Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our Guest Preacher's Notes

Mary Beth Campbell, of Five Talents International, long-time mission partner of St. Andrew's, was scheduled as Guest Preacher for Sunday, August 28. Alas, though: Hurricane Irene stormed through, and all Saturday East Coast travel plans fell to the wayside.

Fortunately, though, Mary Beth was able to get to Pittsburgh later Sunday afternoon--in time to join a few members of the Five Talents Prayer Circle for a picnic in Joe and Marty Federowicz's backyard up in Glenshaw. That's Mary Beth, seated in the center of the front row in Paul Chamberlain's snapshot, between Jinny Fiske and Peg Ghrist:

In any event, Mary Beth was "ready to preach," and even though she couldn't make her way through the storm to our pulpit on Sunday morning, she indeed had a good word to share. I asked her if I could distribute her sermon notes here, and she generously agreed.

Texts for Proper 17A, Track Two, are Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Matthew 16:21-28.

Bruce, had I been able to be at Saint Andrew’s I would have said . . .

It would have been wonderful to worship with you at St. Andrew’s on behalf of Five Talents, a Christian micro finance ministry that St. Andrew’s has been supporting since 2006 through a dedicated prayer circle.

Your prayers and your gifts encircle our Five Talents community, especially the 30,000 micro-entrepreneurs in the developing countries in which we work, and especially the 2,213 micro-entrepreneurs, primarily women, who are in Peru. You dedicate your support to those entrepreenurs who live in Lima. There are also their Peruvian sisers, micro -entrepreneurs who live in a rural mountainous area of Huancavelica, which is the poorest region in all of Peru.

The suffering these women and their families have endured, the challenges they have overcome, and what they do to achieve success is not for the faint hearted, but then neither are today’s readings.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking to his closest disciples about what is in store for himself – and then for them as well. It is not the kind of stuff one brings up at the start of a relationship.

Jesus starts with himself explaining that he is going to Jerusalem and will suffer and be killed, but on the third day he will be raised up.

This is too much for Peter. And like any beloved friend he objects.

Jesus sees in Peter’s objections the same kind of temptation he met in the desert shortly after his baptism. He recognizes in Peter’s words the lure of Satan, and he says the same thing he said in the desert: “Get behind me Satan!” What he rejects in the desert and again here with Peter is the temptation to live out his ministry with criteria that humans would use to judge it to be successful. A ministry of "reasonable limits", the conditions placed on how much we love and give — or give up or suffer — and even who suffers. Some suffering —but not too much. Some money to the poor but not too much that I cannot live comfortably.

This reminds me of an anecdote related to tithing. A very wealthy parishioner, whose church was suggesting that people consider 10% of their income to charities and causes of their choice, of which the church would simply be part, did the calculation and said to the minister,
“That is unreasonable! I make too much for that to realistically work. I’d be giving way too much.”

Way too much for who?
And whose money is it anyway if all we have really comes from God?
No gift can be too big for God’s vision.
God’s vision is for abundance for all. God’s love is unconditional. God’s forgiveness is unreasonable. God welcomes and heals everyone. God’s hospitality is radical.
In God’s Kingdom everyone is valued. Everyone has dignity and gifts. In God’s Kingdom our identity is as brothers and sisters in the family of God, our status then is as equals.
In God’s Kingdom all are called. Even though few will follow.

I believe Jesus is calling Peter and us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a disciple by teaching us that it involves sacrifice and suffering.

This is something so big I think we have to grow into it like Peter. We learn it enroute because our human standards have other ideas.

I think Jesus is also teaching that discipleship involves discerning about sacrifice and suffering: What kind of suffering to accept as a by product of our vocation and calling if you will, and what kind of sacrifice and suffering is a by product of circumstances that need to be transformed and changed? Like the sacrifice of a parent who does not eat so their children can eat. Like the parent and child who suffer from malnutrition.

The entrepreneurs who are lifting themselves out of poverty, through Five Talents programs are able to shed the kind of circumstantial sacrifice and suffering that does not lead to health and wholeness.
Suffering is a big word that encompasses a lot. On a day when you have the time and energy I invite you to sit with your own suffering. Bring it before Christ and sit with it with Christ.

Like Jeremiah each of us can talk to God about it.
At first I did not understand why these two readings were together and then I realized that, Jeremiah’s lamentation is an example not simply of someone taking to God about his suffering, but this is the suffering that has come to Jeremiah because he has accepted God’s call to him. So in Jeremiah we have an example not only of what it might be like to be a disciple, but also one way to respond and pray.

Like Jeremiah, I discover when I sit with my own suffering that it is deeply personal. I hurt. But it also has a spiritual and social dimension. Like with Jeremiah, God is involved and so are other people. I definitely have an opinion about my suffering and an opinion about God and the others. I do not know if like Jeremiah I would go so far as to say that God is like a “deceptive brook, like waters that fail…” but I definitely do not always understand what grace is unfolding or what God’s design is. It can feel like water failing, but I am too polite in my prayer. I want to grow to be more like Jeremiah so that I can be honest and raw in my prayer, asking questions of God, and moving back and forth between the joy and consolation of a relationship with God. Jeremiah says, “ Under the weight of your hand, I sat alone.”

After all these years, I still want to “pretty up” my prayers for God when God already knows my heart. Jeremiah did not have that problem.

At Five Talents we dedicate all our efforts to alleviating poverty, because we believe that it is not the kind of suffering we should buck up and accept. All our efforts are motivated by our Christian belief that each of us has dignity and value in the eyes of God and that all of us deserve an opportunity to develop our gifts and to live out the call God has given us. We take a holistic approach and do not just offer money, but also offer business training and spiritual support and development. And all our work is enfolded in circles or groups of support. Women may be in a loan-based or a savings-based group, but they are never alone and are never sinking or swimming with just a financial bottom line.

Without community how can one live into the suffering and sacrifice that is part of developing and being who God calls us to be? Relationships are at the core of our mission and work.

When I was thinking about this passage this week I was especially thinking about our entrepreneurs. People like Olga and Nicolasa in Huancavelica, Peru.
Olga is a single mother whose husband abandoned her when her children were small and whose early life was marked by poverty and suffering. With 30 soles (or $10.68) in working capital she received a loan through Five Talents and launched a business selling vegetables. She actually launched her business as a response to community need. Olga said “During a very difficult time, I realized that many people in my neighborhood lacked basic necessities and I saw the difficulties that they were facing in getting vegetables and groceries in our community. We had to travel for 30 minutes in a small bus to Huancavelica city to get basic products.” Now her buisness is florurishing and she has even hired someone to work with her, creating a job for another.

Nicolasa received her first microloan in March of this year and runs a little shop that sells everything from sodas to crackers and oranges. It is like a little 7-11. On weekends, Nicolasa also sells vegetables at a market in Huancavelica. And she has a dream: to purchase her own transportation—a motorcycle—so she can move her product to market more quickly.

The passages we heard today are for them as well.

They deserve to have suffering in their life not because of circumstance, but as all children of God, the sacrifice and suffering that they accept as part of their Christian life, should be as a result of whatever their own vocation may be, whatever gifts God has given them to develop, and however they choose to be of service.
Their suffering, like ours, should be worthy of the ministry God has called each of us to live out as a vocation. Entrepreneurs, like Olga and Nicolasa, should not be the poster people for poverty, carrying it dutifully as their cross, with the rest of us donating and feeling good that we helped. Until poverty is alleviated, it will be for the poor, a cross of circumstance not vocation; but the rest of us, must find ways to carry the cross as well, so that together we all can have a chance to be the people God is calling us to be.

To grow in discipleship is to suffer the sacrifice and consequences of our call and also the radical, unreasonable unconditional love of God. My prayer for us all is that we hear God calling us and have the grace to follow Christ as a disciple. Like Peter, we will need to hear the lessons about sacrifice and suffering over and over as they sink in. And in Jeremiah, we have a dramatic example of what to do with our joys, works, sacrifices and sufferings. Take them to God. And don’t worry about making them pretty and polite. God knows what we are thinking.

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