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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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For four years from 2005 to 2009, I was an Appointed Missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Sudan. That means that I was your missionary, representing you, to the people of Sudan, the largest nation in Africa.

I was there at the end of a long civil war, a 23-year civil war, and I lived on the border between North and South, where Northerners met Southerners, where Arabs met Blacks, where Muslims met Christians. I lived in an area that is now the northernmost point of the new country of South Sudan.

The area in which I lived, called Renk, was an area during which the 23-year civil war, the North was in control. Which meant there was no fighting going on. So people would flock to Renk from all over South Sudan, so that they could avoid a brutal civil war.

By the time I got there, the town was about 3,000 people and we had members of least 15 different tribes living in this small town. Now this is highly unusual in South Sudan, because that was a country, still to this day, where your tribe counts – more than anything else. Not the nation in which you live, not the region in which you live, but what tribe you belong to.

Because we had people from so many tribes living in South Sudan, it meant that our common language was Arabic, the language of the oppressors of the North. We didn’t speak classical Arabic; we actually spoke what is known as Sudani Creole, meaning, “Heaven forfend we should bother to conjugate a verb.” We never conjugated our verbs; that’s what Creole means.

And so the language I spoke, and the language in which I still pray, is Arabic. But every once in a while, people would challenge me on this and want to know why I was not learning the language of the predominant tribe in the area in which I lived. That tribe is more commonly known as Dinka; they are correctly known as the Jieng.

It was very important for them, they thought, that I spoke their language because then I would be proclaiming that I belonged to their tribe.

Well, one day, I was up in Khartoum, in the capital of what was then the whole country, now the capital of the northern part known as Sudan, and we were sitting on the street corner of a dusty road, and we were drinking tea, because Starbucks in Sudan – wait a minute, no, I’m up in New England – Dunkin’ Donuts in Sudan is out on a log, and the lady makes your coffee or your tea over a little open charcoal fire.

And so a bunch of us were sitting out there, and dusk was coming, so the heat was coming down, and we were drinking our tea, and these three young men, who did not know me – but they knew I was a white person, and they knew I was with the Church – challenged me. “What tribe do you belong to?” they said.

Now, I have to tell you by this time, I was tired as spit of this question. I was tired of being told I had to declare for one of the tribes, when I had friends in all 15 of the tribes in my own town. I was tired of being told I had to learn one of the tribal languages, which would exclude, necessarily, all the other people.

And so I looked at these young men and said, “I belong to the most important tribe there is. I belong to the tribe of God.

They looked at me, and I said, “There is nothing more important, nothing else I need to know in my life. I belong to the tribe of God.”

I went back to my town, and I found out that word was spreading, that people were saying, “Lauren is refusing to join any of our tribes because she belongs to the tribe of God.”

And that is what the Church in South Sudan is doing. The Church in South Sudan is breaking down those barriers, overcoming those barriers, crossing all the boundaries, so that they can proclaim that all of us are indeed of one tribe, the tribe of God.

My friends, I need to tell you, this is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Ephesians this morning. Now if you go back and look at the letter to the Ephesians – which I highly recommend you do – take a look at what Paul is saying in there.

I’m going to tell you that lots of preachers right now are talking about how this is a way in which we’re supposed to come together in unity and stop arguing over the color of the carpet in your church.[1]

This is the time when we’re supposed to stop arguing over whether we heat the water in the bathrooms. That’s how this letter is used – very mildly, very tamely.

Anybody who uses it that way, though, is not paying any attention to Paul. Because this letter of Paul, this section of Paul’s letter? This is a cry for revolution!

This is a cry to turn over the powers and principalities which in Paul’s day were known as Rome.

In the days when Paul walked the earth, people were segregated. They were segregated by their tribes, their race, their ethnicity, their language, and most of all, by their jobs. You didn’t get to choose what job you had in those days. If you were born into a family of farmers, you were going to be a farmer. If you were born in a fisherman’s family, you were going to fish. If you were born into a tentmaker’s family, you were going to make tents. This was not an option. This is how society worked. And people gathered together around their jobs, and then they subdivided around their race, their ethnicity, and their language. That was how you got protection. They formed unions to take care of each other. If you got sick, and your family was a thousand miles away, the union took care of you. You paid your dues in, and they took care of you. Everybody was subdivided that way, and Rome used this to rule the world. They

made sure that everybody knew their little place, and by God, don’t you ever get out of place. Because any time you tried to get out of place, it was like Whack-a-Mole™ – whack! And they would knock you down.

So what is Paul talking about in his letter to the Ephesians? He’s talking about those who were aliens and strangers now being joined together. The circumcised – the Jews – and the uncircumcised – the Gentiles – are now coming together. He’s talking about tearing down all the barriers, all the boundaries; he’s talking about tearing down the walls that divide us, so that we could all unite in the one tribe that matters, the tribe of God.

He is preaching sedition.
“Let me just send a nice little letter to the people in the church. ‘Dear People of the Church of St. James in Amesbury, Massachusetts: RISE UP! TEAR DOWN YOUR WALLS! IT’S TIME FOR REVOLUTION!’” This is subversive.

That’s what Paul is doing!

He’s calling for a revolution. No wonder the Romans couldn’t wait to get rid of him. Paul was doing the same thing that Jesus did. He was changing people. He was changing society.

My friends, this is our call. In this day and age. We are hearing a clarion call to subversion, to revolution, to tear down the walls!

Now I know y’all know something about tearing down walls. Because I understand you had to tear down this wall (in the back of the church) down to its bare basics, and change out the window. You had to do something different, and you had to rebuild it.

That’s what you are being called to do in society.

So that nobody ever says, “What tribe do you belong to? What tribe do you belong to?” and separates you out. Nobody says, “So what do you do for a living,” knowing that you can only hang out with people who do the exact same thing.

The revolution we’re being called to participate in, the revolution we’re being called to lead, is to tear down all the walls so that we can all proclaim that we … belong … to the … tribe … of God. And that the tribe of God is the only tribe that counts.

It doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what your age is, doesn’t matter where you came from, it doesn’t matter the language you speak. Nothing matters at all; that’s all gravy. The only thing that matters is that you are a beloved child of God and belong to the tribe of God, and that’s it. Everything else? Meh! That’s just the way the genetics worked out. It’s a chemical crapshoot. It’s not important.

The revolution we are being called to lead, my friends, is a revolution that lets every person in the community, every person in the world, know that they belong. It’s a way of saying to every person, “You are a beloved child of God.” It’s a way of saying, “God loves you. And God loves you. And you. And you. And you. And you. And you. That God loves you. And you. That God loves you. And you. And you. And you.

If we all belong to the tribe of God, and we’re all beloved children of God, then our call is to live out that love in the world.

Now I want to take a moment to kind of do a sidestep in this sermon and to address something that I know is on everybody’s hearts and minds, which are the shootings out in Aurora, Colorado, that took place on Thursday night/Friday morning. Where a young man, for unknown reasons, walked into a movie theater and shot 70 people, killing 12 of them.

We don’t know why he did it. We know enough of this young man’s history to know that he is brilliant. He was a PhD candidate soaring through his program in psychology. And then something happened. And we don’t know what.

Well, I can tell you this:

If we were all out there proclaiming revolution, proclaiming the revolutionary idea that you are a beloved child of God and you belong to the tribe of God, I can tell you that incidents like this would happen a whole lot less.

Was this this young man’s cri de couer, “Pay attention to me, notice me, let know that I’m important”?

I don’t know.

But if we take the time to let each person know that they are important, that they are beloved, that they are accepted, that they belong, I am telling you there will be fewer incidents like this.

Paul is telling us to tear down the walls. If we tear down the walls, more people will belong, more people will understand that they are beloved, and fewer people will do what Mr. Holmes did in Aurora, Colorado, at 1 o’clock in the morning on Friday.

I want to step back in and tell you that for two weeks, I was at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. It was my fifth General Convention, and I love going. I love going to big family reunions where we engage the entire world and stare at our navels at the exact same moment! I love it when we have amendments to the amendments to the substitution, call the question! I love what we do at General Convention. I walked out of this particular General Convention, where we as a church said, “By God, we’re going to include people. All means all, and all belong, and all are beloved children of God.”

I walked out of that Convention going, “Yes! Finally we’re beginning to get it.” And I walked right to the airport, smack dab into an article in The Wall Street Journal, where some guy in New York says, “I’m an Episcopalian. I didn’t like what they did. They have lost their way. Those Episcopalians are too liberal. Those Episcopalians are just following society.” And then he told a bunch of lies about what we did there. It would help if he had paid attention. But he actually did not pay any attention, and so he was misquoting us 17 ways from Sunday, and he said we did things we hand’t done, and I’m like, “Dude. You so missed that boat.”

I was ready to write him off. Until The New York Times, on Sunday, last week, decided to run an article by Ross Douthat, who is – for some unknown reason – supposed to be the spokesman in the country right now about the future of Christianity. I don’t know why – because he says we’re dead.

And he turns around and he says, “The liberal Episcopalians are doing nothing, except following society. The liberal Episcopalians have no idea what their theology is. The liberal Episcopalians” – he must have called us that like, 14 times – and I’ll tell you something. You know what my answer is?

We are not following society willy-nilly. We are dragging society forward to where God wants us to be! We are at the forefront of saying to people, “Enough! Tear down the damn walls! Everybody belongs! All really does mean all!” God does not differentiate. God doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re in, and you’re out.”

There are no “us’s” and “thems” in God’s very good creation, folks. There are no “us’s” and “thems.” God does not say, “Well, I don’t like you. But I like you.” God doesn’t run around doing that! God says, “You are my beloved.”

God created us in God’s image, an image of love – because we are not necessary to God. God is necessary to us, but we are not necessary to God, because God was before we were, and God will be after we are, so we cannot be necessary. So guess what? That means God loved us into being. That God desired us into being. So it means that we are each beloved.

And because we are Trinitarians, we are Christians, we believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, we believe in community. Because nowhere in the way we read the Scriptures do God the Father and God the Son go off and do the work while God the Holy Spirit is over here, drinking a martini. If they’re drinking martinis, they’re all doing it together! If they’re working, they’re all doing it together. We’re created in that image. That means we’re created in community.

So, we are created in love and in community to live in love and in community. And The Episcopal Church is leading the way in doing this by saying, “All does mean all. There will be no more walls! You come into this church, we baptize you, you have access to everything in the church.” We’re no longer going to say, “Well, we’ll baptize you, we’ll confirm you, but we won’t marry you. We won’t let you be a priest. Or we’ll let you be a priest, but you can’t be a bishop. Uh, uh, uh, uh, we have limits.” No! Because there are no limits to God’s love.

That’s what Paul is talking about in this morning’s epistle. It’s not some namby-pamby-don’t-argue-over-the-color-of-the-carpet-in-the-church.

He’s calling us to revolution.

And I want to know:

Are you all ready?

Are you ready to be revolutionaries?

Are you ready to go into the world and to show the world a whole new way to live?

Are you ready to be bold? (A young teen cries out, “Yes!”)

You are! Good!

Are you ready to be bold and to say, “All means all”? That each of you is a beloved child of God?

I’ve got one volunteer here, do I have any more?

How many of you want to be told you don’t belong? How many of you want to stand at that door and be told, “You can’t come in”? Anybody here?

If you’re not willing to be excluded, if you are not willing to be told that you are not loved, then how dare you exclude? And how dare you tell anybody that they are not loved? Because then you have to answer, not to me, not to Susan, not to your bishop. You have to answer to God.

The only question God will ask you, when you get to those pearly gates: “Did you love?”

Tear down the walls that get in the way of God’s love.

Tear down the walls that separate us as a society.

Tear down the walls that keep us in, and them out, because there are no “us’s” and “thems.”

My friends, we’re supposed to be revolutionaries!

Are you ready?

Are you ready to be revolutionaries for God?

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, Year B, at St. James Episcopal Church, Amesbury, Mass., 22 July 2012.


[1] Sally A. Brown, Princeton Seminary, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?tab=1&alt=1

 

 

 

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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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Kamagra 100mg

The Last Seven Words: “I thirst.” (John 19:28) 

For the last week, I have been staying at the house of a friend while she and her family are on vacation. My job is to care for the house without breaking too  many things, and to care for the family’s two dogs without letting them get away.

It is a lovely house in an older section of Arlington: Large, airy, filled with light, obviously much loved, and very much a home.

In the kitchen, there is one thing, however, that has completely captured my attention: a perpetual waterfall.

It is one of those things that is mounted on the wall, with a copper base that hides a small motor and water that flows continually down a slab of dark-green granite.

The waterfall flows day and night, making a gurgling, dripping noise that you can hear throughout my friend’s home.

I have not told my friend, and probably never will, but I can tell you:

This thing is driving me nuts!

I cannot stand the thing.

I know that it is a perpetual use machine, that the water is recycled constantly. I know that water is not being wasted.

Really. I do understand the mechanics of the thing.

And I know that this is supposed to be a soothing sound, the flow of water down the slab, the drip of the water when it hits the pool at the bottom …

I know all this …

And yet, the thing still drives me nuts.

Because more than most people, I understand the importance of water in our lives. I understand that without water, we cannot live.

A quarter-century ago, I was Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. I was a water technician – meaning that I did water engineering projects sans the benefit of an engineering degree.

It was in Kenya, in the semi-arid portion of that nation in which I lived, that I learned more about water than I had in the previous 25 years of my life.

Like most of us here, I grew up with water – with clean water – readily available. Open a tap, and presto! There was life-giving water. Whenever I felt like it, whenever I was even mildly thirsty, I had water to drink.

In Kenya, I learned, first-hand, what it meant to live without water.

I learned what it was like to stand on the edge of the largest fresh-water lake in all of Africa, Lake Victoria, and not be able to take a drink.

I led a project that was bringing that water, with the assistance of two motors, up the steepest hill overlooking Lake Victoria, to a series of water tanks that my group built, and then flowing that water for miles – literally for miles, because the water tanks were on the highest ground around – so that people could have water.

And not only would they have water, but they would have clean water, because those three tanks I helped build would filter the water before it flowed out again, down the hill and across the plains to taps, where people would, many for the first time in their lives, be able to simply turn a faucet and … drink … water …  clean … life-giving … water.

One day, when we were still in the construction stage, mixing cement and placing rocks and building the walls of these tanks, my crew and I ran out of water to drink. It was a blistering hot day, which was the norm on the equator in Kenya, and I had taken three bottles of water with me, water that I had boiled the night before … but now, it was all gone.

And there I stood, on the beach of the largest fresh-water lake in all of Africa, knowing that if I drank that water, I would take ill and possibly die, and that if I did not drink that water, I would take ill, and possibly die.

One of the young men who worked for me, who was learning to become afundi wa maji – a water engineer, one of the most exalted positions in Kenya – looked at me and said, “We have to drink that water. We have to. You have to. Or you will get sick. And you might die.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, the people face this dilemma every day of their lives. They build up some immunities to the various parasites that abound in their waters, but still, they take ill all the time. And some of them, especially their children, die.

My worker, my friend, Baraka (whose name means “blessing” in DhuLuo, his native language), was indeed a blessing to me that day.

So we both bent down, we filled our water bottles, we drank deeply of Lake Victoria, we poured the waters of that great lake over our heads … and we went back to work.

Both of us indeed took ill – which is the chance you take in Africa.

Neither of us died, which only came about by the grace of God.

So I know something about water … and I know a lot more about being thirsty, about crying out, “I thirst,” about being so dehydrated that my body feels on fire, my brain begins to cease its proper functions, my skin crawls with tightness …

All of which is why that perpetual waterfall in my friend’s kitchen is driving me nuts.

Because, even though I know it is not a waste of water, it sounds like a waste.

And I, who have been thirsty nearly unto death, cannot abide by wasting water.

Whenever I go to a friend’s house – which I do a lot, because I am a missionary with no fixed address and no fixed income – I have to restrain myself from turning off the water. I use little when I’m washing dishes (which drives my friends crazy). I take the shortest showers possible. I refuse to let a tap run while I am brushing my teeth. Sometimes, in other people’s houses, I cannot help myself – I walk boldly up to the kitchen sink and turn off the water that they have left running while cooking, or cleaning, or even filling cups. My friends, God bless them, understand this about me. They always make sure I have water to drink, and they try, once they get to know me, not to waste water in my presence.

I learned even more about water, and about great thirst, when I served as a missionary in Sudan, living on the both the edge of the Sahara and the banks of the mighty White Nile River, the longest river in the world.

In Sudan, water is an even more precious commodity than in Kenya, for much of Sudan, especially the northern half, is the Sahara. In Sudan, water is the symbol of hospitality – to friend and enemy alike, you always, always offer water first.

The cruelest month in that arid land is April, when the Fall rains have longed ended and the Summer rains are but a dream in the far distant future. In April, the temperature routinely soars to 140 degrees, while the humidity dives down to 4 percent.

In April, nature itself is so desperate, so thirsty, that it sucks all that water out of you that it can, drying you out, turning you into a husk … and once that water is gone from you, nature sucks other moisture from you as well, so that you can be walking along – trudging is more like it – with the sun beating down on you so hard it feels like a 50-pound weight is sitting on your head, and suddenly, you have a runny nose, which startles you, because your sinuses long ago dried out, leaving you with a constant, pounding headache, and it is only when you go to wipe your nose that you realize you have a nosebleed, that nature is now sucking out your very life.

In April, no matter how much water you drink – no matter how much water you filter so that you can drink it – it is never enough. Daily, I would filter up to three gallons of the precious commodity simply so I could drink. Three gallons. And still, it was not enough. So I would drink the water that others would offer me, knowing, as I had in Kenya two decades before, that if I drank it, I would take ill and possibly die, and if I did not drink it, I would take ill, and possibly die.

So I drank the water that was offered to me in hospitality, by friend and enemy alike, and I did take ill, and I would return to the States with various parasites, so much so that I told my physician, who was constantly confounded by my diseases, “Don’t worry. I’m giving you more free continuing medical education than you ever dreamed of.”

And by the grace of God, I have lived through my ravaging thirsts.

As Jesus was hanging on the cross, wracked by pain and his own ravaging thirst, he, too, asked for a drink.

Some will say[1] that he did so because one of the intended by-products of crucifixion, a by-product of which the Romans knew well, was dehydration and powerful, body-wracking, brain-numbing thirst, and that Jesus’ cry was the fulfillment of Psalm 22, verses 14 and 15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death,” which is a terribly accurate description of a crucifixion, which, many say, was presaged in this particular psalm.

And some will say[2] that Jesus cried out, I thirst, because it was the fulfillment of Psalm 69, verse 21, “For my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink,” even though the “vinegar” or “sour wine” they gave him was nothing more than the common wine that all people drank during the day – because they knew that their water, polluted as it was, would kill them, and that cheap wine would not.

And some, too, will say[3] that by having Jesus proclaim, with nearly his dying breath, that he was thirsty, the evangelist John was proving, once again, that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine.

All of these interpretations may very well be true, alone or even together.

But I will say that Jesus, who knew more about life and giving life, actually was crying out for life itself. That his thirst was not just for water – he was dying, and he knew it, and no mere sip of water or wine was going to change that fact – that his thirst was for life itself.

The Crucifixion, by He Qi

And not just any life … not the life in which man oppresses man, and humanity turns its back on God and God’s desires … but the life that is nourishing and fulfilling and like that silly waterfall in my friend’s kitchen that drives me nuts, is perpetual.

Jesus’ thirst was more than just a human one brought on by torture and temperature and pain and agony.

His thirst, from the moment he first appeared on the banks of the River Jordan, was for a better life, for a life that was and is and ever will be centered in God, and in God’s great love for us.

At the end of his life, Jesus cared only for our lives.

He knew of the great thirsts that ravage our lives – pain, hunger, physical thirst, illness, oppression, war, hatred, division, poverty – and he desired to end all that.

His whole mortal life was lived as an example of how we could overcome those thirsts, lay aside our differences, unite in God’s love for us and our love for each other.

His thirst was for life.

For our lives.

Not as we know them.

But as they can be. As God declares they can be.

Jesus thirsted … even in those last, agonizing moments of his mortal life … for us.

• • •

Whenever I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, I flash back to those days in my life when I, too, cried out, with great meaning and desire, “I thirst.” In the same moment, I am carried back into my own past, and to my old homes in Kenya and Sudan and to the people there, who still thirst every day, not just for water that will not kill them, but for the life that Jesus imagined for them, and as well into the future, to the place that can be, to the life that can be.

Jesus’ cry, for me, is not just about fulfilling the Scriptures, nor is it just about proving a theological point.

Jesus’ cry, for me, is about life.

God’s life – in us and through us and for us and with us.

Amen.

A sermon preached on Good Friday, 6 April 2012, Year B, at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Great Falls, Va., in conjunction with the Great Falls Ecumenical Council.

 



[1] The United Presbyterian Church of Middletown NY in ministry with Interim Pastor Jack Lohr, http://unitedinterim.blogspot.com/2009/04/good-friday-reflection-i-thirst-john.html, Friday, April 10, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

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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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Bringing and receiving gifts in Sudan

Earlier this week, we received a great report from South Sudan, soon to be the world’s newest nation, about The Episcopal Church’s missionaries who are serving there. Robin Denney, Larry Duffee, The Rev. Robert North and his wife, Karen, serve in South Sudan, teaching, training and witnessing to the South Sudanese, and in return, receiving the witness of the faithful people of Sudan. All of the missionaries say the same thing:

When you give, you receive.
The story, by Matthew Davies of Episcopal News Service and datelined, Juba, South Sudan, reads:
Throughout several decades of civil war, the Episcopal Church of Sudan kept 2,000 schools open, mostly under trees – a testament to its commitment to educating its people.

Episcopal Church missionary Robin Denney discusses her agricultural ministry in South Sudan with The Rev. David Copley, Mission Personnel Officer for The Episcopal Church. Photo by Matthew Davies.

Today, with 4 million members, the Episcopal Church accounts for almost half of the south’s population. It is one of the biggest social service providers in the country, and as such is strategically positioned to reach deep into the hearts of local communities.

For Robin Denney, development work is about the changing of hearts and minds, and through her service as an Episcopal Church missionary in Sudan she’s witnessed those transformations in abundance through the church’s ministry.

“You can’t just convince someone to change their behavior by telling them something or by giving them training,” she said. “It’s through discerning as a community where is God calling us that people’s hearts and minds are changed and that is the work of the church, and the church here has such a vision for development.”

Denney, of El Camino Real, and Larry Duffee, an Episcopal missionary from Virginia, have traded in their lives in the U.S. to share their gifts and play a small part in helping to rebuild South Sudan, just four months away from independence after voters in a January referendum almost unanimously chose to secede from the north.

Denney’s agricultural training and Duffee’s business and financial background are valuable assets for the South Sudanese, who are eager to learn the necessary skills that ultimately will lead to self-sufficiency in their nation, plagued by decades of civil war until the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005.

While serving in South Sudan, the missionaries have been teaching pastors and community leaders at Bishop Gwynne Theological College, an educational institution in Juba run by the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

A video report on the missionaries’ work is here.

The bishops of the Sudan church, under the leadership of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, have a vision, Denney explained — “that agriculture can really be the basis of a new economy” in South Sudan. “The land here is so fertile, it can be the breadbasket of Africa.”

Denney has lived and worked in South Sudan for just over two years. She has established an agriculture department for the Episcopal Church of Sudan and she takes her expertise to almost every diocese, offering workshops and hands-on experience, especially in more rural areas of South Sudan that are not experiencing the same level of growth and development as the capital, Juba.

In her first year, she worked primarily on training and preparing communities for agricultural projects and her second year saw those plans move towards implementation. The main farming projects are located in Eastern Equatoria, Yei, and Yonglei states, where the communities are now harvesting crops such as sorghum and sesame.

Most of the workers are volunteers and are learning new skills while simultaneously experimenting with new techniques to explore the yield potential of the land, Denney explained. “We realized that farmers are really interested in trying improved techniques if they can do it in a risk-free environment,” she said.

With that in mind, on one 10-acre farm in Panyikwara Abara half of the land was used to try out new techniques while the other half was cultivated with more traditional practices. “The improved techniques performed significantly better,” Denney said.

Last year, nine out of 10 officers who’d been involved in the projects had already implemented mulching (a protective cover placed over soil), and seven out of 10 had begun planting crops, Denney explained. She expects that number to be higher this year.

But her ministry comes with its share of challenges. In Jonglei, there has been a problem with flooding and insects this year. “Almost the entire sorghum crop everywhere else was destroyed,” she said. “Our farm was reduced in yield because of those problems, but we still produced over 107 sacks of sorghum, which is just over 10 tons, in a community that had nothing.”

Most of the food supply for South Sudan has until now come from the north and from neighboring countries, said John Augustino Lumori, acting provincial secretary for the Episcopal Church of Sudan. “So work such as Robin’s is essential for our agricultural sustainability to ensure we can have our own produce to provide the backbone of the country,” he said. “Our partnerships will enable us to be self-sufficient.”

Denney needs to ensure that when she leaves in April, there are sufficient people trained in the agricultural skills she has brought. So far, 11 diocesan agriculture officers have graduated from Bishop Gwynne Theological College and are now working in their local communities. Fifteen more graduates are expected to return to their dioceses later this year.

Denney’s ministry and friendship is greatly appreciated throughout South Sudan, as evidenced recently when a family in Panyikwara Abara named their newborn child Robinsida in her honor.

The Rev. Emmanuel Lomoro Eluzai, chaplain to the bishop in the Diocese of Ibba, has been one of Denney’s students at Bishop Gwynne Theological College for the past year. He said that education is critical for the stability and growth of South Sudan. Through Denney’s training, he’s learned valuable farming skills, such as rotating certain crops between different terrains each season to ensure that the soil is not starved of essential nutrients.

“During the war, many people did not go to school. That is why we need education now in Sudan, because without education there is no development,” he said.

Duffee initially had intended to stay in South Sudan for four months but soon realized that the task he’d set out to accomplish would not be possible in that timeframe. He now has lived in Juba for almost a year. But, he says, the most important goal for missionaries is to work themselves out of a job, “to get it to a point where I am no longer needed and they have no more use for me. That’s the ideal situation.”

As well as providing training, Duffee brings financial skills to the provincial office, where he has set up systems to enable regular accounting to the church’s international partners.

Duffee is anticipating the Episcopal Church of Sudan hiring a new person who can be trained to step into his role. “As long as I can be useful and as long as I am serving the role God called me for, then I’m glad to be here. If I’m sitting occupying a seat just because it’s nice to have someone from the West … then it’s time to go.”

To read the rest of the story, go here.

 

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Who said anything about ‘gentle’?

I woke up this morning with Advent on my mind.

I was replaying in my head messages from friends and various Advent resources calling this moment in our lives a time of “gentle waiting.”

“Gentle waiting!” I thought. “Why are we engaged in gentle waiting?!?”

I’m fear that we are trying to tame Advent when we make this call. And I don’t think Jesus wants us to do that.

We need to give them clean water.

I mean, what’s gentle about the Gospel lessons we hear in this season? Jesus tells us to keep awake, therefore, for we do not know on what day our Lord is coming. (Do we really imagine that the owner of the house was waiting gently for the thief to come in the night?)

Paul says now is the time for us to awake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us than before, and commends us to put on the armor of light. (Who puts on armor and then sits gently?)

John the Baptist bellows, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (How can we prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight if we aren’t doing something?)

Nowhere in those statements do I hear anything about gentleness.

Advent’s  a wakeup call, all right. But it’s an urgent one. It’s a rough shaking of the shoulder to get us out of bed to do something. This is not your mother leaning over you and gently saying, “Wake up, my love ….” This is Jesus calling, and he’s grabbing you and shaking you and throwing back the sheets and yelling, “GET UP!!!! We have things to do!”

And looking at the world around us, we know that is true. We DO have things to do.

There’s the DREAM Act to be passed. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be repealed. Unemployment benefits need to be extended.

The people in Sudan need our prayers and our advocacy, to prevent yet another war.

The people in Haiti need our help to fight cholera and build a nation devastated by the earthquake.

Those who are sick need our help.

There are hungry people everywhere whom we need to feed, thirsty people who need clean water from us, ailing people who need our medicine and our care. There are children who need our love. The blind desire to see, the deaf want to hear, the mute yearn to sing with joy.

None of these things will be accomplished by gently waiting for someone else to step up. We are the ones who are to make the paths straight.

Advent for me is a time for action. It’s a time for us to look at the world around us and ask, “Is this really what we want to give to Jesus as a birthday gift? A world where so many have so little and we allow that?”

I woke up this morning with Advent on my mind, all right.

The call I heard was crystal clear: “Get cracking! Do the work you’ve been given to do – now! There’s no time to wait for someone else to do the work. Hurry! It’s Advent! Do something!”

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