Sermon Preached by the Rev

By Katie Morgan,2014-06-17 05:54
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Sermon Preached by the Rev ...

    Sermon Preached by the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh

    St. Luke’s, Portland

    February 24, 2009: Last Epiphany World Mission Sunday Mark 9:2-9

     Today is World Mission Sunday. I haven’t preached about World Mission every

    year but, particularly as I am teaching a course on the subject this winter at Bangor

    Seminary, I thought I would give it a try! When I think of World Mission, I think of

    people like Gabriel Khano, a Palestinian Christian from Bethlehem whose family gave

    tours of the Middle East, who invited me into his home for a glass of wine made in Cana

    and sends periodic Christmas cards ever since. World Mission also makes me think of

    another Gabriel, Gabriel Mpozagara, a Burundian diplomat who I knew at UNESCO in

    Paris who left Europe to serve his country and his God in some of its most difficult times.

    Remembering Africa I think of Gerald Mpango, bishop of Kilimanjaro whose school I

    helped fund and who loaned my team his Land rover so we could on safari. I remember

    Donald Mtetemela, the archbishop of Tanzania who came to my home in Maryland and

    preached the longest Palm Sunday sermon my congregation had ever heard. When I think

    of World Mission, I shoot off a quick prayer for Nathaniel Hseih, a Taiwanese pastor

    who I helped become an Episcopal priest. His ministry was to Chinese immigrants to

    France and helped establish a thriving Chinese-speaking congregation in our Episcopal

    Church. Now, he is home in Taiwan. Also in Asia is Tom Duggan, a friend who moved

    from Paris to become pastor of a church in Bangkok, Thailand and ended up hiring an

    Episcopal woman priest from Maine as his assistant. A little closer to home, World

    Mission reminds me of Ben Friday, an elder of the Arapaho people, I knew from mission


work I did on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. It was Ben who the

    summer before I married took me aside to give me Native American advice on handling

    my mother-in-law (don’t talk to her) and Ben who invited me to bless his home with

    cedar incense spread by an Eagle feather and blessed Shari and me with gifts we knew he

    could not afford. Also in the Americas, I think of Harry, a young seminarian from

    Tobago with whom I helped establish a Sunday school at another St. Luke’s – this one in the sugar cane fields of Barbados and I think of there are my fellow cathedral deans

    whose ministry in the Artic Circle, in Cuba, and in New Orleans has been nothing short

    of heroic. There is a wonderful hymn we sing at Evensong with the verses:

    We thank thee that thy church unsleeping, while earth rolls onward into light,

    through all the world her watch is keeping, and rests not now by day or night.

    As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads onward into day,

    the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.

Wherever I have found myself Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the West Indies, or

    across the US and Canada I have been comforted by the idea that somewhere around

    the world, someone is waking up, saying “Lord open our lips” and beginning Morning Prayer. I will never forget moments in Dar es Salaam, in Jerusalem, and in Egypt where I

    have been in places where I did not know the language but did know the prayers… and

    how that made all the difference. For me, the Anglican Communion isn’t about issues; it is about family. Christianity isn’t about sharing a religion, it is about sharing a

    relationship. World Mission it isn’t about conversion as it is about conversation and about incarnation that is finding Jesus in one another.

     In this age of globalism and pluralism, World Mission is a funny thing. The old

    way of dividing the world between Christian and non-Christian lands no longer makes


sense. The stain of colonialism, the crusades, cultural imperialism, and unchristian

    behavior by Christians (on all sides) combine with the fear of sounding like

    fundamentalists to make the mere discussion of mission a challenge. On top of this, post-

    enlightenment thinking and post-modern emphases on diversity and relativism call in to

    question the uniqueness of Christianity and the need for evangelism, making it much

    easier to talk about alleviation of disease and poverty rather than our faith. Now, I will be

    the first to say that mission without development does not make much sense and I

    commend to you the Lenten Study Booklets, which help make connections between our

    faith and the Millennium Development Goals. The most meaningful work I did with

    Africa was not in helping AIDS clinics or schools or digging wells but in supporting

    micro-businesses such as palm-oil presses, chicken, pig, or fish farming, and sewing

    cooperatives. The first were important for survival. The second meant that survival was

    sustainable. That said, however, you need to know that no matter how secular these

    projects appeared, the people who participated in them never separated their actions from

    their faith and never shied away from God. In fact, it was in these projects that they found

    proof that God exists, that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives, and that the church is

    very much alive.

     That is important because I would suggest that here in North America this place

    that is far more a mission field than Africa -- one of the biggest obstacles to Mission is

    the question of whether God exists at all and if God does, then if Christianity and/or

    the church is relevant in the mix. I would bet that if you went to Coffee By Design or

    Sunday River and did a quick Sunday morning 10:00 am survey of those who are there,

    you would that many of them describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and


have little use for the institutional church. I have to say that I think they are missing

    something. On this World Mission Sunday, I would suggest however that the church is

    important precisely because of relationships like the ones I mentioned before: the

    relationships we have with others and the way that in them we experience the presence of


     This brings me to the Transfiguration, the traditional gospel reading for the Last

    Sunday after the Epiphany (the Sunday before the beginning of Lent). As heard a few

    moments ago, the story began when Jesus went up the mountain to pray with Peter and

    James and John. While they were together, Jesus was transfigured before them. Suddenly

    the disciples could see clearly who Jesus was. Suddenly they heard the voice of God

    confirming what they already knew in their hearts: that Jesus was the messiah, the Son of

    God. The other day Shari reminded me of advice given to a friend who because she was

    sure there must be truth in other religions, wasn’t sure how to approach her own. The

    advice was “Well, if you believe that there is truth in all religions, then discover and

    focus on the truth in yours.” To paraphrase Gandhi, Christianity is a great religion. The problem is that it has never been tried.” To put it another way, one reason people don’t know about Christianity is that they don’t know Christ – that is, they haven’t seen him

    transfigured the way the disciples did. To use seasonally significant language, the

    problem is that they haven’t had an epiphany – a personal discovery or experience of God. 1: “It is not

    To quote from South African Frederick Bosch’s book Transforming Mission

    the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the

1 Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.

     Maryknoll, Orbis, 1991


Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” “The primary purpose of

    the missiones ecclesiae [mission of the church] can therefore not simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls; rather it has to be to the service to the Missio Dei

    [mission of God] representing God in and over against the world, point to God, hold up

    the God-child before the eyes of the world in a ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the

    Epiphany.” Did you know that in 1818, the Episcopal Church declared that all of its

    members were also a member of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society… and

    that as a result, every person here is a missionary? Bosh warns in this role, we are called

    not to be church people but to be Kingdom people: people who witness to the fullness of

    the promise of God's reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign

    and the powers of darkness and evil. Bosch concludes his thoughts with a simple phrase,

    “there is mission because God loves people.”

     Last Sunday, when we commissioned David and Karin Draper to go to Haiti this

    weekend on our behalf, I heard someone in the crowd make the comment “Isn’t there

    poverty right here in Maine? Shouldn’t we be focusing on our own needs first? “Why

    should we support people going for an expensive vacation?” Yes, of course we should be helping people here -- and are in a very large way. World mission, however, compels us

    to stand at the mountaintop and look out beyond ourselves to a world full of people, not

    just in need, but in need of a relationship, with us and with a God who loves them very

    much. World mission compels us to say yes it is worth it to share our faith with others

    and allow them to share their faith with us. If we can climb that mountaintop, we may

    find that both we and they are transfigured and transformed. If we can climb that

    mountaintop, we may see in each other the face of Christ. There is mission because God


loves people if we are willing to risk building relationships with others, we will

discover that God loves us as well.


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