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"Let us Love One Another" May 21, 2006
St. James Episcopal Church, Paso Robles, CA
This Sermon calls us to abide in Christ's love.  In his love we can move beyond fear to joy.  It encourages us all to get involved with mission work, and it invites you to join me on my mission to Liberia.  Also based on:
The lectionary readings for the sixth Sunday in Easter, Year B
Let your Loving Kindness, O Lord, be upon us, as we have put our trust in you. Amen.

LoveÖ it is the resounding unifying chorus in the lessons today. 
Love is a word we hear a lot about.  It is a word we think we understand.  In relationships we love people, we love our pets, we love our favorite food or TV program or car or house.  We love our church and our community, our country.  And we love God, or we want to. 

But if we look at love, the love that Jesus talks about, itís scary.  Laying down our lives for our friends?  Is Jesus really asking us to do that?  Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us.  And how do we do that?  We abide in his love. 

It is scary to give ourselves over to the love of Christ, because we donít know what we might be called to do.  And something deep inside us knows that we wonít be called to be comfortable and complacent. 

It is fear that separates us from the glorious joy that Jesus talks about, the joy of abiding in Christís love.  But we are promised in the reading from first John that perfect love casts out fear. 

Jesus does not expect us to be towering people of strength who can cast off fear.  We are his little lambs, afraid of our own shadows, afraid of the dark places, but Jesus walks with us and teaches us through our vulnerability, through our weakness and our fear, and leads us gently into perfect love.  All we have to do is say Yes.  Again and again and again we must say Yes to Christís love, yes to loving one another, yes to being vulnerable, to being outside our comfort zones, yes to reaching out.  Yes to the journey.

My passion is mission work.  Mission work takes us out of our everyday experience, out of comfort and complacency, out to be Christís hands in the world.  We touch people and they touch us, and we return to our lives changed people.  And we live our lives as changed people.  People who have seen the hope and joy in suffering, who have seen the face of Christ, who have been the face of Christ.

Mission work is right here at home.  Itís helping out at loaves and fishes or the homeless shelter.  Itís getting involved with youth, caring for the sick, for those in prison.  And mission work is also getting involved with the world.  Praying for people and countries who are suffering. Going to places of suffering and doing one small thing, helping to build a house, picking up a pile of rubble, listening to people, praying with people, loving people.

Until last summer the only mission work I had ever done was helping Jackie out at loaves and fishes for a couple hours when I was in high school.  Last year I was living and working in the Sacramento area, and I was searching for something more.  I wasnít finding fulfillment in what I was doing.  After two years of praying for guidance, and becoming more and more miserable in the life I had chosen, I was finally willing to let it all go, and step out into something new.  And I knew that that something was service work, even though I had never done anything like that. 

So last summer I went as a chaperone with a group of kids from our diocese to a weeklong service project on a Reservation in Nevada. We slept in sleeping bags on cement, ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day, and put a new roof on Elviraís house.  And that was just the beginning.

I quit my jobs last September and spent six weeks doing hurricane relief work in Mississippi, both with the Red Cross and with Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response.  I went to El Salvador for a month.  And this spring I went back to Mississippi for another couple weeks.

I had no skills which prepared me to put a new roof on Elviraís house, and I had no skills that made me a disaster relief worker. 

I think in our minds, at least in mine, we always classify people who do those sorts of helping things as a different kind of people then ourselves.  Well sure they went and did that, but that doesnít mean I could.  Iím here to tell you there are all kinds of people who show up to helpÖ young, old, white collar, blue collar, writers, bank tellers, journalists, landscapers, carpenters, retired people, working moms, working dads, people at the height of fitness, people with physical ailments, people with addictions.  People come from every walk of life, and most of us feel like a bit of a fraud, like weíre sneaking into a convention of helping people, trying to pass ourselves off as one of them. 

In Mississippi, in that scene of apocalyptic destruction and despair, I was frustrated at how little I could do, I thought I was a failure.  But then I looked around and saw thousands of others who were there failing just like me.  And together our failure was just enough, just enough to strengthen people at their weakest, just enough to bring hope and comfort.  You can never again question the power of hope, when you see it deliver a people through unthinkable destruction and despair.  The story of Hurricane Katrina is not over.  There are years still to come of struggle, struggle to survive, struggle against despair. But the hope that continues to survive, to thrive in that region is a miracle you can only begin to understand by being there.  Camp Coast Care, which is the Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response camp in Mississippi will be open for the next 5 to 8 years.  Providing housing and meals for volunteers, and equipping un-skilled teams to go out and do demolition and rebuilding.  And the amazing thing is that the camp is just as full now as it was last October.  People who go there return home, get more people and go again.  Because it is such a moving, life changing experience.

In every experience since I quit my jobs last fall, God has taught me and shaped me though my weakness and failure.  And I have never felt so passionate, so on fire for God.  And so I hear the Gospel reading today with new ears.  I hear Jesus saying abide in my love, love one another, and I will make your joy to be like my joy.  And I see now the beginning of that joy.  The indescribably all consuming joy of Jesus, the joy of self giving that fills every corner of your soul.  And I know that there is nothing I want more than to continue on this journey.

So I have signed up with the national church to be a missionary.  In September I leave for Liberia, West Africa, and will be there for one year.  I will be working at an Episcopal college helping them with their agriculture programs, because agriculture is my background.  The civil war in Liberia ended in 2003, and it claimed 250,000 lives, more than 10% of their population.  80% of people live in poverty, over 70% are unemployed.  And I will be able to do nothing about all of that.  I go not so much to help as to experience their lives, experience the way they see God and the world, to witness their joy and be changed by it.

Missionaries of the church have to raise a majority of their own funds, and for the last couple months I have been preaching at the different Episcopal churches in our county.  Fundraising has been a journey in itself.  I have been astounded by how many people are excited about becoming a part of this mission.  And through it I have learned something else about mission work.  Mission work isnít just about the missionary and the people she serves, it also belongs to the people who send her and support her in prayer.  I have already been tremendously strengthened and uplifted by the prayers of people who have joined me on this journey.  And when I am in Liberia I will be keeping in touch by email sharing the experience with my community of support.  And I believe that, as God has blessed me with the prayers of others, so will they be blessed by sharing this journey with me.  

So I come to you today to ask to be your missionary.  A missionary of St. James Paso Robles.  To share this journey with you. 

You can support me either financially or in prayer.  I have two sign up sheets by the door.  One is for sponsoring me in prayer, and the other is for financial sponsorship.  For financial sponsorship you can sponsor one day of the year for $30, and the sign up sheet has all the days of the year.  If you are interested in my mission, please put your name and contact information on one of the sheets because that is the only way I will be able to keep in touch with you.

As you go out into the community into the world to live out your own faith journey, I hope that you will join me on this journey, open yourselves to it and be changed by it.
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