1 Peter 2:2-10
In the name of our God, the way the truth and the life, AMEN.
I don’t know if you all have noticed J, but I have been away for the last 3 Sundays, and it really is wonderful to be back. I was all over, leading an amazing pilgrimage in the Galiuros mountains in the desert Southwest as well as a mission to the Diocese of Honduras. And I want to tell you about the mission. It is so hard to summarize such a journey in a few words, so I encourage you to speak with members of the team, including Suzanne Hall, Judy Philpott, Dewitt Castler, Margie Harrison, Robert Floren, Mary Harrison, Lex Reeves, Sarah DeCamps, Lee Patton, Susan Bain, and Cleve Brannock a member of Christ Church, Charlottesville. Ask them about our work in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Every afternoon our team went to Our Little Roses Home for Girls. For girls who have suffered, neglect, abuse or abandonment, Our Little Roses is a permanent refuge, providing nurture and care and most importantly an education so they can be lifted out of the horrible cycle of perpetual poverty and given a chance at lives that otherwise would be IMPOSSIBLE to achieve. We taught the girls scriptures, provided mountains of art supplies, countless hugs and engaged in this epic water balloon fight that quickly graduated to hoses and buckets. Our tactics of attach would definitely have impressed our military forces! The significance of the week will carry on for many of the girls as several in our group committed to offering long-term support of the children financially and spiritually. That is a significant and life changing gift.
We also worked alongside members of an Episcopal parish called San Jose de la Montaña, restoring their humble, but beautiful church. The community was so generous with their time and friendship and we got to spend a lot of our time with them. Even folks we did not get a chance to know made sure to fill us with love in the form of empanadas, beans and rice, fried plantains and pineapples so delicious I could swear they were soaked in cream.
You must talk to the other missionaries for more stories, but I want to tell you about the amazing perspective that the people of Honduras gave me. A highlight, for me, was meeting the rector of San Jose de la Montaña, Pascual Torres. Pascual is a plump, joyful, priest who overflows with infectious, hope-filled faith. I knew that God had most certainly been called there when Pascual said to us, “We are the word of God. We can not only speak the word from the pulpit, we must live it into reality every day here on earth”. With incredulity, I said, Pascual, do you mean “be you doers of the word and not hearers only?” And he said, “oh good, you are familiar with the verse from the book of James?”…I said “yes father, I have heard that verse a few times. J”
It is wonderful to know that there are fellow doers in Honduras…
San Jose de la Montaña has a multitude of programs: agriculture, education, health, HIV/AIDs awareness… as much as their budget and creativity allows. The church is a wonderful place. But to stand at the steps of San Jose de la Montaña and look out at dirt street paved in garbage with children wandering by with distended stomachs and thin hair, rendered blond by malnutrition, you can just imagine the mixture of emotions our team felt at life for the majority of Hondurans.
Anger that basic human needs of food and water are being denied people, pride in being part of a church willing to invest prayer and resources to proclaiming the word in spite of all obstacle, powerlessness at the prevalence of poverty, and deep gratitude that God places extraordinary people like Pascual to fight, sweat and love the word into reality for all of God’s most vulnerable people.
One morning, as we sweated over the sanding of the churches mahogany pews, Pascual talked to us about the Latino understanding of God’s goodness and their emphasis on the moment by moment presence of God- the immediacy of God’s goodness in life. And he talked about a saint who has made that message real in modern day Central America: Archbishop Oscar Romero. Do you know him?
What Martin Luther king Jr. means in the United States, Mahatmah Ghandi in India and Mother Theresa in much of the world, Archbishop Oscar Romero is for Central America along with the theological movement indigenous to the region called Liberation Theology. Called at a young age to religious orders, Oscar Romero gave his entire ministry to the suffering, understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ to be one of liberation, freedom for all people here on earth. The kingdom of God. His message appeals to all men and women who have known suffering. By worshipping alongside Christians of color, and reading the Exodus story with people who are in the midst of a struggle to gain freedom from the oppressiveness of poverty, illness, hunger or prejudice, you do not have to be a theologian to recognize the amazing perspective of Liberation theology. It is a faith cultivated within people who do not have the luxury of time or safety to wait for God’s presence, to wait for grace and salvation.
In the 1970’s Romero marched, spoke widely, and stood in solidarity with fellow El Salvadorians as they sought liberation from the sorts of injustice that led to mass killings of innocents, starvation of entire villages and disappearances of anyone who dared to dissent. Throughout his ministry, in each person he met, whether they were trapped in the oppression of poverty, or trapped in the sin of wealth earned on the backs of the poor, he saw the opportunity to serve Christ and to liberate every one of his fellow human beings from their burdens.
After a week with Pascual in the island of hope and healing that the Episcopal church is in San Pedro Sula, we gathered Sunday morning in a steamy church to share in the worship of God. Oh I wish you could have been there. Pascual shouted, laughed and danced the gospel to life for a community hungry for hope and ready to love. As part of the offering before celebrating the eucharist, some of the young people danced the traditional folk dances. The dancing, laughter and songs so well represented the gift that is God’s grace in the world.
That day Pascual invited me to bless the bread and wine with him. As I stood there and listened to his passionate reading of the Eucharistic prayer in Spanish I was moved to remember the example of Oscar Romero that inspired Pascual, and the martyrdom of Romero that punctuated the life of that faithful Christian. As the story goes, on Oscar Romero’s last day of life on March 24th, 1980 he had just finished a sermon calling on the Salvadorian military to lay down their arms and end their torture of innocent people. Because of his message he was martyred, shot in the midst of the mass as he raised the bread up declaring it the body of Christ and the bread of heaven. Remembering that total sacrifice, I stood alongside Pascual, filled with the faith that he not only was willing to follow the example of Romero in his deep love for the poor, but also his willingness to give his life on their behalf.
Oh that I might be such a priest and such a Christian.
While I am sure you know this, it bears repeating, we are members of an amazing church, a blessed church for which men and women all over the world are willing to give their lives so that we would hear the gospel in such a compelling way that we would be willing to LIVE it every day. All around us are the gifts of the kingdom of God. As John writes in his first chapter, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). From the fullness of Christ, that is his humanity and his divinity, we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16).
If ever you need inspiration, talk to the missionaries of our church, those who serve in needy communities here in Virginia as well as those who have travelled afar to serve Christ in Haiti and Honduras, Sudan and Alaska. Listen to their stories of God’s goodness and his work in the world. And I promise you, by grace, you will see even more clearly God’s work in your own life. Because while we know there is much darkness in the world, we also know that God, in his great goodness shines in the midst of darkness.
Thanks be to God.