion in the natural cycles of life and death, of planting and harvest, of both joy and sorrow.

And these communities have expressed the desire not only to be accompanied, but also to accompany. They believe that they have a lot to offer as we walk together, from the life and faith of their own cultural and religious traditions, their indigenous worldviews, their spirituality. For example, as we grow together, these indigenous brothers and sisters believe that they offer the Church the gifts of an increased sense of community, of healthier and more holistic relationships with the rest of the creation, and of the possibilities for a better living-out of our interconnectedness.

There is a sense of mutuality in this as these communities and the Diocese of Central Ecuador together seek to offer themselves and accompany each other in ways that allow us all to be further transformed by the Holy Spirit, working through the gift of these relationships.

These Ecuadorian mountains and the relationships of the communities who live in them relates directly to today’s readings. Moses sets out with Joshua. Jesus asks Peter, James, and John to accompany him up the mountain. He seeks the company of the disciples and they offer him the gift of their presence, and he in turn accompanies the disciples later in their moment of fear. They share the path, the conversation. They listen together. They are all changed. Neither Moses nor Jesus walks alone.

Both Moses and Jesus are transformed, though not in a sort of vertical, isolated relationship with God alone – as if that were even possible. God’s revelation, and the response to it and path of transformation, is always mediated through God’s creation, both human and non-human: God’s law, written on tablets of stone; the mountain and the cloud that covered it; the presence like fire and the face shining like the sun; the voice that calls out; and the touch that overcomes fear.

God speaks and transfigures through the Earth and all she holds, through our inherent interconnectedness, and so often in relation to our own openness to this interrelationship and God’s Spirit within it.

Both Moses and Jesus are transformed, but not as solitary individuals. There is no private epiphany, no private transfiguration, no private transformation. They, and we, are transformed, transfigured, in community. As both Moses and Jesus grow into a fuller understanding of who they are in God and of God’s purposes for them, they do so in openness to both intentional and fortuitous interaction with others. They need these relationships.

And as we offer ourselves up more wholly to God, we know that we, as well, need these relationships. We enter into this season of Lent with the desire to be transformed, to walk within a fuller awareness of God’s purposes in the world and our place within these purposes.

And we enter into Lent also aware, at some level, that we have ways within us and within our societies that separate us from God and our neighbor, that move us away from God’s purposes, that uncouple us from the equity, justice, and righteousness of God spoken of in Psalm 99. We know that there are ways within us that separate us from that vital interconnectedness with God’s creation and the human and non-human communities within it; these relationships that we are called to walk within, to honor and nurture.

Saint Matthew tells us that, as Jesus is transfigured and speaking with Moses and Elijah, Peter suggests that they stay there. “I will make three dwellings here.” Peter could have many motives, but maybe one is the natural desire to make the experience of transformation into something more manageable, less unwieldy, more predictable; to own it in some way and enshrine or preserve something that is by its very nature fluid.

How much easier to build the tent, enclosing and containing the experience in some way, rather than to be that tent ourselves, organically housing the mystery and the love and the holy chaos that is God.

As Peter is speaking, God interrupts him. God tells the disciples, and tells us, that we must listen to Jesus; we must keep on listening to him. It is a continual process, not something that can be enshrined and then mechanically repeated.

An important way we keep on listening to Jesus is through each other; through our relationships with the world around us. We must keep on walking along the path, and to “come down the mountain,” as it were, listening and watching together as God reveals God’s self to us through God’s creation, and through each other as part of that creation.

Our call to listen to Jesus often means leaving our spaces of comfort; following the God who speaks from cloud, from mountain and earth, from the great diversity of creation and the cultures and peoples and perspectives therein; opening ourselves to see God’s purposes through different eyes and being transformed and renewed again.

The mission program of the Episcopal Church is a part of this communal call, this journey toward and within transfiguration. Through the many activities of the Episcopal missionaries – such as teaching English, working with refugees, medical ministry, sustainable rural agriculture, campus ministry, being bridges between churches in the global North and South – it is the embodied relationships that are nurtured “away” and “at home” that together help us to see God anew, to be further transformed, and that empower us all to seek and to serve God in God’s creation in ever more expansive and creative ways.

By the grace of God, mission work births and nurtures possibilities for transformed relationships and community, for new ways of being. In mission, paths open through which we can know ourselves and our God more fully. Through mission, through the community created in transfigured relationships, we grow in and live out together the love and abundant life that God desires for us all.

This week in the liturgical calendar, as we come down from the mountain and enter the desert, let us commit to entering more fully into this path of transfiguration, of walking it together. This walking together is itself an icon of the reign of God, visibly showing the world who God is. Through the lives of people and communities pursuing this path together, we show the world who God is just as Jesus did. We call the world to repentance just as Jesus did. We heal the world just as Jesus did. Through it, God transforms us all.
— The Rev. Chris Morck is an appointed missionary from the Diocese of Massachusetts. Chris has a joint appointment as the vicar at the Cathedral in Quito and as the support staff and Environment Program coordinator for the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI). Chris, his wife and their daughters have been serving in Ecuador since 2006.