Church’s work in Haiti continues

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Haiti still need our help. Rebuilding a devastated country – one devastated by political shenanigans and hurricanes long before the 2010 earthquake struck – takes time, prayer and the will to continue despite the long odds. 

Please, continue to pray for Haiti: Almighty God and heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being, send your Holy Spirit upon the people of Haiti, that they may know your love, feel your support, revel in your joy. Send your Spirit upon all those who continue to work in Haiti, rebuilding the lives of its people, so that they may be faithful servants who listen without dictating, who work in community and not as solo artists, who care first and foremost for your beloved children, and not for their own glory. Bring health to the people of Haiti, who put all their trust in you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

The latest news from The Episcopal Church Center:

Holy Trinity Cathedral, three weeks after the earthquake.

[October 2, 2012] With the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake which destroyed Haiti mere months away, the Episcopal Church continues its emphasis on assisting the church’s largest and fastest-growing diocese.

“It is a great gift and privilege for us to be able to work with the people of Haiti,” commented Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer.  “I never fail to be inspired by them and their indomitable sense of hope.  The problems and issues Haiti faces would absolutely devastate many.  The people of Haiti continue to face their challenges with faith and spiritual strength that calls forth a like response in all of us.”

The January 12, 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the Caribbean island country and cost many lives. Leveled were churches and diocesan facilities, including Holy Trinity Cathedral with its priceless murals in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

General Convention 2012 named the focused effort for the Diocese of Haiti as one of the priorities for the Church.

The newly reorganized Development Office of the Episcopal Church is coordinating all the fundraising efforts for the rebuilding of the Diocese of Haiti.  This follows the conclusion of the first phase of the project by Episcopal Church Foundation.

“We are thankful to the Episcopal Church Foundation for its grassroots campaign,” Bishop Sauls said.  “The baton has passed to the Development Office, which has been maintaining regular consultation with the diocese on how and where to help, looking at a wide variety of infrastructure needs.”

Bishop Duracin with President Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, three weeks after the earthquake.

To that end, an Episcopal Church team soon will visit Haiti to engage with diocesan leaders and officials. “This mission trip will include a thorough assessment and fact-finding to determine what steps will be taken in the short- and long-term for this all-encompassing project,” Bishop Sauls said.

Currently, Bishop Sauls and his staff are working diligently on a final agreement with an architect for the cathedral complex. He is also planning to lead a pilgrimage to Haiti in early 2013.

And, as another facet of the Church’s work with Haiti, the Church Center is now the home in a rental agreement with Le Consulat General de la Republique d’Haiti and the Haitian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

For information on how individuals, congregations, dioceses and groups can help the rebuilding of Haiti, contact Kim Moore at kmoore@episcopalchurch.org

To learn more:  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/rebuild-our-church-haiti
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The Episcopal Church’s work in Haiti continues
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Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

To paraphrase a former president in a presidential debate, “There they go again.”

Those Israelites.

Carping and complaining, moaning and groaning.

“If only we had meat to eat!”

“We remember … Egypt.”

“Our strength is dried up …”

“There is nothing … but this manna to look at.”

Here the Israelites are, multiple years into their journey in the wilderness, and they are fed up to their gills with manna – you know, bread from heaven manna? – and what do they want? What do they really want after all these years of eating the bread of heaven?

They want meat.

Oh, they can talk about the veggies and the fruit they used to eat in Egypt – I’m telling you, their doctors were probably really pleased, because they wanted a balanced diet, good for their hearts, but, no, what they really wanted was Capital M-Capital E.-Capital A.-Capital T-MEAT. Because they were tired of eating manna.

It’s not like the Israelites didn’t have enough to eat – they did.

They had the manna from heaven – the bread that God sent, in just the right amount. Every single morning, God sent them just the right amount of manna. And they didn’t want it anymore. Now I want you to know, in case no one has told you, manna actually is real. Manna is a real substance that you can find, to this day in the Sinai, if you are out in the remote areas, where the Israelites once sojourned. Manna is not what most people think it is. A lot of people think of manna and they think it is those little communion wafers that you get in church on Sunday mornings. Uh-uh-uh, that’s not manna. Manna is … um … plant lice excretion,[1] also known as bug poop.

That’s what the Israelites are complaining about this morning. They are tired of bug poop. It’s not that they are tired of having bug poop every day. What they are tired of is only having bug poop every day.

And frankly, let’s be honest, if had to eat bug poop every day, wouldn’t you be tired of it? After all, there are only so many ways you can fix bug poop. You can boil it. You can bake it. You can toast it. That’s it. There’s nothing else you can do with it. And if you don’t do that pretty quick, it goes rotten anyway.

So, we’re not exactly talking about gourmet meals that the Israelites had had all those years wandering in the wilderness.

It was nutritious.

But it was not gourmet.

The Israelites were not complaining about not having enough. Because they had enough.

And it wasn’t simply that they wanted more – more food, more variety.

They were complaining because they thought that they deserved more. They thought that they had been faithful long enough, wandering around in the wilderness, scooping up bug poop every single morning, and eating it morning, noon and night. They thought that they were special. And because they were special, they should have something more.

Sinai from space, via NASA

The problem is, these people had forgotten, in all those years of roaming the wilderness, of being fed day and night by God on high, of being led day and night by God on high, they forgot that they were special not because they had been so faithful for so long, but because they were created in God’s very image. God chose to create them in God’s very image, the image of love – because, my friends, we are not necessary to God, so God must have wanted us, God must have desired us, God must have loved us into being – and the image of community, the community that comes from when God said, “Let us create humankind in our image.”

The Israelites had forgotten that they were created in that image, the image of love and community, and in God’s version of love and community, it’s never about what you deserve. In God’s version of love and community, it’s not about what you have earned by your faithfulness.

In God’s version of love and community, it is always about what God gives you.

And what God gives you is always enough.

Always.

• • •

I have to tell you, when I read this passage about the Israelites carping and complaining about how hard their lives were because they were tired of eating bug poop every day, I think back and remember my friends, my “families,” in Kenya and in Honduras, in Sudan and in Haiti, and I think to myself, “Man, I know a whole slew of people who would give anything to have what you people  had. I know a slew of people who would love to have … enough.

I mean, come on.

The Israelites are getting a guaranteed meal delivered to their doorstep every single morning, and they are kvetching about this?

They have enough, and they want more?

When I read this passage, I remember the days when I lived in Kenya, and the rains didn’t come and they didn’t come, and our crops dried up and died almost as soon as we put them into the ground, and we had so little to eat … so little … and our children went hungry and their bellies distended, and their hair turned red because they were malnourished, because we were literally eating the leaves off the trees …

I remember walking through the market looking for anything – anything – that I could possibly eat, and over here, there would be this little pile of scraggly little onions (and they were scraggly), and over here there would be this little pile of scraggly little tomatoes – barely an excuse for a tomato – and then I would see these piles of weird greens that I had never seen before and that I had no idea how to cook …

I remember asking the mamas, “What are those greens?” and having them laugh at me, because there I was, the white woman who was the Peace Corps fundi wa maji, the water engineer, who brought them water when possible, and I had no idea what I was looking at …

And I remember them telling me, “Those are leaves from the trees, mama.” And how, when I asked, “Which trees?” the women laughed even more and said, “If we told you that, you wouldn’t have to buy them from us!”

And I remember asking them to teach me to cook those scraggly leaves with those scraggly onions and those scraggly excuses for tomatoes, and how much we all rejoiced when finally, some rain arrived, and we could once again grow some of our crops.

When I think of the way the Israelites moaned and groaned because they didn’t think they could stand one more bite of God’s bread from heaven, I remember what it was like in Honduras, where we ate rice and beans, beans and rice, rice and beans, beans and rice, rice and beans, beans and rice, morning, noon and night … because we didn’t have anything else …

I remember what it was like in Sudan, a country that has been at war for most of the last sixty years, where food shortages were common, and death stalks the land on a constant basis, and nearly weeping to discover that war had once again brought death to our doorsteps, depriving us of fish and tomatoes and vegetables, because war means death, and death means bodies in the Nile River, and bodies in the Nile River upstream from us meant cholera downstream where we lived … so we couldn’t eat anything that had come into contact with river water … and all we had left were onions and lentils, and lentils and onions, and onions … and onions …

 

I remember more rice and beans, beans and rice in Haiti, where the poor subsist on less than a dollar a day – if they are lucky – and where oftentimes, there were more beans than rice, because the rice industry has been destroyed in that country by politics and hurricanes and earthquakes … and where to stave off hunger, we would buy pieces of sugar cane, so that we could gnaw on it, so that t

I remember what it is like to be hungry every single day … to not have enough …he sugar would abate our hunger, but it did nothing for our nutrition, and our children there were just as malnourished, with their bellies just as distended, and their hair turning just as red as they did in Kenya.

So you know what I think, when I read about the Israelites demanding more, demanding M-E-A-T-all-capital-letters-MEAT?

I think: You have enough! Quit complaining!

• • •

The sad thing is – and we do not like to admit this – we all are like the Israelites at some point in our lives.

We have enough – enough food, enough medicine, enough opportunity – and at first we think, “Thank you, Lord.”

But then …

Then …

We start complaining.

Because after a while, enough is not enough.

After a while, we want more …

After a while, we stop trying to keep up with the Joneses and we start trying to surpass the Joneses, and the next thing you know, we have more than enough, and the Joneses?

Well, the Joneses are out of luck.

This is what our society teaches us right now – you know this. Look at the advertising you see. Advertising that says, “Buy more, more, more, more!” And, “If you buy this, your life will be fulfilled!” Until the next version comes out. Adversiting tells us we simply cannot live if we do not have the latest version of whatever the newest thing is, if we do not wear the newest styles, if we do not drive the newest cars.

And right now, for some strange reason, society is telling us, in every way possible, that it is perfectly okay to say, “I’ve got mine, and I don’t care if you ever get yours!”

But that attitude of us against them? That attitude that demands more, more, more? That attitude that leaves others in the dust?

That is not God’s plan for us, my friends.

That is not how God looks at us. That is not why God created us.

Because in God’s very good creation, there is no such thing as “us’s” and “thems.” All of us – each of us and all of us – are beloved children of God.

God’s plan is that each of us – every single one of us beloved children of God – has, quite simply, enough.

Not too little.

Not too much.

Simply …

Enough.

Because in God’s very good creation, the one in which we who were created in God’s very image live, God’s plan, God’s dream, is that each one of us has enough.

Our call, as faithful people of God, is to make God’s plan, God’s dream for God’s beloved creation, come to fruition.

It is on us to do what God wants done.

Now, the moral of the story for those carping, complaining, moaning, groaning Israelites is that God basically replied, “More?!? You want more?!?! I’ll give you more! I’ll give so much more that you will literally choke on the meat that I will send you, and you will die from it!!!”

Which is what happened. If you keep reading in Numbers, remember, this is what happened.

These carping, complaining, moaning, groaning, there-they-go-again, stiff-necked people, they got what they asked for, and you should always be careful about asking, because you might just get what you asked for.

It’s not a pleasant ending to this story. But it does get across God’s basic message to us, who, I pray, are not carping, complaining, moaning, groaning, there-they-go-again, stiff-necked people.

Hopefully, we actually hear God’s message, and hopefully, we actually live God’s message, which is this:

In God’s eyes, enough truly is enough.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21, at Immanuel Episcopal Church, Glencoe, Md., on 30 September 2012.


[1] From Barbara Brown Taylor’s Bread of Angels, Cowley Publications, 1997.

 

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One of my favorite theologians posed the question about this morning’s Gospel the other day, asking, “Do you have to be a little crazy to preach the Gospel?”[1]

To which my response was, “Crazy to preach the Gospel? Nah. But you do have to be crazy to live the Gospel!”

Because, let’s be honest, from the days of Jesus himself, anyone who dared to live the Gospel, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, not just proclaiming God’s love but actually living it, was considered crazy.

The Gospel, you see, is not something that fits in well with society. Never has … never will.

Society in the days when our Lord and Savior walked the earth was exactly like it is today. In fact, I hate to tell you, but society has pretty much been the same since … well, ever since Cain killed Abel: It’s been about putting ourselves first. Putting our kith and kin first. Putting our tribe first. Today’s society, just like society in Jesus’ day, is based on the attitude of, I’ve-got-mine-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-ever-get-yours!

Everything that Jesus did in his ministry – feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, making the blind see, the deaf hear, the mute speak, the lame leap for joy, including the excluded, loving the unloved, cleansing the unclean, giving hope to those who have known no hope from generation to generation – everything Jesus did went against societal norms. That’s why the scribes came down from Jerusalem … because Jesus didn’t fit the norms.

And I am telling you: If we really live the Gospel – not just proclaim it but live it – I guarantee you, you, like Jesus, will be called crazy. People will say that you are out of your mind.

When I told my family and friends and my parish that I was going to Sudan to be a missionary, they told me I was crazy. Sudan wasn’t safe. It wasn’t stable. It was a country riven by nearly 50 years of war, war that had not quite ended.

When I went to missionary training – if you want to serve as an Appointed Missionary of The Episcopal Church, you have to go to a two-week “missionary boot camp” – they brought in a security trainer who looked just like Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, who talked to us about security issues and how we could keep ourselves safe. We each were allowed to tell him where we would be serving, and he would tell us something about the area where we were going. When I asked about Sudan, he said, “Well, I wouldn’t go to the border region … it’s really unstable and you never know what’s going to happen there. Where are you going?”

When I told him, “the border region,” all he could say was, “Well, good luck.”

When I lived in Sudan, the Sudanis themselves told me I was crazy, Northerners because I was living in the South, Southerners because … well, because I was living in the South. There was no clean water, very little food, the area was very insecure, we had very little electricity, and people were pointing guns at me all the time.

At least once a week, the Sudanis would ask me: “Why are you here? Why haven’t you left yet?”

When I did leave Sudan, and transferred to Haiti, my family and friends again told me I was crazy. “Why do you want to go to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?”

And then when I got to Haiti, the Haitians themselves asked me: “Are you crazy? Why would you leave the comforts of the United States to come here?! We’re trying to leave here to go to the United States?”

You have encountered this reaction as well, haven’t you?

Every time you decide to do something because Jesus says so, isn’t it true that people question you?

You’re generous people, I know, so when you stop to help a homeless person on the street, giving them $20, someone somewhere asks, “Are you nuts? He’s just going to drink that money, you know.”

When you stop along the road to help a stranded driver, taking them to get some petrol, isn’t it true that your parents or spouse looks at you and says, , “Are you crazy? That person could have been an ax murderer!”

You decide to tithe to your church, and then you go to see your broker, who looks at you and says, “Are you out of your mind? Did you stop to think that you might need that money someday, you know, to retire? Or to pay for your kids’ college education? Or to pay for that wedding you’re daughter’s been dreaming of all her life?”

I am telling you: Living the Gospel … every moment of your lives … is … well, it’s just crazy!

Look what happened to Jesus – his love for God’s people led him to the cross!

If we are going to be Christians, if we are going to truly be followers of Jesus, we are going to have to be just a little bit crazy.

• • •

NY Times columnist David Brooks

Last week, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times entitled “The Moral Diet.”

In it, he talked about David Arielly’s new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, a book that shows that “nearly everybody cheats, but usually only a little.”[2]

Arielly’s social science experiments show that people these days “live by the Good Person Construct, try[ing] to balance their virtuous self-image with their selfish desires. They try to manage the moral plusses and minuses and keep their overall record in positive territory.”[3]

Brooks compared how we live our moral lives to the way we follow our diets. We have all dieted, right? So we know how this works. We get up in the morning, and we have a banana and yogurt for breakfast. Then for lunch, we have a salad – a small salad – no dressing, please, because I’m on a diet. For dinner, we have a piece of baked chicken and some broccoli. And then what do we do? We count up our calories and we realize we’ve been really good today, so we say, “I can have ice cream for dinner!”

Brooks points out that what we do with our diets, we do with the rest of our lives.

The Good Person, he wrote, “isn’t shooting for perfection any more than dieters are following their diet 100 percent. It’s enough to be workably suboptimal, a tolerant, harmless sinner and a generally good guy.”[4]

Brooks finished his column with this thought: “As we go about doing our Good Person moral calculations, it might be worth asking: Is this good enough? Is this life of minor transgressions refreshingly realistic, … or is it settling for mediocrity?”[5]

I have to say, when I finished reading the column, my reaction was: “’Good enough’ is not good enough. Not if we are going to live our lives as followers, as disciples of Jesus.”

Because Jesus didn’t do mediocrity.

Jesus, my friends, went the whole way. He lived his life – and he died for us – as a crazy radical, loving beyond anything the world had ever seen.

And Jesus is calling us to be just as crazy and just as radical as he was!

And when we do this, and the world laughs at us or scoffs at what we are doing, or ridicules us and says, “You’re out of your mind” (which the world will do)? Well, Jesus basically is telling us to respond to the world by saying, “So what?”

So what if the world around you thinks you are out of your mind?

So what if your actions and your attitude makes people say, “You are out of your mind!”

This is what Jesus commanded us to do, and if we are going to follow Jesus, this is what we’re going to have to do.

Be a little bit crazy.

• • •

My favorite theologian points out that Jesus’ life was centered in a very specific vision, and that “at the heart of that vision and way is the conviction that God is love, that God desires the health and healing of all God’s creation, that God stands both with us and for us, that God is determined to love and redeem us no matter what the cost, and that this God chooses to be accessible to us, to all of us – indeed to anyone and everyone.”[6]

Let’s be honest:

That vision – it’s pretty crazy.

Because it goes against everything society says.

But that indeed is God’s vision, and it was that vision that Jesus lived, and taught us to live as well.

So the question for us on this Sunday morning is this:

Are you willing to be crazy for Jesus?

Are you?

 Amen.

Sermon preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Manassas, Va., on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Year B, 10 June 2012.



[1] David J. Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, “Out of our minds,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=596

[2] David Brooks, “The Moral Diet,” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/08/opinion/brooks-the-moral-diet.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120608me

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lose (emphases added)

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Come and see

John 1:29-42

            The man was walking alongside the river late one night, trying to get from one place to the next, neither of them being home, but needing to keep going. It was a cold night, clear and crisp, with the stars shining brightly above him and the waters flowing smoothly beside him and the path laid out easily below him. Other people were walking that path beside the river with him, people also intent on getting from one place to the next, hoping that they could end their journeys for the day sooner rather than later, for no one likes to be out at night, especially when they were not at home.

And then the man heard the young men in the group ahead of him singing, singing songs loudly and joyfully (what, he thought, was there to be joyful about on this night, when it seemed so dark and life was getting more difficult with each rising of the sun?), praising God (which God? he wondered) and telling some sort of story with their songs (what story? he wanted to know).

The man continued to walk along, following these singers, feeling better for hearing them but not understanding why.

Finally, he asked the young men: Who are you singing about? What God are you praising? What is the meaning of this joyful music? What do you have to be happy about? (For the man was hearing these songs and asking these questions at the very end of a long and brutal war, a war in which his people suffered mightily at the hands of a greater and very oppressive enemy.)

And then the young men began to speak, to tell the story of another young man, from a place very far away in a land barely known to them. They told of how angels had appeared in the sky, singing, “Glory to God on high.” They told of how this one young man was God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, who would save their people, who healed the sick and gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, who made the lame not just walk but leap like deer, who raised people from the dead, who fed the hungry and who filled their hearts with joy … with love … and most of all, with hope. And they told him, “Whatever you are looking for, you will find it in this man from this faraway land.”

As the young men spoke, the man’s heart was filled with that love, and he began to feel the joy and for the first time in a very long time, he began to believe that he, too, would find hope in a world that for so very long had seemed so very hopeless.

Then he asked them, “Where are you staying?”

And they replied, “Come and see.”

So he went and he saw and he heard and he believed. All night long, they talked and sang and prayed, and before the sun came up on the new morning, the man who had been walking alongside the river on a very dark night believed. He had not seen the man who gave such promise to the world, he did not know the whole story, and yet … he knew enough, enough to believe. He continued to learn the story from the youths, and he went to church, and three years later, he was baptized, and seven years after that, he was confirmed, and then he, too, became an evangelist, he, too, became the one walking along the river, singing the songs, and one day, years later, he became a priest.

And now he is the one who tells the story and gives people hope, and he is the one who teaches and preaches and pastors and baptizes and marries and buries the people.

All because one night, one cold, crisp Christmas Eve night, in the deepest part of South Sudan, walking alongside the River Nile, he heard Christmas songs being sung and the Christmas story being told, and when the young men said to him, “Come and see,” he went and saw and he believed.

• • •

The group gathered on the dock by the Bay of Gonave in Haiti, looking across the 2-mile stretch of open water to the Isle of Gonave. They were going, some for the first time, to see the tiny church of St. Simon and St. Jude in a village precariously perched atop one of the island’s mountain ridges, a church that only a year before had been but a dream but now was ready to be consecrated.

Normally, the trip across the bay came via a two-hour ferry ride, but on this day, a non-governmental organization was loaning the use of a speedboat to take the group across. Forty minutes later, they landed on the island, a fairly desolate place smack dab in the craw of the western end of the island of Hispaniola, where in 1492, Christopher Columbus had sailed the ocean blue and landed, bringing Christianity with him.

Somewhere on the heights of Gonave was a tiny village, if it even could be called that, known as Platon Balai, a wind-swept place of rocks and scrub brush, with little fresh water, little arable land and a population of hardy souls who for years had wanted a church of their own but had no way to build one. Until a group of Christians arrived – some from Arkansas, some from Georgia. Over the years, a medical clinic had been built nearby. Then a school room. And now, finally, after intense story-telling followed by even more intense fund-raising followed by incredibly hard work, a church had been built, a real church, made of concrete blocks with a tin roof well secured to withstand the storms and hurricanes that routinely attacked Haiti.

All the people needed now was the Bishop of Haiti to come to consecrate St. Simon and St. Jude, the bishop to come and bless the place and the people, to celebrate a Eucharist and baptize and confirm.

So he came, this Bishop, who once had served as the priest on the island, caring for the few thousand hardy souls who lived there, planting parishes without church buildings, organizing the people, praying with them and for them. The bishop led the group of Americans over the water by speedboat, then across the island on sorry excuses for roads and paths in borrowed SUVs for two hours, and then on foot on a meandering path that cut back and forth through the brush and up the mountain for another hour until the donkeys that had been rented finally caught up, and then by donkey ride up the rest of the mountain for yet another hour.

“We go,” the bishop said, “where the people are. If we need to drive for two hours, then walk for an hour, then ride a donkey for another hour, that is what we do. We go,” he said, “to the people, and the church grows.”

At the summit, the group was greeted by 100 or so of the members of St. Simon and St. Jude, proudly showing off their new church, which they had built with their own hands, funded by churches – Episcopal, Presbyterian and Anglican – in Arkansas and Georgia. Those Americans had come to Haiti to meet the people, to listen to them. They had come and they had seen, and they had believed, and now, five years later, after multiple trips, after working hand in hand with the people of Gonave, they were here again, to see the fruits of their labors.

• • •

Come and see.

This is what Jesus said to the two disciples, Andrew and another, who were disciples of John the Baptizer, who had proclaimed Jesus as God’s Chosen One, as the Lamb of God, and who wanted to know where Jesus was staying.

Come and see.

If we want to live the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the same Gospel that called Andrew and then Simon and then the other disciples, and then the 3,000 and then Paul, and then the untold numbers who came after Paul, the same Gospel that eventually called those young men who sang as they walked along the river that Christmas Eve night in 1973, the same Gospel that called Father Paulo, the same Gospel that called the people of island of Gonave in Haiti, the same Gospel that called the people of Arkansas and Georgia  … if you want to live that Gospel, all of these people say to you: Come and see.

Come and see the Gospel as it lives in places where the people have nothing else, where war and oppression and famine and disease and nature itself claim their lives in untold numbers, where despite the hardship of their lives, the people believe. They believe in the man who came from a small village in a despised place, the man who walked the land as they walked the land, who came to them and lived with them and blessed them, even though the powers and principalities told them, day after day, that they were not blessed.

Come and see your brothers and sisters in Christ in Sudan and Haiti, who are related to you not by the blood of their birth but by the waters of their baptism, because it is only when you have seen, with your eyes and with your hearts and with your souls, the tragedies that are their lives that you can see, with your eyes, and with your hearts and with your souls, how alive they are in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

For the Gospel is alive – in places like Sudan, now split into two countries, where the wars that raged for five decades continue to this day; in places like Haiti, where four hurricanes in five weeks in 2008 was just the way life was, where a devastating earthquake in 2010 took the lives of 300,000 people and displaced another 1 million people – one-tenth of the population, in 38 seconds.

Your siblings in Christ are beckoning you: Come and see the Gospel come alive in their parishes, their schools, their villages. Come and see the Gospel come alive in their church-run schools, where all the children are given the education that the state denies them, because they are poor or from the wrong tribe or speak another language.

Come and see the Gospel come alive in their church-run clinics, where every single person who comes in for treatment is treated with dignity, even if they cannot pay.

Come and see the Gospel come alive in their evangelism revivals, where they preach the love of God in Christ Jesus to all of the people and proclaim God’s peace, which passes all understanding, and God’s justice, which rolls down like waters, and God’s reconciliation, which brings about God’s kingdom on this earth.

Come and see the Gospel come alive when your brothers and sisters in Christ proclaim God’s hope, in lands where the powers that be long ago proclaimed that for the poor and the destitute, for the people from the wrong tribe or ethnicity, that there was no hope from generation to generation.

Your Sudani siblings in Christ and your Haitian siblings in Christ join together to beg you:

Come.

And see. And believe.

For the Gospel is alive and well in Sudan and in Haiti, and they want you to know this. They want you to know this because they believe that if you know this, if you see it, with your eyes and with your hearts and with your souls, then you will be, as they are, empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the greatest thing of all:

You, like they, will spread the love of God to all of God’s beloved children.

You, like they, will spread that love – that undefined yet powerful love – that captured Andrew and caused him to bring along Simon, who was to be called Cephas, which means Peter; the love that captured Paul and made him an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God; the love that on Christmas Eve 1973 captured your brother in Christ Paulo Ajang Thiel Lual; the love that captured the people on the island of Gonave in Haiti; the love that captured the people from Arkansas and Georgia, causing them to travel thousands of miles, by air, by water, by car, by foot, by donkey.

If this is what we do – if this is what we all do, spreading God’s love to those who are far off and those who are near, here in Newtown and there in Sudan and there in Haiti and everywhere in between – then we indeed will change the world, we indeed will bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.

Spreading God’s love, proclaiming God’s love, living God’s love … this is what we are called to do. It’s what they are striving and sometimes even dying to do in Sudan. It is what they are striving and sometimes even dying to do in Haiti.

Which is why they want you … to come … and see.

Amen.

Sermon preached at Newtown United Methodist Church, Newtown, Pa., 12 February 2012, Year B.


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Stephen Broadbent's "Samaritan Woman at the Well," sculpture at Chester Cathedral, England. Sculpted in 1994.

How often have we looked at someone and in that one look, made a snap judgment, placing that person in her place because of the way she dresses, deciding that because he is so good-looking, he must be a good guy?

And how often have we had someone take one look at us and make a snap decision about who we are, because of how we look, where we are, how we act in that one second of our lives?

“You could just tell that she was …”

“I knew just looking at him …”

Snap judgments, we call them.

No matter how many times we discover — later on — that we were wrong, that the scruffy-looking one had a giant heart for helping others, that the good-looking one was really a cad, we still make snap judgments about people all the time.

The first day I dared to venture out on my own in Haiti – completely on my own, with only my newly learned Creole and my bravado to accompany me – I made it only one block before I was surrounded by Haitian men.

“Miss! Miss!” one very tall man yelled. “Buy my painting?”

Soon every single one of these men was saying the same thing: “Miss! Miss! Buy my painting? No, buy mine! I give you a very good price. American money, no problem!”

These men, who had never seen me before and who presumed that because I am white I was (a) American, (b) rich, (c) willing to part with my money, and (d) willing to part with way too much of my money because I was (a) American and (b) rich, made a snap judgment about me. They never asked my name. They never engaged me as a real person.

To them, I was merely a quick buck – a buck they desperately needed, to be sure, so that they could support themselves and their families – but a buck nonetheless.

When Jesus and the Samaritan woman met at Jacob’s well in Sychar, there was a whole lot of snap judging going on.

The woman made snap judgments about Jesus:

•Just another man used to ordering women around;

•An outsider (she didn’t know him, and trust me, in small villages, everyone knows everyone);

•A Jew (most likely because of his dress and perhaps his accent – otherwise, Samaritans and Jews pretty much looked and sounded alike);

•And therefore an enemy of sorts (Jews and Samaritans hadn’t gotten along for almost 600 years, ever since the Babylonian exile – it was an old theological argument about whose worship was better, purer, truer, more faithful …).

The disciples, who show up a tad later in the story, made their own snap judgments about the woman:

•A woman and therefore a lesser human being (sorry, ladies, that was a fact in the days when our Lord and Savior walked the earth);

•An enemy of sorts (remember what I said before about Samaritans and Jews – we’re talking about almost six hundred years of enmity here …);

•A brazen woman (men and women did not speak to each other in public if they didn’t know each other, and since Jesus was their Lord and Teacher, she obviously must have been the one to initiate the conversation, which only a brazen woman would have done);

•And an outsider in her own village (she was drawing water alone, something that women do in groups for all kinds of reasons, the first being the community that forms when people are doing arduous work together).

And Jesus? Well, he, too, made a snap judgment. But his was of a different sort, for he looked at this woman and instantly – instantly – saw who she was and what she was:

Jesus took one look and knew that she was a beloved child of God, in need of all the love and affirmation that only God could give her (because, obviously, her community wasn’t showering her with its love).

It was Jesus’ snap judgment that counted in the end … that overruled the snap judgments of both the woman and his disciples, that declared that despite what the woman thought of herself, despite what the disciples thought of her, despite what anyone thought of her, this woman was a beloved child of God.

So this woman, who came to the well to slake her physical thirst – to satisfy her need for actual water – ended up having her spiritual thirst, her need to be known and loved, satisfied instead.

She already was known – oh, my, was she known in Sychar. Everyone knew that she had had five husbands and was now living with another man – without benefit of marriage. Everyone knew that obviously, she had sinned in some way, for why else would she have been widowed so many times, or divorced so many times, or some combination thereof? And everyone knew that since she by living with a man without benefit of marriage, she obviously was a sinner!

But she didn’t want to be known that way. I mean, who would? Who wants to go through life having others look at you and find you wanting, in just a glance? Who wants to be thought of as a lesser human being, as a sinner, because of circumstances beyond your own control? Who wants to feel unloved in a world in which love is in such short supply as it is?

This Samaritan woman at the well? She was dying of thirst for a little bit of love. And here comes Jesus – an outsider himself, traveling through a foreign land – who looks at her and instead of finding her wanting, knows her to be a beloved child of God, loved from before time until the ages of ages.

He knows her story, he knows her life, so well … he knows that what she wants more than anything else is to know that she is loved, despite the circumstances of her life, despite any choices she has made, despite any sins she has committed. Jesus knows that God looks at her and makes God’s own snap judgment: I love you.

My friends, the bad news is: God knows you. God knows everything about you … everything.

The good news is: God knows you. God knows everything about you … everything.

And God still loves you.

Exactly as you are …

Even when you make mistakes …

Even when you sin …

Even when others do not appreciate you …

Even when others shun you …

God still loves you.

The only snap judgment that God makes about us – about each of us – is that we belong to God. And because we belong to God, we are known … and in that knowing, we are loved.

You want to slake the thirst you have, that we all have, to be known and loved?

Well, know this:

God knows you and God still loves you.

Now, I don’t want you leaving this place today and going home saying, “The Episcopal preacher at church said today that we can do whatever we want, because God loves us.” No! Don’t say that, because God does judge us! God has high standards for us. God’s desire, God’s dream for us, is that we become the people God has created us to be: People who love. People who love God, people who love each other, not just as ourselves (that’s hard enough to do on the days when we love ourselves, but on those days when we don’t love ourselves? Well, on those days, it’s really easy not to love our neighbors), but as Jesus loves us.

Which means that God wants us to live our lives as God’s beloved children in God’s community of beloved children.

Not by looking at each other and making snap judgments based on societal standards that could not care less about what God wants.

Not by shunning each other.

But by caring for each other.

By loving each other.

It’s a tall order, isn’t it? To love one another as Jesus loved us, as God loves us?

Living lives of love means that we have to stop making snap judgments and start living in community. We have to talk with each other. We have to listen to each other. We have to get to know each other, not on the surface, not by our looks or our dress or the color of our skin or our accents … but deep down, by our stories.

Because only then can we really know each other. Only then can we really love each other.

• • •

Patrick, Frantzy and Tony Fleresca, my good friends in Haiti.

Those young men on the street in Haiti, the ones who surrounded me and tried to sell me their paintings, who viewed me as nothing more than a quick buck to be made?

Their names are Frantzy. And Tony. And Patrick. And Enil and Hercules. And Ernest and Salwa and the other Enil …

After I convinced them that I was not going to buy art from them, that I lived there now and was not a rich American tourist or aid worker but a missionary and priest, we started to get to know each other. We told each other our stories. We began to look out for each other. We began to take care of each other.

When we stop looking at each other as objects and start getting to know each other, start learning each other’s stories … well, that’s when we begin to live into the image in which God has created us, an image of love and community.

Trust me:

God knows our stories.

And God still loves us.

And if that knowledge doesn’t slake your thirst, doesn’t satisfy your deepest needs, I don’t know what will.

We are known.

And we are loved.

Amen.

A sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Lent, 27 March 2011, Year A, at Bensalem United Methodist Church, Bensalem, PA.

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Build up, build up, prepare the way

The Episcopal Church Foundation announced today that Archbishop Desmond Tutu, retired Primate of Cape Town and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is joining the call to “build up, build up, prepare the way” for the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church in Haiti. Having served in Haiti for nearly a year, this effort is near and dear to my heart and, I hope, to yours.

The announcement:



FOR INFORMATION:          Teresa S. Mathes, Episcopal Church Foundation

717-599-0627  TMathes@EpiscopalFoundation.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Endorses

The Episcopal Church Rebuild Our Church in Haiti Appeal

March 23, 2011, New York, NY – Archbishop Desmond Tutu has issued a statement in support of the efforts of The Episcopal Church to help the

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Diocese of Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake through its Rebuild Our Church in Haiti appeal.

Archbishop Tutu stated:

“We are all God’s children and we must be one. For this reason I am proud of my sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church who are joining as one to help their sisters and brothers in Haiti rebuild the church that has helped them endure such difficult times. There is no “conservative” or “liberal” in this project. There is no rich or poor. There is one community of faith joining hands across a continent to raise up a new place for hope to dwell. I honor the church-wide effort to rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince; it deserves our wholehearted and generous support.”

Rebuild Our Church in Haiti is a church-wide appeal that seeks to engage Episcopal dioceses, congregations, and individuals in helping the people of Haiti to rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince.  Already gifts have been received from 70 dioceses, and congregations are spearheading local efforts to raise funds.

“The support of Archbishop Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate and internationally recognized advocate for human rights, will inspire and energize Episcopalians who are participating in the appeal,” said Donald V. Romanik, President of the Episcopal Church Foundation which is coordinating the appeal.

Ms. Barbara Byers, the Diocesan Coordinator for the Diocese of Southern Virginia noted that “we are honored and delighted to learn of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s support of this effort.  We are truly one church, joining as one to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti.”  The Very Rev. Stephen Carlsen, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Indianapolis (Diocese of Indianapolis), which has announced a joint matching gift with Trinity Wall Street, NYC (Diocese of New York) of $500,000, said, “Archbishop Tutu’s support will help inspire us all to respond to the challenge of rebuilding the Church in Haiti.  This is our chance to come together – across the country, around the world, from all ends of every spectrum – and answer this simple, clear call.”

The Baptism of Our Lord mural at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Port au Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake.

For more information, visit www.episcopalchurch.org/haitiappeal or contact Terri Mathes at tmathes@episcopalfoundation.org or 717-599-0627.

 

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Wise words on Haiti

New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has an excellent column in this morning’s paper on Haïti.

His message: Help is more than emergency aid. Haïti needs jobs and trade and education as well.

“Ultimately.” he says,  “what Haïti most needs isn’t so much aid, but trade. Aid accounts for half of Haïti’s economy, and remittances for another quarter — and that’s a path to nowhere.

“The United States has approved trade preferences that have already created 6,000 jobs in the garment sector in Haïti, and several big South Korean companies are now planning to open their own factories, creating perhaps another 130,000 jobs. …

“Let’s send in doctors to save people from cholera. Let’s send in aid workers to build sustainable sanitation and water systems to help people help themselves. Let’s help educate Haïtian children and improve the port so that it can become an exporter. But, above all, let’s send in business investors to create jobs.

“Otherwise, there will always be more needs, more crises, more tragedies, more victims.”

The whole article can be found here.

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Haiti, get up!

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April 2010, Year C, St. Jacques le Juste, Petion Ville, Haiti

Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is actually a parable about Haiti. It is a parable that speaks of who we are and what is happening in Haiti right now. I know that might not make sense, but bear with me and you will see: The story of Tabitha is our story.

In Acts, we are told the story of a disciple of Jesus named Tabitha, a woman who did many good works and who cared for those in need. Tabitha took ill, and then she died. As was the tradition in her culture, she had to be buried before sundown. So her family took her body, washed it, laid it out on a table, and then they sent for Peter, who was nearby. Come quickly, they said. Tabitha has died.

Peter came, made everyone leave the room, prayed over Tabitha and then said to her, “Tabitha, get up!”

And she did. She opened her eyes, saw Peter and got up. Because of her resurrection, we are told, many people believed in the Lord.

This story is a parable our own lives right here and right now because it is so similar to everything going on in Haiti. The earthquake came; many died; more were injured. The world saw this and said, “Ah, Haiti is dead.” Many in the world rushed here to help; others gave generously. But still, there was the thought, a thought sometimes said aloud, that Haiti was dead.

I know this. Bishop Duracin has me working in both the United States and Haiti, so I hear what is being said and I read what is being written. There are many who believe that Haiti cannot recover from this tragedy. There are some who say that Haiti should become a commonwealth of the United States. That the government of Haiti should be removed. That the constitution should be rewritten. There are those who claim that Haitians cannot direct the recovery, that “they” know better what needs to happen, that “they” should be in charge.

These people – they don’t know Haiti. They don’t know Haitians.

Because what they are saying is not true! Haiti is not dead!

It is not dead because Haiti and its people are listening to God, to the Good Shepherd who knows them each by name, and whose voice they know. Haitians are paying attention to the one voice that is calling to them.

And what is God, what is the Good Shepherd, saying to us here?

“Haiti, get up!”

“Get up!”

• • •

Three weeks ago, the Diocese of Haiti held its Synod, the Synod that had been delayed by the earthquake of Jan. 12.  Many of us went – priests, deacons, lay delegates – and at the Synod, we were given a message by Bishop Duracin:

“Haiti, Leve Kanpe Pou Ou Mache!

“Haiti, Stand Up and Walk!”

Haiti, get up!

And we are getting up and we will get up, because we do listen to the voice of God. Haiti is one of the most God-fearing countries I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in a lot of countries. Haitians are Christians. They know God. They love God.

So when God says to us here in Haiti, “Get up!”  that’s what we need to do.

Get up!

No matter how hard it seems, no matter the difficulties we encounter.

And yes, there are difficulties.

The Psalmist this morning speaks of walking through the valley of death.  That is certainly true here right now. Just look out the door. Look at your own homes, at your own lives. Every single person in this room has lost someone, many of you have lost many people, more of you have lost your homes. You are walking through the valley of death.

But the Psalmist also is clear: We have no need to fear evil, because God is with us.

God is the one who is calling us, who is telling us to get up.

God, the Good Shepherd, the one we all know by name, the one whose voice we have heard before and are hearing now and will hear forever, is speaking to us right now.

Haiti is not dead.

Haiti is alive, and its people are alive, and its faith is alive.

Those of you who are here to help Haiti are here because you, too, hear God calling to you: Get up! God says.

That is our mission now: Not just to get up ourselves, but to help Haiti get up. The Church is leading the way, but we can only do so if we listen to the voice we know best, the voice of the one who loves us.

Get up!

Get up!

Get up!

Amen.

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Packed and not so ready to go

Thursday in Easter week:

Dear Beloved in Christ:

It is my last night in Haiti for two weeks, and even though I am packed and almost ready to go, there is a large part of me that wants to stay. Yes, I look forward to the amenities of the U.S., but it is hard to leave behind my friends here, my family here, my colleagues, and even the people on the street whom I do not know but see daily.

It’s been nearly three months since the earthquake. I do see some progress; I see buildings going up (some of which do not look safe in the least, to be honest). And yet, I still see more buildings that have yet to be taken down. Driving through Port au Prince several times this week, I’ve seen more and more government workers out — easily identifiable by their bright yellow T-shirts — removing rubble, clearing more streets, trying hard to improve life.

But those improvements are slow in coming. I don’t know that most of the world understands yet how complete this devastation is. One of the priests here told me just yesterday that every single one of his churches was destroyed in the earthquake. Every single one. He needs large tents — as do many of our other priests — in order to have a place in which to hold worship, so that the people don’t have to stand in the brutal sun or get drenched by the rains. We still have buildings that are pancaked, still have buildings that are atilt, still have to maneuver around rubble in the streets.

And we still have hundreds of thousands of people who are homeless. They live in tents, sometimes in camps, sometimes on their own property. A friend just sent me a text message telling me that the front porch of their house collapses this week after several more small but still deadly aftershocks. He and his wife still cannot live in their own home.

Walking the streets, you are overwhelmed by the smells — of food being cooked on the sidewalks, of unwashed bodies, of no sanitation. The tents are right on top of each other … people have a “living space” of approximately two square feet per person, if that. It is absolutely amazing that this many weeks later, people still have no place to live.

And then there is the rain. Last night, a sudden downpour flooded the capital. Literally. I was having dinner with some friends when the rains began. We joked about how it wouldn’t be so bad running across the street to get home, because at least then we could wash the dust off of us from our long day of travel. When the rains abated — somewhat — we headed for the door, and discovered a gushing river in what was our street. The water was filthy and running fast, so fast that I wondered if we would be able to keep our footing. I had my backpack with my computer in it, and didn’t want to attempt a three-foot jump onto a slippery step leading to my church and apartment. So I waded through the water, carefully trying to plant each foot. The Lord alone knows what was in that river of filth; all I can tell you is that within minutes of arriving home, my feet were on fire. I couldn’t wash them fast enough or even enough to rid myself of that feeling.

And I have the blessings of having an actual apartment, on the third floor, to which to retire. I have buckets of more-or-less clean water in which to bathe. The people on the streets? In the tents? They have nothing. Some in the tent city across from my church draw water from our reservoir every day … without that, I do not know what they would do.  On Easter night, a woman showed up at the gate at 9 p.m. There were 12 one-gallon jugs of water waiting for her. She took two jugs in each hand, and made three trips to where she is staying.

Such is life in Haiti.

And yet, at our Diocesan Synod this week — delayed 10 weeks by the earthquake — there was much joy as well. The parishes took up collections on Easter Sunday to begin the fund for the reconstruction of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Each priest presented that money at Synod, in a joy-filled service on Tuesday. For the offertory, the people of the parish of Bon Sauveur in Cange literally danced up the aisle with their offerings: fruits, grains, sugar cane, farming tools, live roosters, a live turkey (which might be what we ate the next day …), vegetables and more. It’s a traditional offering, complete with dance and song, and is a celebration of the fruits of our lives. It also gives new meaning to the liturgical saying, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” Truly, the people of Haiti give back to the Lord on a daily basis, even when they don’t have much to give.

Which makes it harder to leave every single time. Because if they can and do give so much, if they are suffering so much, how can I simply come and go so much? But … that is the assignment Bishop Duracin has given me, and right now, it is the best use of my gifts. So, I pack up once again, cover up my belongings here with sheets to keep the dust off, and head out to the airport. In less than two weeks, I’ll be back, so it isn’t as though I am leaving my adopted country forever. I just have to keep one foot in America, one foot in Haiti, going back and forth, for a while to come.

And even in the midst of all this devastation, there are good things to see. Walking down the streets, I see so many of my friends, and I know that strangers continue to be astounded at the joy of each meeting. This is Haiti — here we greet each other with hugs and kisses on the cheek. We laugh, we joke, we arrange to get together, we make sure that we know where each of us is, and what we are doing, we try to help each other. My street artist friends are delighted to know that the paintings I buy from them are to be sold in the U.S., and that their work in turn will fund the rebuilding of this nation. My vendor friends keep cold drinks hidden away for me, knowing that as I walk by, I will ask for my too-sweet-but-filling Tampico orange drinks. The children on the street play games with me — thumb warfare sometimes, other times just the word games we play about asking for money. The security guards at hotels nearby all greet me, and the waiters at restaurants (where I usually only go with visitors) all stop to greet me as well.

The other day, standing on my balcony, I realized for the first time that the big tree growing over the wall is an avocado tree! I had been watching a bee pollinate the blossoms, and suddenly saw … avocados! Turns out, it belongs to the hotel across the street, for it is actually growing in their parking lot. But the branches that cross over that wall? The fruit of those branches is ours! At first, I found just four tiny avocados — which still have a long way to go in their growing. Avocados here are between 8 and 10 inches long, and at least four inches around, and are so very delicious. Then I realized that there were all these buds on the tree branches. THEN, a few hours later, I came out to examine the tree again, and found five more teeny-tiny new avocados bursting forth. Finally, I looked up — remember, I’m on the third floor, so the branches are at eye level — and saw hundreds of buds! Oh, my gosh, I said to my friends, we’re going to have to open a market! We’ll be rich!!!! Thank God for that bee that drew my attention to the riches of God’s grace, literally right before my eyes.

There is another tree growing in our courtyard which bears what I think is breadfruit. I’m actually not certain what the fruit is, only that is is good to eat, and better to be turned into juice. I haven’t done the latter yet, but have partaken of that blessing as well. This tree literally grows through the steps leading to the parish hall on the second floor behind the church. I didn’t realize that it, too, is a fruit tree. I will eat more of this fruit when I return.

This morning, I saw hundreds of children lining up to enter schools, which reopened this week. Not all of the schools are ready to reopen, but some have, and to see the children in their varied uniforms — every school child wears a uniform here — brings joy to all of us, for it is a sign that some normalcy is returning, and that education will continue, even if it has to happen under tents or in some cases, under the trees.

And just a little while ago, there was yet another street party right outside my door. Granted, the music is just a tad loud for me — anything that makes your heart thump is too loud for me. But it was joyful music, and brought joy to the thousands living in Place St. Pierre, even if only for a few moments.

Earlier this week, I drove from Port au Prince to Cange and then back. My triumph: I drive like a Haitian now, one hand on the steering wheel, one on the stick shift, one finger on the horn, ready to use it, at all times. Several times, I told my passengers to close their eyes — it’s easier for them. This may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but trust me, it is. To drive in Haiti is to be really bold — or to be crazy. We have three basic rules of the road: One, all other drivers are crazy. Two, lock your doors. Three, see Rule Number One. Oh, and it IS necessary to have a good horn. Weak horns on cars bring derision from all around. Good horns earn accolades. My car, which Bishop is driving right now (his was crushed when his house collapsed in the quake, and his new one is not yet here), has a decent horn. The rental car’s horn: Excellent. Not as good as the horn in a friend’s car — that’s a monster horn. But still, it was very good. And I am proud to have driven up-country. It leaves me with a feeling of panache.

There are two things that are hard for people to believe about Haiti: The first is that this devastation was, is and will continue to be, beyond description. The second is that in the midst of it, there is still joy.

Such is life in Haiti.

Blessings and peace in this Eastertide,

Lauren

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Walking in death to life

Maundy Thursday in Haiti:

Dear Friends in Christ:

In Haiti’s epicenter, anywhere you walk, you are walking in death.

Everywhere you step in earthquake-devastated epicenter of Port au Prince and Leogane and the surrounding areas, your feet get dirty. There are few open spaces left, and what once was open is now filled with tents and tent cities. There is little sanitation. Garbage is picked up some days, but piles up most others. The rains sweep everything down the streets and sidewalks: raw sewage, mud from the crumbled buildings, the decaying remains of those who died and who have still not been found, still not been uncovered in the rubble.

If any one group of people need their feet washed, especially on Maundy Thursday, it is the Haitians, for they walk in death every single day.

But foot-washing — a part of the Christian tradition that comes from the Evangelist John’s description of the Last Supper, in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples — is not a tradition in the Episcopal Church here. I’m not certain why it isn’t, I simply know that when I asked, “Do we wash the people’s feet here?” I was told, “No.”

I wish that were not so, because right now, Haitians need that foot-washing.

Not just because they are walking in death.

But because I think that most Haitians – those living in tents and tent cities, and those who are in their own homes – need the rest of the world to bathe them in the same love in which Jesus bathed his disciples’ feet.

The standard explanation of the foot-washing scene in John’s Gospel is that Jesus wanted to show how far he was willing to go to be a servant to his disciples, to set an example for them, so that they in turn might be servants as well.

But I have always believed that there is so much more to the story than simply example-setting. I believe that Jesus got on his knees and washed his disciples dirty, smelly, probably ugly feet — that terribly despised portion of the body that most people really don’t want to have washed in public  — I believe Jesus did this as an act of pure love. I believe Jesus took each foot and caressed it, rubbed it, washed it clean, and gently rubbed it dry out of pure love.

And if anyone needs to experience that kind of gentle love, it is the Haitians. They have suffered so much for so long, and then have been torn asunder physically, emotionally and psychologically by this earthquake. Now, the very ground on which they walk is filled with death. What would it be like, I asked the small congregation gathered for Maundy Thursday services at St. James the Just, if we were to have OUR  feet washed, and then were to go across the street to the Tent City where approximately 6,000 people are encamped, and wash THEIR feet? What would happen if we were to show to all those in such great need the same absolute, tender love that Jesus showed to his disciples?

We don’t do foot-washing in Haiti — at least, not yet. Pere David Cesar and I talked about possibly introducing the service next year.

But right now, I said, I think it’s something that Haiti desperately needs: Gentle, tender, pure love. Each of us, I said, needs to take the love of Christ that we feel — however big or small — and share it, gently and tenderly — with those who need it so much more.

When Jesus got down on his knees, I said, he did it out of love. And that very act alone changed the world.

We, too, I said, can do this. We can get on OUR knees, figuratively and literally, and in doing so change not just Haiti, but the world.

I don’t want to walk in death any more. The Haitians don’t want to walk in death any more. What they want — what they NEED, right now — is to walk in love.

What better way to show that love than to have our dirty, smelly, ugly feet washed, and then to wash the dirty, smelly, ugly feet of others?

That kind of love, that kind of willingness to lessen ourselves so that others may be loved and may find life — THAT kind of love changed the world once, and it can change the world again.

I really wanted to wash some feet tonight, and I wanted my own feet washed, in the pure, tender, gentle love of Jesus. We did so figuratively. Hopefully soon, we’ll do so literally as well.

Blessings and peace in this Holy Week,

Lauren

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