Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Our Christmas Story

Christmas Day 2014
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish, MD
Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]

Merry Christmas!!

First of all I want to thank all of you for the warmest welcome that I have ever received - anywhere. Devin and I are deeply grateful for your love and support.

I also want to thank Mark and the Vestry for their faith in my ministry and the opportunity to serve alongside them here at Christ Church. My hope is that I will be with you all for a long time, and that together we will continue to carry out our mission as Christ’s disciples, lighting this, sometimes, very dark world, and inspiring hearts and lives with the love and compassion of Christ.

As I began to plan my sermon for today, I thought about stories and how stories shape our identity and our lives. I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more stories I have to tell – and, for the most part, my stories reflect who I am - who I have become over these many years – they form my identity.

I am quite proud of some of my stories. But, truth be told, I am not very proud of many of my stories. When I look back at all the stories that remain in my memory – the good and the bad – I see how impossible it is to live a life that is comprised of only “good” stories, and how easy it is to accumulate stories that lack any saving grace. Indeed, my good stories are few and far between, and, for the most part, came at a price. Perhaps you would all agree, good stories – stories that we are proud of – are rare and achieved only through hard work, sacrifice, persistence and courage.

This Christmas Day we hear a story that is, in every sense of the word, a good story. It is a story that far outdistances our various and meager life stories. It is the story of the birth of the Christ child- the baby Jesus –the overarching and ultimate story of all time. The Nativity story is the story that defines what all of our stories should look like. It is the story that provides the norms by which we should all live our lives. It is the story that encourages us all to regulate our way of life, according to the model provided by Jesus, as we proceed in our work as Christ’s disciples in our personal lives, in this community and in the larger world.

It is a story that both guides us and walks beside us, lovingly and compassionately, as we struggle with the challenges of a darkened world, personal difficulties, desolate grief, and the anxieties generated in the chaos of this post-modern world.

It is a story told year after year. It is a story that never changes. It is a story for each and every one of us. It is a story that we read and listen to with joy and great hope as, each year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

We have no way of knowing the historical accuracy of facts reported in Luke’s birth story. However, we do know that about 4 BCE Jesus was born somewhere in the Galilee area, and we do know that his parents were poor. These are salient historical facts, but more important than historical accuracy are the elements of the story.

Jesus is born to Mary, a virgin who had found favor with God and in whose womb a baby was conceived. A baby who God commanded would be named Jesus. This Son of God arrived not in a mansion; not in a comfortable place fit for a king. Jesus arrived in a cold and dirty manger, attended only by his mother Mary and his father Joseph. The first to learn of the birth were shepherds, the lowliest of the low. Asleep at night they were awakened by a terrifying light and an Angel who spoke to them. The angel informed these cold, dirty, and bedraggled shepherds that their Saviour had just been born. “Hurry along to pay him a visit,” commanded the angel. Off they went, in faith I might add, to see this miracle with their own eyes. Astounded by the power of their visit, they rushed back to their meadows, excitedly telling all whom they encountered of what they had seen and heard.

The Nativity story is indeed much more that a story based on historical fact. It is Luke’s way of alerting us to the fact that God is with us. The God who created the world and who has spent the rest of historical time wanting to heal and restore a broken creation, that it may become an organism of true reconciliation and peace, is with us in a very real and urgent way. For God so loved the world, that he sent his Son to be with us, to be among us, to experience the full range of human emotions and to be in dialogue with us – to show us the way, the light, the gate that will open our hearts and minds to the Kingdom of God.

Luke is telling us that the God of Creation has sent his Son, Jesus to be a player in the massive effort to restore creation. Jesus who will restore sight to the blind, who will heal the lame so that they may once again walk, who will heal the sick and restore hearing to the deaf, raise the dead and bring good news to the poor is among us. Jesus whose compassion will rock the world, refocusing attention and worship away from the empire ruled by Rome and return it to the Kingdom of God is here to show us the way, the truth and the light.

The story of the Nativity, or God’s involvement with the world, is a story that never changes. The gift of the baby born to a virgin somewhere in a cold, dark Galilee over two thousand years ago, is the same gift that we – you and I - have received, and will receive, from God each year. Each year the gift of Christ our Saviour remains the same, and the fact that this gift was meant for all remains the same. Our gift from God in the person of his Son Jesus, is our reminder that we are now and always will be in relationship with God.

What then does this mean for us and our personal stories? A great deal I believe. I believe that the Nativity gift of Jesus calls us to be terrified shepherds in the cold and dark field; to, in faith, follow the commands of the angels to visit the newborn child; to travel a difficult journey in order to see and to experience – to know - the Son of God; and then, to return to our communities and spread the good news of great joy to all.

In other words, our stories, if they are to be good stories, should reflect intentional efforts to receive the gift of Jesus in a way that allows us to know him, know him deep within our hearts and our souls. Our stories should be developed out of a dialogue with God, making every attempt to understand his will and not ours. Our stories should be uninhibited in their proclaiming the good news of great joy – news that informs the world of the need to reconcile and to heal. Our stories should make history and make faith possible for future generations.

Throughout Scripture we read, and experience, in one way or another, that we are all created in the image of God; that God dwells within us all – at the very center of our beings; that we are all holy, because God, the God within us, is holy; that we are all sacred beings called to servant hood – servant hood to God and to all God’s creation; that our ultimate duty is to do right and trust in God.

In this challenging time of violence, terrorism, political unrest, and economic uncertainly, let us, more fervently and prayerfully than ever, seek the holy within us; put on the armor of God; and go forth in faith in seeking ways to bring God’s creation back into right relationship with him. This is the dialogic response that God is seeking as acknowledgement of the gift of Jesus in the manger this Christmas morning. This is the template from which our stories should be formed.

It does not matter that Christ was born long ago in Bethlehem unless he is born in you today.  (Meister Eckhart) AMEN.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Speak to God...He Will Listen


St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Exodus 33:12-23; I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22: 15-22


These days it’s not uncommon to overhear or participate in conversations that include comments such as “I really don’t know what is happening in the world today – ISIS and the Mideast situation, Ebola, all these hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes – it’s really frightening. Maybe the world really is coming to an end.”


Another common theme that literally screams out at us, not only in face to face conversations but in Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and other media sources is the apparent decline of Christianity.  Ethnic cleansing of Christians in many areas of the world, strife at General and other theological Seminaries, and blogs that state boldly “Even your new pastor won’t be able to save the church” all underscore a deep and real concern about the state of Christianity, especially in America.


And, right here in our own backyard – right here in Delray Beach – we are faced daily with the grim issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and a sea of people lost and searching, victims of abuse and addiction.


Without a doubt, after a quick glance at the daily newspaper, or listening to a few CNN or Fox News talking heads discuss the latest spin on who’s who and what’s what, there is a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty to shoulder through as we head out into our individual worlds of work and responsibility.


Yes, indeed – at times it really does seem pretty grim. What to do – who to turn to in these challenging times.


In fact, after reading today’s passage in Exodus, I wonder if we aren’t all feeling a bit like Moses did way back in the “good old days” when he stood on the mountain shaking in his sandals after having been instructed by God to lead a rebellious group of people into the unknown, barren and certainly dangerous wilderness, through the Red Sea and into the land of Canaan.


However scared Moses might have been though, he was not afraid to speak up about it. He was not afraid to challenge God. His message to God was crystal clear. Standing  there on the mountain top, he said, “Look if you want me to carry on with this task of leading your people out of the mess that they are in I need your help and I need you here – right here, by my side. Without your presence it just is not going to be possible.”


God listened to Moses, and God responded. God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest…I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”


Moses spoke directly to God. God listened to Moses. God responded. And Moses carried on. He led his people through the wilderness, all the way – right up to the plains of Mount Nebo, where he died.


The very last passage of Deuteronomy eulogizes Moses, proclaiming, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (Deut. 34:10-12)


Moses spoke to God. God listened. God responded. Moses acted and performed displays of power in full sight of all Israel.


By the time Paul comes around, many years later, God, through the presence of his Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has been made manifest, not to all, but to many.  The exclusivity of God speaking only to Moses has been radically altered. No more mountaintops. Jesus has been with and among the people. God, through the gift of his Son made man, Jesus, has come down from the mountaintop to walk alongside us as we journey through troubled waters and the challenges of life.


Jesus through his teaching, healing, death, resurrection and gift of the Holy Spirit has proclaimed the good news message that God is there for us – all we have to do is open our hearts to his presence. If we acknowledge God as our Creator, the one who loves us, and if we speak directly to Him for guidance and support, God will listen; and, God will respond.


In his Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul’s encouragement and support to the struggling new believers in Thessaloniki, remains a relevant message for us even today.  Paul says, “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in the power of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example for all…For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known.”


Paul praises the Thessalonians for their receptivity both to the gospel and to the gift of the Holy Spirit – a receptivity that Paul’s characterizes as having “full conviction.” He commends the converts’ commitment to their difficult and oftentimes dangerous existence as they model the love, compassion, peace and glory of God’s Kingdom through both their words and actions.


Paul reminds these new believers that in receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit they have chosen, despite threats of persecution, to be led by the Spirit as they carry out their Christian mission. They have become a model for others, so that “the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of God’s name.”


The Thessalonians led by the Spirit modeled the courage and faith needed to weather the persecution of the early Church. As they weathered these grim challenges, they, like Moses among the Israelites, were seen and heard by thousands of Roman citizens, and Christianity as we know it today emerged.


Jesus is, of course, the ultimate model for us. We encounter him in today’s gospel reading, standing face to face with the Pharisees. Pharisees who are yet again plotting to catch him in words and actions that will be seen as treasonous by the Roman authorities.


“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they question him.


Jesus does not mince words – “Give to the emperor what is the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” he replies, knowing full well that everything we have belongs to God – whatever small pittance of money is due the emperor has no relation to the commitment we have to God. It is to God whom we turn. It is to God that we listen. It is from God that we seek a response that will carry us forward in facing the challenges of life. It is from God that we will receive our salvation.


“When the Pharisees heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.”


Amazed at what? Jesus’ courage? Jesus’ passion? Jesus’ defiance?


I would imagine that the Pharisees were amazed by it all – the courage, the passion, the defiance, and the authority of Jesus as he perseveres in his mission to re-establish God’s Kingdom in Jerusalem and beyond.


Jesus’ courage in leading God’s people out of a wilderness of power and money established by the Roman Empire, the priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees.


Jesus’ passion as he barrels forward at a breathless non-stop pace to spread the gospel – the good news of God – the Kingdom of God that has come near.


Jesus’ defiance as he flies in the face of authority – an authority that desecrates God’s Kingdom here on earth.


Jesus’ authority that leaves people amazed.


Moses stood alone on a mountaintop and confronted God, asking for his presence as protection and help. Paul encourages us to speak directly to God asking for his presence in our lives and his protection as we fight the perils that face us. Jesus demanded that we acknowledge the sovereignty and authority of God’s Kingdom in the here and now, and forever and ever.


Moses on the mountain. The Thessalonians in Macedonia. Jesus in the Temple. All in direct communication with God. God listening to them all. God responding with the gift of his Son and the Holy Spirit. God with us and in us – always.


All this tells me there should be no “shaking in our sandals” as we face the challenges of today’s world. There is, indeed, reason for deep concern. There is, without a doubt, a pressing need for us as Christians to actively seek God’s response as we pray for guidance from the Spirit. There is a legitimate need for us to ask God to be at our side as we journey through a wilderness of terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and ravaging illnesses.


However, there is also an urgent need for us to be models – examples – to all believers throughout the world. There is an urgent need for us, through our words and deeds, to preserve the works of God’s mercy, that the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of his Name. Perhaps this is the greatest need of all.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

We are all God carriers...

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 
September 21, 2014
Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

“Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ…”

At just about this time last year a group of us were winding down our first Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions Symposium. Our goal at this symposium had been to bring together Haitian and American medical personnel and administrators to discuss how we might improve our healthcare mission efforts in Haiti. 

We believed that it was time to identify ways in which we could better support each other through the pooling of information and resources. We also believed that it was critical to stress the concept of sustainability and to identify ways to ensure that our mission work would remain alive and well in Haiti, standing on its own two feet, without our support, once we had departed.

In other words – we agreed that to continue to do healthcare mission business as usual would not be terribly effective. We wanted to spearhead an initiative that would get us out of our box and into a more effective place.

You might ask, how did we come to this point? Why did we need yet again another meeting – a meeting, some people said, that would take up a great deal of precious time, and would probably, like so many other meetings, lead nowhere? What was wrong with the way that we had always done the business of mission work? Look at all the time and money we had spent over the years sending in teams to distribute medications and provide two to three day clinics. Wasn’t that enough? Wouldn’t it be enough in the future?

I would be less than honest if I did not tell you that I experienced no small degree of fear and trepidation as I stood at the podium and delivered my opening remarks. What if my colleagues and I were exaggerating the need for a re-examination of how we as missioners do business? What if our thoughts regarding the ineffectiveness and oftentimes destructive effects of “parachute” clinics were met with open hostility? 

With over 45 participants registered to attend, the thought of going out on a limb and suggesting that we identify a different way of delivering healthcare in Haiti felt risky – but, it also felt necessary.  Too many projects were languishing; too many people were operating in the dark with no knowledge of who was doing what; too many men, women and children in Haiti were dying of malnutrition and other diseases that are so easily prevented and so quickly cured. Too many people went for months before seeing a doctor for a painful illness or injury. A new way for US healthcare missioners had to be found - A way that would bring healthcare to Haitians 24/7, not just a few days each year.

As I prepared for the symposium I spoke with many people, read many articles on mission work, and I prayed a lot! 

Support from the Presiding Bishop’s office buoyed my spirits. Bishop Katharine said in a brief conference call that we had early on in the planning process, “Go for it. We are in full support of this effort.” Well, that was good news!

Dwight Zscheile’s Book, People of the Way, also inspired me. Zscheile writes, “…Christian mission involves something more than the mere giving of resources. It is an invitation to a deeper, more transformational engagement…Jesus gives of his whole self, relinquishing his higher status, in order to empower his followers, to the point that where, at the end of his ministry with them, they move from being servants to being friends. This is a much more profound reordering of relationships than being a mere benefactor. A far more mutual, reciprocal sharing is at the heart of Jesus’ community and its mission in the world.” (p.26)  

A transformational healthcare engagement – that’s what we wanted, needed.

Throughout his book, Zscheile emphasizes that mission must not be our mission, but rather it must be God’s mission. When we go out into the world we are doing God’s will, not our will. 

We are not benefactors offering charity; we are disciples spreading the good news and empowering others. 

No one states this more clearly than Archbishop Desmond Tutu who says of mission, “We are God carriers.” And, “UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who summed it all up perfectly when he said, “Our goal is simple but daunting -- prosperity and dignity for all in a world where humankind lives in harmony with nature.”  

God’s mission – not our misson. What was God’s mission for the medical teams as they embarked on their annual and semi-annual trips to Haiti? Did we make a practice of discerning that before each trip? Did we see ourselves as God carriers or medical benefactors?

As I read, reflected and conferred with colleagues, I came to see more clearly what Best Practices for us in the healthcare mission field means. Of course, it means delivering the highest standard of medical care possible, but perhaps more importantly, it means advocating for prosperity, well-being and dignity for all. It means the transformation of a health starved world into a world in which all people have access to the basic care needed to maintain their dignity as children of God. It means a world in which we as missioners are God carriers as we seek to empower the people of Haiti, and other health starved countries, through our work as missioners whose hearts and minds are, without fail, always focused on the Five Marks of Mission:

To proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God – that vision of a healed world, bigger than all of us, that needs each of us in creating it.

To teach, baptize, and nurture believers – the work of encouragement and formation; living on the road, always looking for new believers.

To respond to human need with loving service – caring for people who need comfort in the midst of grief, liberation from prisons, and hope in the face of loss and darkness.

To transform unjust systems of society – the courage to challenge all kinds of violence, pursue peace and reconciliation and counter the hate, exclusion, and evil of this world with love.

To care for the earth – the garden in which we are set, filled with resources to be stewarded for the good of every creature.

As missioners for Christ we are called to go into the world proclaiming God and living out God’s mission, not our mission. That is indeed our “best practice.” And in order to achieve that best practice we need to work in harmony and in unity, all moving in the same direction with the same agenda -God’s agenda, for us and for the world.

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard underscores the reality that God’s Kingdom’s is filled with bounty and grace for all. Being on the receiving end of God’s gifts is not dependent on ethnicity, geographical location, social or economic status, or any of the many other variables we have come to use as discriminating factors. God’s gifts are for all, all who enter the Kingdom through his Son, Jesus Christ. All followers, all believers are eligible for an equal share of dignity, harmony and love.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians written from his jail cell in Philippi addresses the challenges that these fledgling Christian’s are experiencing.  He urges them to stand united in the face of adversity, to come together as one in remaining committed advocates of their newfound faith in Jesus.  

Paul warned his followers that the work is hard, but that the outcome is fruitful – “And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well…”  
If we stand together in one spirit in the face of disbelief, scorn and hardship, we will be drawn closer and closer to God. Our unity in the spirit and our courage in being God carriers will allow us to build and to strengthen God’s Kingdom here on earth – to make it sustainable. These are our best practices.

In two weeks the Second Annual Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions will be held in Atlanta, Georgia. Once again we have over 45 participants from Haiti and America registered. Once again we will address the challenges we face in delivering best practices medicine that reflect best practices Christianity. Once again we will struggle with language, culture, racism, and the grim reality of poverty and politics as we continue our work of coming together in unity of spirit to find a way to bring sustainable healthcare to Haiti. 

Once again, we will pray, as we did last year, that this will not just be another meeting – all words and no action. 

I can assure you that last year’s prayers were most definitely heard. The past twelve months have been action-packed - rocky, scary, and exciting. The challenges we have faced and will continue to face are monumental; the work never-ending. In the end, however, we are no different than any other disciple.  Indeed, we are journeying alongside the thousands of other God carriers who seek to widen and strengthen God’s world in myriad missional activities. We are in good company as we strive for best practices Christianity and sustainable prosperity and dignity in a world where all humankind lives in harmony.

As it happens so frequently, our best practices marching orders come from Paul when he writes to the Philippians, “…live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come to see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponent.”

We are a missional church. That means our work is hard and that it is never-ending. We are a light to those who wander in darkness, and a comfort to those in pain. We are an advocate for those who suffer from injustice and a protector of God’s heavenly kingdom. As we proceed on our missional path, let us pray that Paul’s exhortation continues to ring in our ears and enter into the words of our prayers and the seeds of our work.

“Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ…”

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Opposing Trapeze

St. Paul’s Church, Delray Beach
August 10, 2014
Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

Very few things in my childhood were predictable. A father who traveled continually and wanted his family with him at all times meant that different homes, different schools, and different people popped up in my life every four to five months. We were never quite sure where we would be next, or when we would be there. But, we did know that moving on was just around the bend.

New people and new places were the norm.

However, there was one thing in that remained the same year after year. One event that could be counted on, planned for, anticipated, and attended with joy and excitement.

That one stable, you can count on it, event was the Circus. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Each spring we would pile in the car and make the journey to Madison Square Garden in New York City where we would watch spellbound as clowns, animals, jugglers, midgets, and all sorts of entertainment whizzed around, and in, the three magical rings. The music, the incredible array of people and costumes; the lions, the tigers, the horses, and the elephants – They all came together in a spectacle that was truly amazing.

Mandatory circus refreshments were coca cola, popcorn and cotton candy. The of course you can get one purchase was a miniature turtle. We would each get our own turtle, and if we were lucky, one or two other trinkets that were being sold by the many vendors hawking their wares throughout the two-hour extravaganza.

It was all wonderful, and we were incredibly sad when it ended thinking “It will be a long wait for this time next year to arrive” as we drove home to care for our turtles, and recount stories of all the wondrous things that we had seen.

Amid all the glamour, laughter and excitement of the circus, however, the one act that always took my breath away, indeed seemed almost unbelievable to me, was the flying trapeze. As the bedazzled trapeze artists entered the center ring I would watch them climb high up above the audience. My head would be bent way back, my eyes glued to the trapeze artists as they arranged themselves on their two platforms, powdered their hands, looked down to check the net below, swung the trapezes back and forth testing their integrity, and finally conferred with one another as they prepared to take off – to fly through the air – with complete faith that their partner on the opposite trapeze would be there for them. 

These astounding performers had complete confidence that as they let go of one trapeze and flew through the air with arms outstretched, their hands would connect with their partner on the opposing trapeze. They had complete confidence that they would be caught – that they would be saved from the possibility of falling to a net far below them – the possibility of severe injury – the possibility of death. Complete confidence.

Today we hear about another leap of faith. Peter’s attempt to walk on water as he reaches out to Jesus for safety from the confines of a wildly rocking boat caught at sea in heavy winds and rolling waves.

Earlier, just after the feeding of the 5000, the disciples had been left to fend for themselves as Jesus went up the mountain to pray. Jesus had instructed them to go on ahead - to get in their boat and cross the sea of Galilee where they would prepare for the next step in the good news journey. 

Dutifully, the disciples climbed aboard their little vessel and set off only to be caught in an evening storm that tossed the boat to and fro as if it were simply a cork in a vast sea. The disciples were terrified. Where was Jesus? What was happening? They looked at each other and asked, “What is happening. Where is our teacher? Have we been sent out to drown?”

Towards morning, Jesus came back down the mountain to join his followers. Seeing their panicked struggle from the shore, he walked out into the sea to be with them. It was dark and foggy. The disciples saw not Jesus but a thinly veiled, shadowy figure. Now the disciples were even more terrified. Who was this - a ghost?

Truly, it was not a good night for the disciples.

Jesus kept looking right at them as he crossed the sea. He saw that they were terrified. He called out to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In joy and relief Peter recognized Jesus. He leapt out of the boat. He wanted to get to Jesus, to safety, as quickly as possible. Just like the trapeze artists, Peter leapt off the boat, into what could have been a deadly situation. In trust, he stretched out his hands. He wanted to catch onto the hands of Jesus. He wanted to be grabbed and brought to safety.

But wait, you can’t just leap out of a boat in the middle of a stormy sea and walk away, with no trapeze, no net — not unless you intend to walk on water with the wind lashing and the waves engulfing you.

All of a sudden Peter realized that he had taken a leap based not on reason, but on faith - now he was really terrified. He yelled out, “Lord, save me.”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught Peter. And then, Jesus chastised Peter saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”

Paul urges us to see reaching out and catching from a very different point of view. For Paul it is we who need to do the catching, not the opposing trapeze artist - not Jesus. It is we who are commissioned by Christ to “go forth and make disciples of all nations.” 

Paul in his zealous wisdom is teaching us that we have a mandate to proclaim - to teach - to help the world to see that there is indeed an opposing trapeze to catch them. That opposing trapeze is, of course, Jesus Christ. Our mission is to help those who cannot see - help them to see that safety is just an arm’s length away - that reaching out to Jesus is the first step to salvation from falling into an abyss in which there is no net to catch us.

Paul tells those who are gathered around him, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?”

Christ is there to catch us - but, and it is a big but - but we have to reach out and grab his hand. And we can’t grab a hand that we do not know is there.

Bringing Jesus to those who do not know him - healing the blind by helping them to see the power and love of Christ. Encouraging the lost and lonely to have courage - go out on the platform and take the leap of faith with arms outstretched - Yes, folks that is is our job as Christians whose personal world is so privileged and so safe that we are, perhaps, blind ourselves to the stunning darkness in which most of today’s world lives.

In just the past several weeks thousands of Christians have been displaced, brutally driven from their homes in Mosul - hundreds were executed as they fled.
Throughout the world thousands of children flee each day to escape violence and probable death. Many die in flight, stumbling blindly from one bad situation to another.
In America another sort of fleeing - escape from darkness and pain - is taking place. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. Each day in our nation there are an average of over 5,400 suicide attempts by youth in grades 7-12.
These are  but a few of the many issues that cry out to us each day - headlines in the paper that describe natural and man-made disasters that take our breath away; family and friends affected by one tragedy or another; our own lives suddenly off track, careening down a slope into an unknown and frightening abyss.

So many people - so many men, women and children - caught in the storm - terrified, lonely, and lost as their boat rocks wildly in the sea of a chaotic life that surrounds them.
So many people who need someone to proclaim to them so that they can hear, so that they, in faith, can reach out to God, so that they can be saved.

As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminds us, "The voices of the people of faith must be a prophetic impetus for lasting change, toward healing the whole body of God.”

The voices that the Presiding Bishop is referring to - those are our voices. All of us who sit here, and in other places of similar comfort and safety. We are the opposing trapeze. We are the ones who have the ability, and the mandate, to reach out and touch those who need to hear Jesus say to them, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

What I learned This Week

This week, for the second time in twenty years I was called to the hot, dusty, and controversial Rio Grande Valley in Texas on a mission.

I first traveled to the “Valley” in 1992, full of energy and prepared to join others in tackling the alarming growth of HIV/AIDS in that area of our country. Soon after my arrival we formed a team of dedicated Mexican-American educators and medical personnel who provided information and care to group of people previously shunned by family, friends, and medical providers. Four years into the project, I turned my team over to a new source of energy; and drove, for what I thought would be the last time, up the long, lonely and empty highway from Harlingen to Houston and then on to Florida.

This week, 22 years later, I was called to the hot, dusty, and controversial Rio Grande Valley on a very different kind of mission – a fact-finding mission. This week I traveled to the Valley to learn more about the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as thousands of people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador flood across US borders seeking refuge from the violence imposed upon their countries by drug cartels and gangs.

Astonishingly nothing much has changed in the Valley. It is still hot and dusty. It is still controversial. It is still inhabited primarily by Mexicans. While the rest of America has re-built, modernized, and upgraded itself to a shiny new technological reality, the Rio Grande Valley remains a tribute to its original builders – exactly the same.

As I visited with Valley residents and drove through neighborhoods that had once been my home, I remembered how much I had loved living in this old-fashioned dustbowl inhabited by large, fun-loving, and deeply passionate families. I recalled the love that my staff had for their very sick and frequently dying clients. I understood more clearly than ever that my four years in the Valley had planted a seed of spiritual awareness in me that led ultimately to my ordination to the diaconate in the Episcopal Church.

Washed over with memories and many emotions, I proceeded through a three-day journey of fact-finding. I stayed on track.

Most of what I learned, I already knew. The majority of these fleeing people – men, women and children – will be returned home where they will face more violence and possible death. Some will be granted safe passage and will end up throughout this country with family, or friends, or alone. Those who are granted asylum will, for the most part remain illegal. They will live in poverty, without sufficient education or economic opportunity, as will their children and their children’s children. This cannot be good. It can only lead to a socially and economically dysfunctional subculture.

Others will enter our country without sanction. Young men and adult men trained and hardened by gangs and drug cartels - men whose sole purpose is a life of crime and violence.

Yet others will enter as modern day slaves. Women and children who will be used and abused for economic profit – sold as day laborers or sexual playthings. These individuals will find their journey’s end in “stash houses” and brothels.

These are not positive outcomes for anyone – those who flee; or those on whose shores they land. As this human tragedy unfolds, there are no easy answers – perhaps there are no answers. We watch, we imagine that we can help – but how? If we are lucky we find a small area of service into which we can insert ourselves – gently, lovingly – realistically.

That brings me to what I did learn this week. I learned that humanitarian aid is hard to deliver. It is not easy to determine who is who and who needs what. It is not easy for just a few to coordinate attending to the needs of many. It is not easy to communicate across cultures – not only ethnic cultures but also religious, professional, and political cultures. It is not easy to watch people suffer and not be of much help.

Most importantly, as I watched a team of volunteers helping several mothers with children in tow complete paperwork, select clean clothing, and head for their first shower in many days, I learned something else – something that I already knew. I learned the same thing I knew 22 years ago when I first arrived in the Valley to care for people living with AIDS. It is the same thing that I have known for so many years. It is the one thing that has brought me to where I am today. It is what Jesus taught every step of the way as he journeyed to Jerusalem and the cross.

This week I learned, yet once again, how stunningly healing care delivered with unconditional love can be.     -------------  The Rev. Clelia Pinza Garrity

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Sunday Forum

Tomorrow, a small group of St. Paul’s parishioners will assemble in the Parish Hall directly following the 8AM service to learn more about the US border crisis and the dilemma of how to address the humanitarian needs of the unaccompanied minors fleeing from violence and possible death without becoming embroiled in the politics of Immigration Reform.

My hours of research on this current situation all point to the challenging and, for some, unpalatable fact that this tsunami of unaccompanied hispanic children are indeed refugees. They are refugees fleeing in chaos, not immigrants choosing to leave in an organized and joyful fashion - they are fleeing the tentacles of crime imposed by the MS 13 and MS 18 gangs that have invaded their neighborhoods; raped their mothers, sisters, and aunts; in cold blood killed their families, friends and neighbors; and threatened to do the same to them.

These are children who are handing themselves over to another authority, seeking refuge from the terror of organized crime and almost certain death.

My research also indicates that some of these children, indeed perhaps up to 60% of them, may actually have a legal right to be in this country, and that almost 100% of the children have nowhere to return to if they are deported to their home countries.

I believe that we all understand the need for border security and organized immigration that allows entry into this, or any, country based on a fixed and realistic set of policies and regulations.

I believe that we all agree that our borders need to be secured, and quickly.

I believe that we all know deep within our hearts that ultimately many of these children will be returned to their home countries, hopefully to a safer more peaceful life - but, perhaps not.

Finally, I believe that we, as a nation, must step up to this crisis of unaccompanied children who now reside here, within our borders, in the most humane, compassionate and just manner possible. We must accord to these children the same dignity that God has accorded them. We must see these children with the same compassion that Jesus saw the blind, the unclean, and the poor. We must be sure that we do not perpetuate their refugee status.

There is no simple answer here - no quick fix. But, there is the call, and therefore the mandate, for us to work together to afford these children their basic human rights delivered in ways that meet their developmental and cultural realities and needs.

As for those in our little group at St. Paul’s tomorrow morning — some will walk away a bit more informed; some will want to learn more; some will want to do something to assist. We will work on it. We will discern what we, this little group, might possibly do to ensure that compassion and love make their voices heard - heard above the voices of politics and fear.

If we can provide even a cup of water, that might be enough. Rev. Clelia P. Garrity. LCSW

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions Initiative: Update

It has been just one year since my friend and colleague Hilda Alcindor and I agreed that we wanted to coordinate a symposium to discuss best practices standards for US-based medical missions to Haiti. A date and meeting site were determined, emails to over 30 mission team leaders currently active in Haiti were sent out, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and Bishop Jean Zache Duracin were invited, as were many other key members of the Haiti Partnership Program. Prayers ascended. We were on our way!

On September 6-7, 2013, the first Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions symposium was held in Miami, FL. There were 45 Haitian and American missionaries in attendance for this two-day event that produced many wonderful ideas and seeds for the development of a formalized ministry that ultimately would be supported by the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society (DFMS) and the National Church.

On May 1, 2013, after many hours of discussion and planning, I was appointed as the Coordinator of the Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions initiative. A $25,000 grant was issued by DFMS to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, FL, my home parish, to support my work as coordinator of this initiative.

The ensuing two months have been quite active. A website has been developed, a monthly Constant Contact email newsletter is reaching over 850 individuals each month,  review by Haitian and American medical personnel of a standardized formulary of prescription and over the counter medications best suited for medical missions in Haiti is underway and will be published this fall, a protocol for best practices of ophthalmology in Haiti has been adopted and published on the Grey Dove website, new partners with experience and multiple medical and surgical resources for missionaries have surfaced and joined out initiative, a rapid response to the Chikungunya virus outbreak among the Best Practices network partners has resulted in sending 160,000 500 mg Tylenol tablets to the Haiti Partnership Program for distribution, and a Second Annual Best Practices Symposium is in the planning stages. It will be held in Atlanta, Georgia on October 4, 2014.

Needless to say, there is much work left to be done as the Best Practices initiative moves forward in its goal to encourage US-based medical missionaries working in Haiti to adopt agreed upon and published Best Practices standards and to move quickly toward the development of sustainable programs in their mission communities. Programs that will function without ceasing once the mission team is no longer there.

Keep us in your prayers; join us in our work. Peace always, Rev. Clelia P. Garrity