Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23 Sermon (3 Epiphany)

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

In the news lately, there are lots of places are throwing off the rod of their oppressors.

In the Sudan, the Southern part of that nation held a referendum on whether or not to secede from the North. The south which has fought two wars with the Northern part of the Sudan, which has endured “decades of slave raids, massacres and neglect from the northern government,” has voted nearly unanimously to secede from the North and form their own country. In the words of MLK, Jr., they have “let freedom ring” in the Sudan.

Elsewhere in Africa, in Tunisia, a popular upheaval has toppled the government and made the president of this Islamic nation flee to Saudi Arabia while the people have continued to protest and want to vote on a new government. All this happened because of the anger over “poverty, unemployment and repression.”

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And that light is freedom, and the people in Sudan and Tunisia have walked toward that light.. As that song from the Young Rascals put it, “All the world over, so easy to see; people everywhere just wanna be free.”

It is a freedom given to us by God, being worked out again in our world, by people who have suffered, who have sat in darkness and have now seen the light, and want freedom. God is at work in our world.

At a prayer service at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, MO, the diocese has companion relationship with a diocese of the Episcopal Church in the Sudan. Knowing the people who the referendum affects, has made “the prayers for peace that much more urgent.” As one participant put it, “I have to think that's what Jesus wants from us, to not allow violence to become a personless force. In that sense, the relationship we have with (diocese of) Lui is very effective in transforming our lives in Missouri.”

Its when its personal that it touches our heart and truly matters to us. And isn’t that what God did by sending the Son to become incarnate, just like one of us, to make it personal. As Cardinal Mercier put it:
"In order to unite with one another, we must love one another; in order to love one another, we must know one another; in order to know one another, we must go and meet one another."
It is that interaction with one another that helps us see the needs in one another and helps us to reach out.
When he was ten years old, doctors found a malignant tumor in Steven's right leg. His family took him to one of the leading cancer specialists in the country. Ultimately, Steven's leg had to be amputated above the knee. The surgery was successful, and after a brief stay in the hospital, Steven was allowed to go home. It would be several weeks before Steven could be fitted with a prosthetic - but Steven was eager to get on with his life, so he returned to school.

One of the potential challenges Steven faced was the reactions of his classmates. He was concerned that his appearance would be a big deal for some kids. So after talking with his Mom and Dad, Steven decided the best thing to do was talk things over with the kids at school. Steven got up in front of his class and explained his diagnosis and treatment. He told them he was OK with talking about what had happened and encouraged them to ask any questions. Steven also told his classmates that even though his leg had been amputated, he was still the same kid he had always been.

By the end of the day, Steven said that 95 percent of his classmates treated him as if nothing had happened. He felt that taking the time to speak with the other students, openly and honestly, not only helped his friends understand what cancer was all about but helped him develop the confidence and courage to handle the next steps in his treatment as well as whatever new challenges he would face in his life. [Adapted from How to Hit a Curveball by Scott R. Singer with Mark Levine.]
Steven made it personal and brought light to darkness and his classmates responded. For Steven discovered through his concern for his classmates and his own wish to be treated like everyone else, the wisdom and integrity to bring the light of understanding to his anxious classmates and hope to his own struggle.

We too are called to make it personal, to fish for people, as Jesus called his disciples to do. For God never stops calling us. It’s not as if God called us one day and now moved on to someone else. Every day, through so many different events and circumstances in our lives God dares us to go beyond our comfort zone in showing we are his disciples.

In those events, may we discover within ourselves the light of Christ's compassion so that we can share it with those lost in darkness; may we find, within our means, our own "nets" to bring God's grace and peace to our interactions with others, those who are struggling to find freedom and light in our world today. Amen.

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