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"Living our Faith"  March 5, 2006
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Cambria, CA
This sermon calls you to a Lent not only of reflecting on faith, but of living your faith.  And it invites you to join me in my mission to Liberia.  It is also based on:
Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:3-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-13
Show me your ways O Lord, and teach me your paths, (psalm 25:3) Amen

A few days ago at the Ash Wednesday service we were called into the observance of a holy Lent: a Lent of fasting and self-denial, penitence and reflection on scripture.  And if this isnít your first Lent as an Episcopalian youíre probably familiar with the practice of penitence and self-reflection during Lent.  But the scripture from Isaiah that we read on Ash Wednesday calls us into a different kind of fasting:
Fasting to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into your home, and clothe the naked. (Isaiah 58:6-7 paraphrased)

This reading from Isaiah is calling us not into a Lent of reflecting on our faith, but a Lent of living our faith.

In the gospel reading today Jesus is baptized and then immediately driven out into the wilderness, where he is tempted by satan and waited on by angels.  In Lent we remember this wilderness, and we are ourselves called out into the wilderness, to live out our faith, to be tested, and to be waited on by angels.

Last year I was driven out of my comfortable but unfulfilling life, into the unknown of unemployment.  I felt God calling me to make myself radically available, and I did, but I didnít do it joyfully.  I drug my feet and shook my fist at God, and even when I was convinced that God had left me there to rot, God was there.  It was shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and I felt drawn to be with the people in the Gulf Coast who were suffering, so I went and volunteered doing hurricane relief work for six weeks.

For those of us who were relief workers, and for the survivors of the storm, that landscape of destruction was our wilderness.  And we were tempted: by anger, by assigning blame, by callousness, losing sight of what was important, doubting Godís purpose, losing faith, becoming overwhelmed by the utter despair that surrounded us, seas of debris that went on as far as the eye could see. 

And yet, God was there.  Just like in the Old Testament reading today, when Noah gets off the arc to a similar scene of the destruction of the world, and God puts a rainbow in the sky as a sign of hope to every living creature.   There were signs like that in Mississippi as well.  For me it was the first bird I saw returning to the coast.  It was a tiny stalk of corn pushing itís way out of a pile of debris, a live oak tree that looked dead but had one small green shoot.  It was the food tents between piles of debris serving free hot meals.  It was the man who came to the Gulf Coast just to sharpen peopleís chain saws.  It was strangers helping each other around every turn.  It was congregations gathering at their ruined churches to sing hymns of thankfulness, and it was people to hug, people to cry with, people to pray with, people to listen to.

One time, I was out with a work crew, and our job was to gut out a house that had been under 32 feet of water.  It was more than two months after the storm, and the house was this deep (waist deep) in stuff.  And it was so congealed together that we couldnít even dig a shovel into it.  We had to clean it out by the handful.  I was in a room, making very little progress, and I could feel the stench and the despair just sinking into me, slowing me down.  And then, the Doxology just popped into my head, and I started singing softly to myself:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise him you creatures here below, Praise him above you heavenly host, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
And I sang it over and over again.  And as I sang, the praise and joy filled every corner of my being until I was smiling and laughing, and it lasted all day.  Because even though there was no physical sign of Godís presence, God was there, calling us into relationship, calling us into joy.

Not long after I left Mississippi, I went to El Salvador for a month to visit my sister.  She is a priest and has a parish down there.  And El Salvador was a different kind of a wilderness for me.  There were cement walls with razor wire on top around most buildings, and there was an armed guard even at the ice-cream store.  In the neighborhood where my sisterís church was there was poverty and gang violence.  The houses were made out of cinderblocks with holes for windows and doors and tin roofs.  The people struggled just to survive, but they would walk to church on Sunday and they would sing songs of praise at the top of their voices.  Whether they were on key, or even knew the words, they would belt out the songs, and their joy was infectious.  They taught me about abundance.  We are told that America is the land of abundance, but weíre not, not that kind of abundance.

I came here today to talk to you about my next adventure, my next wilderness.  I am going to be a missionary for the Episcopal Church, with a program called the Young Adult Service Corps.  And I am going to be stationed in Liberia for a year.  There is an Episcopal University there that has an agriculture program, which is my background, so Iím going to be helping them with row crop production, and starting a cattle project.  Liberia is just recovering from 15 years of brutal civil war, which ended in 2003.  Over 80% of their population lives in poverty, with over 70% unemployment, and they have the fourth highest infant mortality rate in the world.  And yet I know even in their wilderness the angels are waiting on them. 

I go, not so much to help, as to share the love of the people who send me, and to experience their lives, experience the way they see God and the world, to experience their wisdom and their joy.  And I know I will be changed by it.

Missionaries of the Episcopal Church have to raise a majority of their own funds, and I have to raise $10,000.  At first I didnít think that was a happy thing, but now I see it as a blessing, because it brought me here.  It means that I got to come here to share my passion for mission, and to invite you to join me on a journey.  Iím not just asking for money, I am asking to be your missionary.

I hope that you will all pray for me while I am gone.  I put cards on the back table for you to take, they have my contact information and prayer requests.  Also there is a signup sheet for prayer sponsorship, and I hope you will all put down your contact information so I can share my experiences, my joys and my trials with you.  There is also a signup sheet for financial sponsorship.  I have split up the total by the days of the year, and it costs $30 a day to sponsor my mission.  On the signup sheet you can pick a specific day to sponsor.  I will take the sheet with me to the different churches I visit, and I will take it with me to Liberia and look at it every day, and see who has sent me there that day, and pray for them and carry them with me in the work that I do. 

So as God calls you out into the wilderness this Lent, to live out your faith in the world.  I hope that you will also join me on this journey that I am going on, that you will open yourselves to it and be changed by it. Amen.
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