|Hurricane Katrina||El Salvador|
|"Through Our Weakness" April 23, 2006|
|St. Peter's by the Sea, Episcopal Church, Morro Bay, CA|
|This sermon recognized our weakness, and God's ability to use us, grow us, and glorify us through our weakness. And it invites you to join me in my mission to Liberia. It is also based on:
The lectionary readings for the second Sunday in Easter, Year B
|As the Father Sends me so I send you Amen
I remember hearing the story of Doubting Thomas as a small child. When the story got to the part where Jesus says, ďblessed are those who do not see and yet believeĒ I was excited. Iíd never seen Jesus, and I believed, so that meant I got to be blessed, which sounded like a good thing. But it didnít take me long before I was feeling sorry for Thomas. After all I had grown up being told that Jesus was the son of God and was raised from the dead, but Thomas had to figure it out on his own. I thought it wasnít really fair that I got to be blessed just for believing what I was told, when Thomas had to go through all that worry of thinking Jesus was dead, and missing out on that first meeting when Jesus came back to his friends. And just for his moment of doubt he got to be shamed forever by people calling him Doubting Thomas.
Throughout the Gospels the disciples are always messing up, getting it wrong, doubting, turning away, even denying Christ. And that gives me hope. Because all of us are like that arenít we?
I am always doubting God, getting it wrong, turning away from the light, wallowing in the darkness.
But hereís the good news, Jesus is all about taking our weakness and glorifying it. Taking those times of doubt, and transforming us through them.
You know, I think Thomasís first experience of seeing the resurrected Jesus was so much more powerful than the other discipleís experience, because Thomas had doubted. In that moment of seeing Jesus, all he could think to say was, ďmy Lord and my God.Ē He didnít even have to apologize, in that moment he was utterly humbled, and yet filled with joy. His hardened heart was melted. And all he could do was proclaim that Jesus was God.
In our doubts and uncertainties, in our non-existent confidence, in our weak and wandering hearts, God is there, just waiting for that opportunity to teach us, to shape us.
When we are strong, and faithful, and confident, how can we learn?
Since last September Iíve spent 8 weeks doing hurricane relief work on the Gulf Coast, I spent a month with my sister who is a priest in El Salvador, and been trained as a missionary of the Episcopal church. And begun to prepare for my year of service in Liberia which begins in July.
When people hear this, they are usually impressed, and right away I can see them categorizing me in their minds. She is a good Christian, she is brave, and she is one of those helping people. She is someone to be admired, I could never be like her. Am I reading your minds? If I am, Iíd just like to say, Your wrong.
I have a weak and wandering heart, I go through periods of darkness very regularly. Iím always forgetting to pray, forgetting to ask for Godís help, trying to muddle through things on my own. I get scared, I get angry, and around every turn I doubt God.
Before last summer I had never done so much as a service project. I was focused on what I wanted from life, my goals and expectations, and I expected God to go along with me.
But through my weakness, God began to move in my life. I wasnít happy. My prayer became this, that God would guide me, show me what I was supposed to do. At first I was giving God a window of time, maybe two years where I would be willing to do something that wasnít part of my plan. Very slowly, over more than a year, my prayer began to change, until I finally got to the place where I was willing to quit my jobs, and erase my plan all together. But I got to that place, not through strength and faithfulness, but through weakness. The more I tried to ignore the whispering in my heart that was calling, ďfollow meĒ, the more I realized how I miserable I was in the path I had chosen. So last September I said Yes. I quit my jobs, grumpy and pouting, shaking my fist at God, I started down a new path.
It would take me much longer than this sermon to describe to you how Hurricane Relief work, and El Salvador changed my life. Iíve posted all the writing Iíve done about it on my website, and I have cards in the back with that address if youíre interested.
But through every lesson the pattern was the same. God took my weakness and through it came close to me.
After Hurricane Katrina a lot of people around this country doubted God, wondered how a loving God could make something like that happen, and looked at pictures of death and destruction, and could not see God there. But let me tell you, the people of the Gulf Coast donít have a problem seeing God. God shows up in the faces of their neighbors, in the volunteers who continue to come to help, amidst the despair, loss, and destruction, there is a warm hand reaching out, a hot meal, a crew with work gloves and wheelbarrows, there is laughter, and hugs, and singing. There are church services next to ruined church buildings. There is community, even though all the buildings are gone. In the same thing, the same situation there is both great sorrow and great joy. And God is there, calling people into relationship in a very real way.
Now I am getting ready to go to Liberia for a year. There is an Episcopal University in Liberia that has an agriculture program. Agriculture is my background, so I will be assisting them with row crops and livestock. Liberia is on the west coast of Africa. In 2003 the peace agreement was signed ending their fifteen-year civil war. 250,000 people were killed during the war. Thatís almost a tenth of their total population. 80% of people live in poverty, 70% are unemployed. And I will be able to do nothing about that.
I go not so much to help, as to experience their lives, to experience how they see God and the world. To witness their joy and be changed by it.
People ask me if Iím scared. And I say no. I think they get the wrong impression, that Iím brave. When I arrive at the airport in Liberia, one of two paved runways in the country, and when I step out into the crowdÖ it will probably scare the crap out of me, figuratively. But the difference is that I know now, from experience, that God will be there for me in my weakness, and God will be the strength I need.
Iíve come to you today to ask you to join me on this journey. There are three parties who are involved in mission work, the missionary, those she goes to serve, and those who send her. Missionaries of the church have to raise a majority of their own funds, and I have to raise $10,000. At first I thought this was a stumbling block that I had to get past, but now I see it as a blessing. It means that I got to come here to share my passion for mission work with you. With your financial support or sponsoring me with prayer, you become a part of my mission in a very real way. Iím not just asking for money, Iím asking to be your missionary. To share your love with the people I go to serve, and to share with you their love, and lessons they have to teach us. I will be sending out emails and newsletter articles, to keep you involved. And I know that I will be strengthened and uplifted by your prayers.
I have two sign up sheets in the back, one for prayer sponsorship, and one for financial sponsorship. Iíve split up the total I have to raise by the days of the year, and people have been sponsoring a day of my ministry for $30. So you can choose the day youíd like to sponsor on the sign up sheet, and there are envelopes in the bulletins.
Iíll close with this thought. In the gospel reading Jesus said ďas the Father sent me, so I send you.Ē Jesus doesnít send us because we are noble and strong. Jesus loves us, and sends us out in our weakness, to experience God in the world, and to find that our weakness is in ourselves, and our strength is in God.
I invite you to join me on this journey. To open yourselves to it, and be changed by it.