Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mission and Myanmar Sermon, Feb 9th, 2012

So I've preached a few times since I posted this last sermon on here.  Perhaps I will try and post the few I've skipped, since they aren't too bad (I don't think!) but I really liked this one, and I know many are interested for a taste of what my trip to Myanmar was like, so until I'm able to get the presentation done.  Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this sermon, and then share it with your friends, or share it elsewhere.

With no further ado, here is my Mission Sunday sermon as written, though not quite as delieverd:

Young Buddhist Monk and his friend

In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good morning!  I’m so happy to be back in Eastern North Carolina and back home in Wilmington after yet another semester away and after another wonderful convention.  It has been a little bittersweet, saying goodbye to the Bishop who confirmed me, who first raised me up to leadership positions in the diocese, and for that matter, my first leadership roles ever, and who has encouraged me on my path from the time I was about 13.  But I am grateful for his many years of dedicated service to our diocese, and I’m sure his new call will be a wonderful time for him.  I have several classmates from the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and they are extremely excited to welcome Bishop Daniel to Philadelphia.

This homecoming is made especially nice because of the distance I have travelled to be here.  Less than two weeks ago I was still 9,000 miles away, in Myanmar, where I spent the whole month of January on a missional cultural immersion with 7 other students from Virginia Theological Seminary.  It was the trip of a lifetime, and we got to see and do things I’d never have expected to see or do.  I helped lead a bible study for clergy and staff in the Diocese of Myitkyina, where I taught about the book of Revelation.  I helped coordinate one day of a three day inter-seminary retreat, where we shared, food, fellowship, and song with students from Peku Divinity School, St. Peter’s Bible College, (both in Toungoo), and St. John’s Bible College in Sittwe.
I got to watch sunsets from the tops of temples on the plains of Bagan, I visited the Schwedagon Pagoda, said to contain eight hairs from Siddartha Guatama the Buddah.  I visited camps full of internally displaced people, forced from their homes and villages by the civil war raging in the north of the country.  I was overwhelmed with hospitality.  Perhaps coolest of all, I got to ride an elephant!  Needless to say it was an incredibly rewarding, but also an incredibly exhausting month.

Knowing I would be preaching almost as soon as I got back, I was a little worried about what I would preach on, what the text would be, how I would prepare.  But as it did throughout Myanmar, God’s grace abounds, and I discovered that today is Mission Sunday.  Today churches all around the Episcopal Church, across the United States, Haiti, Europe, and everywhere Episcopalians are found will be talking about mission.

While I had never been on a mission trip before this, mission is something that should run in my blood. My great-aunt served as a missionary in China for nearly 30 years.  Many of those she was an “english teacher” who was taking a great risk by helping the church in China.  I know my father and stepmother frequently go on mission trips around the United States.  Many of my other family members have undertaken this form of service to God as well. But previous to this, I had not, and I had no idea what to expect.

I’d always previously thought of mission work as going and helping.  You go to build a house, or to staff a clinic.  You help fill a library, or you do work with the mothers union.  Maybe you teach children.  Whatever your goal was, there was a goal.  While planning for this trip, however, it became very apparent, that was not what we were doing.

I didn’t know what to expect when I went, knowing how much of our scheduled time was going to be spent “just meeting people.”  But after a few days in, after some serious challenges, my classmates and I were talking and having a discussion.  “What is mission?” We asked.  “How do we do mission?”

Jonathan Chesney, a fellow student in my year from the Diocese of Alabama, and one of my best friends at the seminary told a story a friend had told him.  His friend had left the country to serve in Africa for two years as a missionary.  He struggled with these same questions during his time in Africa. He’d planned on going and helping orphans, helping a village, and saving lives.  He’d planned on working to help develop a village to improve the quality of life.  What he ended up doing was working some in the fields, teaching a little bit, helping here and there where he could, and playing a lot of soccer with the village children.

Child and his grandmother  in a camp for
Internally Displaced People (IDP) forced from their
homes by theviolence outside the city.
This friend told him that his image, his metaphor for mission was turning swords into plowshares.  It seems to be a very odd image for someone who is coming in peace in Christ to think of beating swords into plowshares.  But he described it like this: When he went, he had the idea that he was going to swing in and save people in the wild lands of Africa.  It was very heroic, swashbuckling even.  Like the good guy in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie swinging from one ship to the other and saving his comrades as they are being overtaken.  He’d swing into Africa on his airplane, sword and tricorn hat on, ready to go.

What he found when he got there was that it didn’t work.  What the people needed was not a savior.  They already had that.  They needed someone to come and walk with them through the mundane, helping them out as possible, just as they would help him out as they could.

What they all needed was the relationship, the christian love forged between them as they walked together through life, whether for a week, for a few months, or for years.  What they needed was for him to beat his swashbuckling sword into a plowshare, and walk alongside them as they plowed their fields, or washed their clothes, or raised their children.  They wanted him to walk alongside as they celebrated and mourned.  They wanted him to join their community, because Christ didn’t command us to be superheroes.  He prayed that we all may be one.

After two particularly arduous days of traveling, and on the heels of a physically and emotionally draining week in Myitkyina, the occupied capital of Kachin state, where we were 15 miles from the front lines of the violent civil conflict that is raging... After all that, we found ourselves arriving in Hpa-an.  After we arrived and dropped our things off at the hotel, we were taken to the Bishop’s home at the diocesan compound for dinner.  After dinner, while we were having our tea and chatting with Bishop Stylo, our leader mentioned that we should be getting back to the hotel so we could get some sleep as we were all rather tired.  The Bishop jokingly asked then how frequently we preached.  After someone offered a probably too literal answer, he changed his question.  “Do you preach more than you sleep? How do you spend your time?”  It was then that I noticed what was printed in clear letters over his door.

“Life Is Mission.”   “Life Is Mission.”

Sunrise in Hpa-An
While it got a little lost in translation at first (Bp. Stylo being the only Bishop not confident enough of his English to speak without a translator) the Bishop was trying to ask us, in a way both lighthearted and serious, “How are you living your life?”  For Bishop Stylo, he finds himself on the mission field every time he steps outside his door.  Sure, he’s in a country where only about 6% of the population is Christian.  But every time he walks out that door, he knows that his call is to be with those he encounters, to show the love of God to them, and to let them know that they are valued and loved.  He knows that there are mouths to be fed, refugees to be relocated, children to be educated, and sick to be cared for.  He knows that they need food, and housing, and school, and medicine.

But he also knows that they need the spiritual care that comes from living in a society where poverty is rampant, where the powerful control too much, and where that power is abused to the detriment of the powerless.  I think his philosophy may be of some great use outside of Myanmar as well.

After leaving Bishop Stylo’s we spent a week in Toungoo where we shared responsibility for coordinating a three day inter-seminary conference.  One of the things we did over the course of the conference was a caneball and volleyball tournament, Caneball for the men, Volleyball for the women.  Caneball is a sport that’s wildly popular over there, played by people, especially male, of all ages.  It’s like volleyball but with a little ball of woven cane that you can’t hit with your hands.  We were all divided up into teams of three, with no team having two players from the same seminary.  Caneball is played barefoot.  It was some of the most fun I had over there, and, clearly due solely to my superhuman efforts, our team won the tournament!

A little later someone on our trip asked about something we had been doing the whole time we were over there.  Shoes are not worn inside most buildings, and they are definitely not worn in church.  My colleague and fellow missioner asked “Why don’t they wear shoes in church?”  I answered because you take off your shoes when you are standing on holy ground, like Moses at the burning bush.

It was right then that it hit me, like that rickety, poorly maintained, 1940’s train we had taken to Toungoo.  We take off our shoes when we are standing on holy ground.  We take off our shoes when we encounter God.

We take them off when we enter the house of a parishoner in a remote village who has invited us to lunch, someone so incredibly honored that we would be willing to come into their humble home when we’ve come so far.  We take off our shoes when we walk into a church to celebrate the eucharist among people with whom we share no common language apart from our common prayer, our voices rising together toward God, cacophonously beautiful.  We take off our shoes when we walk into a library with maybe two thousand books that is the pride and joy of the strongest divinity school in the region, a school that turns out promising and talented students willing to give up their chance to be civic or commercial leaders in a country with a desperate need for them...  They give it up so that they can follow Christ, and make $30 a month.  We take off our shoes when we step onto a rocky caneball court with fellow students or with our hotel’s staff, where even if we don’t share any language apart from laughter, we can enjoy each other’s company and walk beside one another for a brief time.  We take off our shoes when we are standing on holy ground.

Mother and Child
Life is mission, Bishop Stylo says.  And when we walk out of that door, even if we can’t always go barefoot at work, or on the tennis court, or in the street, it’s important to know that no matter where you are, you are in the mission field; you are on holy ground.  Beat your sword into your plowshare and walk beside the people you meet.  Show them and tell them about the love of Christ.  Show them that when even two or three are together, that you recognize God is in your midst.

As I come down off of my mountain, I think the jet lag from the 12 and a half hour time difference may have taken most of Moses’ shine off of my face, but I can assure you, that in this, my first mission experience, I encountered God.  I can assure you just as well, that after the transfiguration I experienced in Myanmar, I had to come back down off of that mountain.  But unlike Peter, John, and James, I am not keeping silent.  Rather I’m taking this time given to me today, I’m taking this mission Sunday to encourage you to go out on mission yourself.  I know many from St. Andrew’s have travelled together on mission, especially to the Dominican Republic but all around our area, our nation and our world, and I’ll bet every one of them came back changed in some way or another as well.

So my charge to you this Mission Sunday, my commission to you and to me, is that we beat our swords, whatever they may be, into plowshares, and that we walk alongside those who need someone to walk with them, and that we, through that, show the love, the redemption, and the life changing power of Christ.  And that you remember, once you walk out of these doors you are on the mission field, whether you are in Myanmar or Monkey Junction, in Downtown or the Dominican Republic.  And I pray that each and every one of us finds our holy ground, and that we all find ourselves shining with the glory of God.

So “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.”


Children in an IDP camp, after greeting Virginia Seminarians

No comments:

Post a Comment