By – The Rev. Jonathan MacKenzie
Our guest preacher for Sunday, July 5 was Laura Walta, Director of Global Mission for the Diocese of Massachusetts.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Good morning! And a very Happy 4th of July Independence Day weekend to you all! I want to thank you for your warm welcome, and to your rector, Martha, for inviting me to speak with you this morning. My name is Laura Walta, and I am the Director of Global Mission for the Diocese of Massachusetts. As such, I bring you greetings and blessings from Bishop Alan and the Diocesan staff in Boston.
You know, in most cases, being a Director means that you are something of an expert in your field. You know more than others and are expected to instruct, guide, correct. But when it comes to being the Director of Global Mission, I have discovered that not only am I NOT an expert, but I’m actually more of an apprentice. God’s apprentice. Because Global Mission isn’t MY mission, it’s God’s mission. So in being an apprentice, I am always learning. Traveling, observing, questioning, thinking, praying. And then sharing and learning from others like yourselves, involved in the mission journey. So this morning, I’d like to do some sharing.
St. Paul’s has discerned a call to El Salvador, and I understand that you have a group that will be traveling there soon. You have a particular interest in the subject of justice for the victims of violence and human trafficking. I applaud your call to justice. I think of justice as being the ultimate purpose of the mission journey. Justice for our partners, even as we discover and address the injustices in our own society.
I’ve been to El Salvador a couple of times now, and it’s really a beautiful, tropical place. The people are so friendly, and oh, those papusas! If you’ve never had one, mmm you have missed one tasty lunch!
One of the things that really struck me about the Salvadoran people was the way they read and study the Bible. Although the country is predominantly Catholic, they really love to discuss scripture. For them, scripture isn’t just a story about the past, but they try to discern its instructions for the present.
For example, in our reading today from the Gospel of Mark, we heard Jesus order the disciples “to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”
We would be apt to say, wow, they really had to travel light. They only had one change of clothes and no money!
But some Salvadorans would take that reading, and consider- What is God telling us? What does that mean for us today? And they might discern that in mission, we need to leave ourselves behind. All our answers. All of our routines. All of our plans. In fact, don’t be prepared for anything. Be vulnerable. Give the control to God. Meet Christ in other people. Allow them to guide you. Allow them to take care of you. Meet Christ in them.
Because you know, when we don’t have the answers, we start to listen. And that’s when we can hear God. So instead of going places to fix them, we need to humble ourselves and go there to learn. Like you are doing as you travel to El Salvador.
I learned this lesson the hard way. I spent most of my life working in industry, and was involved in a lot of international business development. I remember the first time I was in El Salvador, I wondered why they weren’t making it a tourist destination. I remember thinking, with the beaches along the coastline, and beautiful mountain terrain, why aren’t they building resorts? Isn’t that a typical American tourist idea? To go into a place with all the answers to their problems? To walk in and want to take over?
But thinking about Jesus’s instructions, I don’t think that’s God’s idea of mission. After getting knocked down a few pegs when people laughed at my ridiculous suggestion, I began to ask questions, and to listen. I learned that gang violence has made much of the country unsafe. That there are more deaths per DAY in the Northern triangle of Central America- Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador- than in any active war zone in the world. That the violence, combined with no jobs, and no hope, leads mothers to pay to put their children alone onto trains across Mexico and into the hands of men called “coyotes” who bring them across the American border.
You’ve heard on the news about the Salvadoran children arriving unaccompanied in Texas. But you haven’t heard the whole story. The experiences of the poor in El Salvador are invisible to us. And that’s one reason that your trip there is so important. You will bear witness to their story. It will become real to you.
Over the past couple of years, I’m sure you’ve all heard something about the kind of work Foundation Cristosal is doing in El Salvador. In fact, they are leading the fight against gang violence and human trafficking in that country. Your group is going to be with Cristosal while they are in El Salvador. They will have the opportunity to meet and learn side by side with Salvadorans. What a great way to learn! What a great way to make new friends!
And they will see examples of hope among the poor. I’ve had the privilege to spend time with Cristosal and meet with many of the groups with whom they are working to secure human rights.
I remember visiting a community named El Carmen, a village of former “guerillas” during the civil war, who really wanted nothing more than their human and civil rights. Since the peace accords, they have created a remote village, across a wide, shallow river bed that floods during the rainy season. You can only get across in a 4 wheel drive. Then you go up a mountain. The ride was so bumpy, I was afraid I’d break something- like all my teeth, or my head in the roof!
When we arrived at the village, the people were anxious to show off their accomplishments. They had captured water from a spring way up the mountain, and piped it down to a faucet. They had built a two room schoolhouse. And now they wanted to start a chicken farm. But how to get the chickens and eggs to market? They needed a bridge. And a road too.
With the help of Foundation Cristosal, the leaders of this village learned about their human and civil rights. They learned how to approach their elected officials with appeals for their rights. They used these skills and were successful in getting help with both the road and the bridge. Soon they will have the means for economic stability, and food security. They are a great success story, but they are only one of many places benefitting from the help provided by Cristosal.
Thinking back to that first trip, I am humbled by my own ignorance. My “brilliant” ideas of economic development would never have worked in this environment. First, the system needs to change. And it’s not just in El Salvador that there are victims of violence. We can see it in our own cities. What can we learn in El Salvador? How can their fight for justice help us in our own efforts here in the US?
Today we will commission our sisters to this very special ministry. You will do this as a congregation, because you are ALL involved in this effort. You have provided financial support for the trip. You have provided moral support as they find the courage to embark on this journey. And you will continue to provide spiritual support in the form of prayer while they are away. Upon their return, you will want to hear their stories, ask questions and learn.
And like the Salvadorans, together with the Holy Spirit, you will want to discern what this story is calling you to do NOW, as you fulfill those parts of our Baptismal Covenant in which we promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, love your neighbors, strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being. Together, let us put these promises to work! In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Preacher: The Rev. Roger W. Cramer
Good Morning! My goodness this seems strange, . . . . . ! It’s been ten years since I’ve been here, we are all ten years older, – 10 years wiser, 10 years more vulnerable.
I want to get back to our vulnerabilities but first, what an astounding two weeks this has been, from the heartbreaking killing of our 9 brother and sister Christians in Charleston and the amazing capacity of their families to forgive the killer, and all the issues that this profound tragedy raises for our nation, racism and hatred, gun violence , what is the soul of our nation really about; and then the Supreme court decisions this week, that marriage is a “fundamental right” for all people, that affordable health care remains accessible to all people, that landlords cannot discriminate even unintentionally against anyone, . . . these two weeks have been a kind of threshold time for us, so much to rejoice over, and yet so much at the deepest level that needs to be understood and changed. I can’t help but think that God is here in all of it, letting these very human joys and these very human sorrows be a kind of doorway to draw us closer to our companion God and to valuing one another. Pres. Obama “I hope we don’t slip into a comfortable silence!!!”
Today’s lessons are about three people who are vulnerable to the pains of life. Their pain and vulnerability are great, but they represent all of us who in even small ways feel the encroaching pains of life. David learns that Saul and his beloved Jonathan are dead. Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, his daughter is dying, and the unnamed woman, has been in pain, bleeding for 12 years not only because medical treatment has failed her but also because her society sees her as an outcast. In their pain and vulnerability they are drawn to a deeper healing connection with God wherever they can find it. Vulnerability is a door to God. When we are vulnerable it means that life has finally unraveled beyond our control. We have to let go and let God in. In this sense vulnerability is a kind of gift to be treasured that can lead us to healing and even strength. Even Paul says, “I take pleasure in my weakness, my vulnerability for when I am weak, then I am strong.
I did not know this reality of Holy Vulnerability so much when I was here. But if we are listening, Life teaches us where the real pathways to God are found, and one is here in vulnerability. The families of those killed in Charleston have been teaching us this past week of how vulnerability and hurt can lead us to God and then beyond to forgiveness and healing. Jairus and the woman teach us that when we reach beyond our comfort zone to find healing in God, we will be amazed at the mystery of healing we find. And when we have befriended our vulnerabilities and found hope ourselves then we will have the strength to be wounded healers for others. Amen.