Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guest Preacher: The Very Rev. John Park

Our Guest Preacher at St. Andrew's on Sunday morning, June 13, was the Very Rev. John Park, Dean of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Lima, Peru, and a mission partner of St. Andrew's and of our Five Talents Prayer Circle. He and his wife Susan also led our 10 a.m. "Coffee and Conversation" hour, with a great report of their ministry in Lima. Here is Dean Park's sermon:

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Good morning. Susan and I are very glad to be back with you today at St Andrew’s, and I thank Bruce for this opportunity to preach to you and to tell you a little bit about our work in Peru.

For those of you who may not know or may not remember from our previous visits here, Susan and I are from Western Pennsylvania, both having been reared here. I was born and reared in Beaver Falls, and I am a priest of this diocese, as I have been since my ordination 25 years ago next month. Most of my ordained ministry has been spent in Honduras, but for the past six years, Susan and I have been SAMS missionaries in Lima, Peru, where I am the dean of the Anglican Cathedral.

Our work in Lima is quite different from what we were doing in Honduras. In Honduras, my work was at least 95% in Spanish, while in Lima it is much more in English. In Honduras we worked much more in small towns and villages. In Lima we are working in a city of almost 10,000,000 people!

In Honduras, most of my work was with the poor. The Cathedral in Lima is a middle- to upper-middle-class congregation. Until less than ten years ago, it was completely English speaking, but we now have a Spanish-language congregation as well, and the working language for congregational and vestry meetings has changed from English to Spanish.

Preaching the Gospel in the context of a cathedral in the capital city of a country has great privileges and responsibilities. Because we are one of the very few English-speaking churches in the city, there are a number of diplomats who are regular attenders, and quite a few more attend on occasion. I am also called upon to represent the church at a number of diplomatic functions.

The Cathedral used to be a cultural centre for the English-speaking community. But times have changed, and virtually everyone now has access to cable TV and the internet, which keep people in touch with what’s going on at home, and many no longer see a need to come to the Good Shepherd to keep up their “Englishness” or their “Americanness.”

However, we have been making the Cathedral facilities available to those groups in the community who would like to use them, one of which is an amateur theatre troupe, which has a couple of presentations each year in our hall. We also hold a bazaar and several used book sales every year, one of which was yesterday. These serve a dual purpose. While they help to pay the bills, they bring people in and get them acquainted with the Cathedral. This is one way that we do evangelism.

We would also like to be a neighbourhood church, but there is one problem: we are in an affluent area, and most of the residential properties are surrounded by high fences or walls, so that it is virtually impossible to do door-to-door evangelism. What we do instead is to hold events in the cathedral and invite people to come by leaving flyers at all the residences in the area.

When we return after this home ministry assignment, we will be starting the Alpha Course again. Just before we left Lima, a Peruvian priest, Fr Juan Carlos Marcés joined the staff of the Cathedral. He had run the Alpha Course successfully in his former church, and he will be directing Alpha for both the Cathedral and the Diocese as a part of his ministry. And we will blanket the neighbourhood with flyers to invite people to come.

Once a month we have Health Sunday. We have a parish nurse, and for several years we have been checking blood sugar, blood pressure, and weight after the main English service. Then two years ago, after a Lenten series on healing, we began to have prayers for healing during the main English service on that Sunday. And in March, the Spanish-language congregation began doing the same. And we have seen a number of healings as a result.

When we first arrived, there was no Christian Education programme at the Cathedral, and there were only two children in the church. We began an English Sunday School with those two, and it has brought in young families, so that we now have two classes of differing age groups for the children.

In November Fr Ian Montgomery, a retired English priest from Wisconsin, joined the staff of the Cathedral. We changed our service schedule in March, and as a result he was able to start an adult forum in the hour before the main English service, which has been quite successful. He also led a good Lenten study programme this year, as a result of which at least one small group is forming.

We are in a growing diocese. When Susan and I arrived almost six years ago, there were fewer than 20 churches. Today we count more than 50 congregations, not all of which are organized yet, but all of which have weekly services. And in March we elected Fr Mike Chapman as suffragan bishop. It is expected that he will be a missionary bishop who will begin work in an area several hours south of Lima, where work started after the 7.2 earthquake three years ago.

And at the Cathedral we are also planning in helping to grow new congregations in the diocese. One of our lay ministers, Juan Carlos Celis, has been serving San Patricio, Ventanilla, a mission congregation in the very northern part of Lima, two and a half hours by bus from the Cathedral. He is there every weekend and several nights a week, the nights he is not taking seminary classes.

When the current Cathedral was built 61 years ago, most of the English speakers in Lima were living close by. Now, many of them have moved farther out to La Molina, a newer area. We are planning that Fr Juan Carlos Marcés, who as I mentioned is new to the Cathedral, will start a new work there once we return, a church that, like the Cathedral, will be bilingual and bicultural.

Susan and I have been sent to Lima by SAMS. When we first started with SAMS, there were about 25 missionaries serving mostly in Latin America as the name—South American Missionary Society—implied. But God kept opening doors in other parts of the world with people who wanted to be missionaries under SAMS.

After much prayer and discernment, SAMS changed its name to the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders, keeping the same initials, S-A-M-S but reflecting that we now have more than 70 missionaries and candidates serving not only in Latin America, but also North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. It also emphasizes that we are partners; both missionaries and senders. We could not go without you to send us and you would not have anyone to send if there were not missionaries.

We have been your missionaries now for several years and we pray for you regularly. Your prayers and financial support strengthen and sustain us. Thank you for partnering with us. We need to raise all our own support for all our expenses. We have continued to cut our budget down, recognizing that many people are in difficult circumstances. But we need to know that our giving should not be based on what we have, but on who God is, who we are in him, and what he can do.

We hope that you will continue your financial support. We are also very happy that some of you have supported us individually, and we hope that you will continue as well, and that more may do so. Tax-deductible contributions for our ministry in Peru may be made to SAMS. You might even want to visit us there. I know that a couple of you were down there very recently, but unfortunately we were up here and were not able to receive you. But if you come when we are there, we have a large house, and you are welcome to stay with us. Just don’t all come at the same time, please. The house isn’t quite that big.

But you might want to consider sending down a team to help Five Talents or us with our ministry in Peru. The Diocese of Peru is always open to receiving mission groups, and we can easily find you suitable accommodation, just not all in our house. In fact, that is part of Susan’s job in the Diocese: to coordinate the work teams that come.

In today’s Readings, we saw two cases of persons having their sins forgiven. In the First Reading, from II Samuel, David had sinned greatly, first having committed adultery with Bathsheba (who was later to be the mother of Solomon), and then in order to cover up that sin, having ordered the murder of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband. But when confronted with his sins by Nathan the prophet, David confesses, asks for forgiveness, and receives it.

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most powerful stories in the entire Bible. David is one of the greatest characters in the entire Bible, the King of the united kingdom of all the tribes of Israel, a great warrior, a great believer in God. But he was also a great sinner. It has been said that in order to be a great saint, one must be a great sinner, and David certainly fits that description. The sins of adultery and accessory to murder that he committed were certainly great sins. And he thought that he had got away with them, that is until Nathan the prophet came to see him and called him out.

Doesn’t Nathan set him up perfectly? First he tells him the story of the rich man who stole his poor neighbour’s pet lamb, his only lamb, in order to feed a guest, when he had plenty of sheep of his own. David suspects nothing and declares that the rich man ought to die and orders that he repay the stolen lamb four times over. And then Nathan stands there before his king, points his finger at him, and says, “YOU are the man!” Can you imagine how David must have felt then? He had been found out. And he repents. And because he repents, his sin is forgiven, and his punishment is lessened. You see, even when sin is forgiven, it still brings consequences, both in this life and the next.

In today’s Second Reading we have the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, anoints them with an expensive ointment, and then dries them with her hair. Remember that in Jesus’ time, people did not wear shoes, and there were no paved sidewalks on which to walk. This meant that people’s feet got very dirty from walking in dusty and muddy streets, so it was a common courtesy to have a servant or slave wash visitors’ feet when they arrived, something which Simon the Pharisee did not do. He hadn’t even greeted Jesus with a kiss, which was the minimum greeting to a guest in one’s house.

But this was the service that the sinful woman was doing for Jesus, washing his feet. And the implication was that she was a prostitute, as that is what the word “sinner” implies. So here was this prostitute, washing and anointing Jesus’ feet, and in so doing showing how repentant she was of her sins. And so Jesus forgives her her sins.

This is, after all, what Christianity is all about: the forgiveness of our sins. This is why Jesus came to die on the cross for us, so that our sins could be forgiven.

You see, in the Old Testament system of sacrifices, there was forgiveness only for sins which had been committed inadvertently. There was no forgiveness for sins committed deliberately. In the case of David, Nathan declared that God had forgiven David his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, but that was a special forgiveness, which was not part of the whole sacrificial system of Old Testament Judaism. But even though David’s life was spared, that of his innocent son was not.

In the New Testament, however, Jesus himself forgives sins on a number of occasions, and not just in today’s passage from the Gospel. And note that he is not just declaring that God has forgiven people’s sins, as Nathan had done with David. No, he himself forgives those sins. And in Jesus, we also have forgiveness.

In Lima we are trying to spread the good news of God’s forgiveness of our sins. Help us to continue to spread that Good News. Amen.

Bruce, I should like to present St Andrew’s with this arpillera as our gift to you. this is an example of traditional 3-D embroidery done in Peru, and this piece is a product of a project sponsored by our Cathedral.

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