Saturday, November 21, 2015

Discrimination Be Me

Hi.  My name is Bill.  I’m a 56 year old white male (Cherokee Indian if you follow one line back four generations).  I have a PhD in Early Modern British History from the University of Cambridge.  I also have 15 years of teaching experience in a series of African graduate schools and universities.  I have published a modest number of academic articles and a book (I would have published more but I have been teaching full loads of classes helping African students catch up with their Western counterparts).  I’ve been told I’m a good teacher.  I recently faced an unanticipated life-transition that forced me to move back to the US.  I attempted to find a job as an associate professor, assistant professor, adjunct professor, janitor at any university/college/community college anywhere in the states.  I sent out on the shy side of 50 applications.  I did not get a single response.  Not a single institution even wanted to talk to me.

Of course no institution looking for someone to fill their history or theology position will ever admit it.  But I am guessing that my virtual stack of papers never made it past the screener, who never looked past my page 1.  You see, today nobody is hiring men (unless one has connections); in particular, nobody is hiring white men;  And if one is over 40, then sorry – there is no room at the inn.  And at 56, I’m practically a dinosaur.  To sum up, evidently I’m the wrong race, the wrong gender and the wrong age.  Old white men not served here.

Given the current climate of outrage across American college campuses and many other institutions and communities, I think I would be justified in calling this discrimination.  And I am guessing I would be laughed out of the discussion.  As a 56 year old white male, the rest of the culture would seem me as the posterchild of their problem.  It’s white men like me (according to the unhappy social justice warriors) who hold all the cards, who are the true bastion of racism and economic privilege in this country.  If I had a position to lose, I might get hounded out of my job, having been labeled a ‘racist’, if for no other reason than by association or not going along with their agenda.

by Frank Cotham

To use an old but useful cliché, the current movement of on-campus and community radicals is producing a lot of heat, a lot of smoke, but almost no light.  Victory is declared if some poor administrator is hounded from office, or if their threats and intimidation succeed in causing a policy review.  If only.

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of discrimination happening throughout American culture today, and not just white on black, police on black, college administrators and teachers on black.  But what nobody seems to get, is that dealing with discrimination (and the racism behind it) in this way – naming, shaming, protesting, rioting, policy-making, legislating – when has this ever made a difference in resolving the real issues behind discrimination, from the personal to the institutional?  We have some wonderful laws on the books, both federal and state, but when has a law ever dealt with the real causes of discrimination and racism?  The concerns of the so-called radicals today may be legitimate, but the way they are going about addressing those concerns demonstrates they neither know history nor have they understood the true nature of the beast they claim to be fighting against.

Here in East Africa, we have horrific problems with racism.  The concerns of our campus and community social justice people look like the Promised Land given our ongoing reality here.  In Burundi today people are being killed daily.  There are fears of a new genocide being triggered.  Ever hear of the words Tutsi and Hutu?  That’s who lives in Burundi, and this is what racism looks like right now over here.  Or in Southern Sudan, the past couple of years have seen an absolutely horrendous civil war going on – at least that is how it is described in polite society.  It’s actually a war between two ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka.   They hate each other.  This is what racism does.  And you simply haven’t heard of the terrible number of atrocities going on and of the awful plight of the people on both sides, probably because Nuer and Dinka people fighting each other in Africa’s poorest country is not deemed important enough to mention in the Western press.  And perhaps that’s a kind of racism, too.

And then here in Kenya, we have had our own eruptions of horrific ethnic violence.  We are quiescent now.  But it only takes pressures there or incidents here to flame the coals into another fire like we had in 2007, where Kikuyus were killing Luos and Kalenjins and Luos and Kalenjins were killing Kikuyus.  We have a rather serious racism issue here.

Like the USA, all of these countries have laws on the books.  Like the USA, everyone here understands that racism is the underlying cause.  And like the USA, having discovered that laws and ‘education’ don’t make any difference, leaders are at sixes and sevens to know what to do.

for example.

I think it’s safe to say that shouting doesn’t work. Shaming doesn’t work.  Demonstrating doesn’t work.  Legislating doesn’t work.  Picking up guns and going after the other side doesn’t work.  These may make us feel better for a time, but they simply don’t work.  I think that there needs to be a change in strategy.  I have a modest suggestion.

My way out of racism has occurred because I have intentionally pursued relationships with people that were being discriminated against.  This means I have gotten to know Africans-Kenyans-Kikuyus-Luos-Kalenjins-Luhyas and Ethiopians-Amhara-Oromos-Tigrinyas, as well as Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians, Tanzanians, Malawians, Congolese, South Africans and even Nigerians as real people, people just like me.  I have taken the initiative to learn something of their culture, of their hopes and dreams, to play with their children, to go to their churches, to share their food, to stay at their houses, to travel with them in matatus, to see them, not as some ‘enemy’, not as some threat to my well-being, but as a human being made in the image of God just like me.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t discriminate against someone I know and love.  I can’t think racist thoughts and pursue racist actions towards someone I know and love.

The problem of discrimination and racism is an individual problem and cannot be solved from above by threats or laws.  It will only be solved from below, relationship by relationship.  All those issues that folks are making so much noise about on campuses and in communities – those are symptoms of the problem, not the racisim problem itself.  When I see the people racing around from demonstration to campus to sit-in become willing to address the real problem they are facing, then we will be on the verge of real progress.  But as of right now, these people are just making a lot of noise and will end up having nothing to show for it – nothing of any meaning.

The strategy that I am advocating is actually very risky.  That is because by addressing the relationship issue, everybody – including the social justice warriors – will make the discovery that racism is not something out there that those people are doing to us.  Rather it is also something right here in my heart, something that I am doing to them.  All of us have a racism issue.

It is so much easier to find fault with the others and demand that they act on this list of things they need to do in order to change.  Much harder to take the risk and get to know someone and listen to them and then figure out a way to work together.  And given every other strategy has failed, one that requires a lot of hard work might actually be a good thing.

In the meantime, it would be lovely some college search committee chastened into doing justice will contact this wrong gender, wrong age, wrong color but otherwise well-qualified person and at least want to talk.  Of course I’m back in the job I want in Nairobi.  But it still would be nice.

public domain

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Can Christians Say the Islamic Shahada in Order to Save Their Lives? – A View from the Front Lines

The Islamic Shehada

It is an alarming sign of the times that my title not a hypothetical question, at least to those of us who live in Kenya.  There have been a series of horrific attacks by Islamists over the past several years in my country of residence, attacks on well-known sites designed to inflict maximum carnage and fear.  Just in the past couple of years, a cadre of Al-Shabab gunmen hit one of the largest and nicest of Nairobi’s shopping malls, shooting everyone they could find who couldn’t prove they were a Muslim.  Nearly 70 perished in that attack.  Last December a bus carrying workers from the Dadaab refugee camp back to their homes in central Kenya was stopped by gunmen.  Everyone was ordered off.  The Muslims were told to walk away.  Twenty seven Christians were lined up on the ground and shot.  This past April, a team of gunmen from the same Somali terrorist organization, slipped onto the University of Garissa campus before dawn and attacked a Christian prayer meeting.  Again, those who could not prove they were Muslims were slain on the spot, one by one.  Since no help came for several hours, the terrorists were able to be methodical in their destruction of the lives of these young people.  Nearly 150 Christian college students died.

Aftermath of the Garissa University Attack

Kenya represents a giant soft target.  Sadly, I assume that these attacks will only increase.  I know something about soft targets.  As the former senior pastor of the largest English-language church in post-9/11 Ethiopia, we were constantly aware that our church, with its large contingent of African diplomats, missionaries, NGO personnel and European and Asian and American expats, might seem an attractive option to someone who cared only to make statements and nothing about the value of human life.  As ‘World War III’, as I have heard our current conflagration called in various places, continues to engulf more and more countries, Christian gatherings that take place in unprotected venues open to anybody may increasingly be a thing of the past.

Last Decembers Dadaab bus attack

What is shocking is that I am increasingly hearing discussions amongst Christians here about what to do in case one is caught up in an act of mass terror and is given the choice of confessing Islam as one’s faith and going free or owning one’s Christian faith and being immediately dispatched.  It is being argued by a number of Christian leaders and academics that I respect that it is OK to say the Muslim Shahada (‘There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet.’) in order to save one’s life.  Even this past weekend at a forum exploring the issues behind the radicalization of Kenyan youth, sponsored by one of the organizations to which I belong, one of the speakers when asked said, ‘Absolutely, save your life.’  Even today in one of my classes, one woman said that she would say the Shahada if it meant survival so that she could be a mother to her children.

Westgate Mall attacker as seen on 'security' footage

What follows reflects my opinion (and not the position of my Church or the university or seminary where I teach).  I believe that attitudes such as this explain a lot about the state of Christianity in this country.  After years of shallow thinking and shoddy theology, the chickens are coming home to roost.  Kenya has been pestered for decades by an increasingly strident form of the health and prosperity heresy that gives the very strong impression that God is there for YOU, and that armed with sufficient faith you can direct the stream of blessing from God to your life.  This life is about getting the good life out of God here and now, and that if we are unable to achieve this level of prosperity, the fault lies with us and our lack of faith.  But this counterfeit ‘gospel’ is toxic to New Testament Christianity.  There is no room for discipleship here.  There is no capacity to comprehend stewardship.  And the universal suffering that surrounds us is simply denied, or if it does exist, it does so simply to be overcome by our victorious faith.  (I listened in disbelief to an individual who complained to me after hearing Joni Erickson Tada give a moving and powerful message at my church that 'that woman obviously doesn't have enough faith or she would be walking right now.'!)  This heresy – and that is what it is – leads one in a very different direction from the path on which Christ leads us.  Too many Kenyans are, like Americans, enamored with the upward way of prosperity, a prosperity that is apparently sanctioned by Almighty God Himself, as well as blessed by the Lord Jesus and facilitated by the power of the Holy Spirit (and known in my country as the 'American way').  The Jesus of the Gospels on the other hand calls each of us who would follow Him to deny oneself, take up one’s cross and follow, not some path to health and prosperity, but follow Me.  It is a statement – a call – the implications of which are all but ignored by many filling our churches here on a given Sunday morning.

Aftermath of the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi.  213 were killed.  4000 were wounded.

Christianity does not exist for Me; rather I exist for the Lord.  The fact that this is hardly heard anywhere today, much less believed, gives one some insight as to why someone might think it’s OK to practice a bit of deception and pretend to be a Muslim in order to live another day.

I think some Christian history could help us here.  This is not the first time that Christians have been given ultimatums by people to deny their faith or suffer horrific consequences.  And this is not the first time that Christians have disagreed over the issue of martyrdom.  Paula Fredricksen discusses whether it was official Roman Empire policy to persecute Christians:

Empires have better things to do than persecute nursing mothers, which is the example of the [famous martyr of Carthage] Perpetua.  Emperors tend not to care much about what people are doing so long as the servants and horses are not disturbed, taxes are collected, and nobody starts a rebellion.  So, empires in general, and I think the Roman Empire, in particular, are religiously tremendously ecumenical.  If you have a huge expansive political territory with huge varieties of religions, within those boundaries, you don’t care what people are doing religiously.  You just want your tax money…  Before the year 250, the persecution of Christians is sporadic.  It’s local.  It’s improvised.  It is at the discretion of a Governor to whom complaints are made and so on.  It’s not a dragnet and it’s not an imperial policy.  
After 250, when the empire is being battered on every frontier by invading armies, when there’s absolute rampant inflation, [there is] incredible governmental instability.  There are an average of two or three Emperors in a year.  They keep getting assassinated.  It’s just an incredibly fraught time.  That’s also the point at which you begin to get the imperial expression of persecution of Christians.  Now then again, also it’s interesting.  It’s not a criminal offense to be a Christian.  What you have to do is get a ticket, a lebevos, a chit saying that you have sacrificed for the well-being of the empire…  There are various responses on the part of different Christian communities.  You can have your servant go and do it for you.  He might also be a Christian, but, you know, that’s his problem.  Pay him.  He’ll get two chits and then you’re covered…. Or you can pay for the ticket but not actually do the sacrifice if you can bribe a friend of yours who’s a magistrate.  Or you can just go ahead and sacrifice, knowing that these gods are nothing, after all.  That’s right in … Paul’s letters, that these gods are nothing.  There are all sorts of different ways that people deal with this.  But some people absolutely refuse to oblige by this rule at all.  And those are the people – again, it’s the heroic minority – who end up being martyred by government force. (
Roman Emperor Decius (201-251)

Around 250 a fierce round of persecution broke out across the empire instigated by the Emperor Decius.  This was followed in the opening years of the fourth century by the ferocious persecution of Christians under the imperial policy of Diocletian.  Elizabeth Clark says: 

There was a grave problem for the church because many Christians were not made of the kind of moral fiber of the people who went to their deaths as martyrs.  They had been willing to recant the faith, to offer a pinch of incense to the emperor….[or] to bribe the officials at the pagan temples to give them a certificate saying they had offered the sacrifice when in fact they had not.  All this made a grave problem for the church when the persecutors were over because many of these people wanted to come back into the church.  It was also a problem because there were some bishops who had defected, you might say, during the persecutions, and they had baptized people.  The question then was were you really baptized if you had been baptized by a bishop who fell away from the faith during the persecutions? (
Roman Emperor Diocletian (245-311)

This sort of defection by bishops and lay people alike was viewed by all of the records that survive as a falling away from the faith.  It was a denial of Christ and a preference of one’s life over the truth of the gospel.  In other words, this was a very serious sin.  So serious that there were some who believed that such people could never be allowed back in the church.  Others felt that their defection could be forgiven, but that they had to remain outside the church for several years in repentance before being allowed to resume communion.

The great challenge facing many Christians and churches in Kenya is that there is no undergirding theology of discipleship, much less one of martyrdom, to guide us as we are apparently entering yet another cycle of persecution.  Times like this expose the health and prosperity churches for the lies that they are – one cannot love both God and mammon without incurring serious consequences, someone famous once said.  But the prosperity posture extends much further than the giant worship palaces thrown up by the various apostles/prophets/bishops for the glory of their ‘ministries’ and their legions of not-quite-as-successful wannabees.  Many other Protestant church leaders and members are also infected with the God-exists-for-me contagion.  The resulting churches and ministries are nothing more than castles built of sand and on sand which will simply melt away when the torrent of persecution and hard times rushes upon us.

I can completely understand why someone might want to save his or her life in the face of a murderous assault by someone who hates Christians (and others) and who is killing as many as he can to make some religious and/or political point.  But a Christian need not be afraid of death.  It wasn’t just Christians long ago who were willing to identify themselves with Christ even if it cost them their lives.  In the past 100 years, more Christians have been martyred – under Islam in the Middle East and Turkey, under communism in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Ethiopia, under Fascism in Nazi Germany, and in countless other places on the globe than in the entire rest of church history combined.  We were told by our Lord that it would be this way.

The Coptic Martyrs of Libya

So in light of Christian history and the teaching of the Gospel, it seems to me that for a genuine Christian to take the Shahada on one’s lips in the hope that by doing so one’s life might be spared is in fact choosing to deny Christ for the sake of self-preservation.  We are declaring thereby that we are unwilling to give up our life for the sake of knowing and following Christ.  We are saying rather clearly that there are some things more important than Jesus for us.  Moreover to do so dishonors the memory and example of those men and women and boys and girls who, in contrast to the pretenders, willingly offered themselves up for Christ.  It’s a perspective that seems to assume that my Christian commitment is expendable if it turns out being a Christian is more costly than I anticipated.  It communicates that my faith in Christ is a faith of convenience only, that I am a Christian right now because it suites me to be one, and that as long as it pays the dividends I need, I will identify myself with the Christians; but if it doesn’t for whatever reason, I will align myself with whatever will give me what I want or need.  It reveals rather starkly who is the real lord of my life.

The Coptic Martyrs of Libya, from the perspective that matters.

Islam will not be defeated by self-centered ‘Christians’ who praise the Lord one day and say the Muslim creed the next just to get out of suffering.  The Christian life is not about gaming the different denominations, or even religions, jumping here or there depending on who offers the greatest personal advantage.  Instead the rampant onslaught of militant Islam will be stopped only by Christians who love even their enemies, and who are willing to lay down their lives for the One who gave His life for us.  This is taken as great weakness on our part by Jihadi Muslims.  But then they have never understood real Christianity.  Let them do their worst.  I recall that our Lord endured similar abuse and suffering and a horrific death.  Besides, who are we to forget that some terrorist will not have the last word over us?  Who are we, of all people, to be afraid of anybody?  The risen Lord Jesus Himself will call us by name on the last day and raise us up and transform our broken bodies into one like His.  And when that day comes, at is surely will, justice will be done.  And if justice is going to be done, I don’t want to be found stammering lame excuses; and I’m guessing you don’t, either.

There is an article in the July/August Christianity Today on this issue in which I am quoted several times.  You can find it here:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

With Wandering Steps and Slow

by Hanna Varghese

In either hand the hastening Angel caught
Our lingering Parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain – and then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand; the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms.
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.
 John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost, The Twelfth Book, lines 635-647
 Some days I miss my Eden.
But then Eden is a place I’ve never known.  Rather it’s like being dropped off.  And having wished me well the cheerful driver is gone in a cloud of dust. And I suddenly realize I haven’t a clue where I am or what I’m meant to do.  I’m a quick study and I watch the people around me and guess what they are busy about and talking about and I set about trying to fit in.  But there is no map.  There are no directions.  Only a succession of people who think they know what they are doing, who assume I know what I’m doing and that I know where I’m going.  Just like them.
I ‘succeed’.  Doors open. Opportunities avail.  It seems like a good life.  I’m told it is a blessed life.  Some of it is wonderful, beautiful, exciting, breath-taking, thrilling even.  And some of it, well, isn’t.

The eclipse begins when all is bright and sunny.  The sun is so bright that one would never guess an eclipse was in process unless one had seen it discussed in the media.  25%, 40%, 60% - only as the black shroud of the moon stretches to smother entirely the bright burning countenance of the sun, only as light fails precipitously and as dusk falls at midday and startled evening birds pipe their songs does the celestial catastrophe make itself known.  But it was not a surprise to those who chart the skies or those who know the signs.
My world went dark.  It should not have been a surprise.  Had I known how to read the signs long ago I would have known that the bridge was out.  Had I known how to chart the human heart, I would have perceived an eclipse from the beginning.  But I didn’t.
From Eden to the wilderness is just a few quick steps.  But I turn around and can no longer see from whence I’ve come.  The land is new and foreign. That Adam still had his partner when the world went dark, though both had wounded the other.  But my Eve chose a different way. And I am alone.  Strangely I find other travelers here, in this place, others cast out of an Eden they never knew, others more certain of the way.

‘We walk by faith, not by sight.’  I struggle to let go of sight, even though what I see has killed me.  I do know where this is going, or how it may end.  One foot in front of the other. ‘…with wandering steps and slow’.

Joseph Bailly, 'Paradise Lost'

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happy Sts Cosmas and Damian Day!

Today, November 1, is the Feastday of the patron saints of our Church, Sts. Cosmas and Damian. I was asked Friday evening by our priest (and my colleague and friend at the seminary) to preach.  It was a wild and crazy service.  Towards the end of Orthros, two people came for confession, which meant we in the choir went back over ground already covered and kept on chanting for what seemed to be a long time.  And after the liturgy, we had memorial prayers for the souls of those who perished in the Russian airliner crash in the Sinai.  And then we had the Artoklasia prayers to bless the bread and wine and oil brought in celebration of our saints.  In the middle of all that, after the Gospel reading (which I have included below), I brought the lectern to the middle of the sanctuary and stood before the people.  And this is what I said.

Luke 16:19-31
19There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.  22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried.  23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.  24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.’  25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.  26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’  27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house – 28for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises form the dead.’

The story about the rich man and Lazarus is well known.  And it is a story.  For centuries people have interpreted this parable to say that this is what heaven must be like, and that this is what hell is going to be like.  But Jesus is not intending to give us a description of the life to come.  Instead, he is making another point altogether.  When the rich man who is in torment begs father Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to warn his brothers, Father Abraham simply says, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.  Let them listen to them.’  But the rich man says, ‘No, father, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ To which Abraham replies, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

And you will recall that One did rise from the dead, the Lord Jesus himself.  And just as Jesus said, even though He rose from the dead, the vast majority of Jews found reasons not to believe in Him, not to trust in Him, not to turn from their rebellion and follow Him. 

And the application for us is obvious.  We are in the same position as the rich man’s family.  We are living our lives oblivious of the realities of hell and heaven.  And God in His grace has given us the absolutely amazing, astonishing, awesome treasures of His Word and His Church.  We have been given everything we need to understand where this world came from and what this world is about and where this world is going.  We’ve been given everything we need to understand where you and I came from and what our lives are meant to be about.  We’ve been told what sin is in general and how you and I in particular have chosen again and again not to love God and not to love our neighbor, but instead to choose to live for ourselves.  We are like that rich man, oblivious to spiritual reality, oblivious to human need, oblivious to everything except what gets us what we want.  But we also have been told of God’s great love for us, sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for us on the cross so that all of our many wrongs might be forgiven, and to rise again from the dead to defeat the power that death holds over us and open up the way for us to be born again in this life and live with Him forever in the life to come.   This is what God has done for us.  This is what God is doing for us, right here, right now, even in this place, extending His hands to you, calling you to Himself, calling you to turn from the life you have been leading and the choices you have been making, calling you into His new life of freedom from being a slave to this world and a slave of the devil.  But so many are like the rich man and his family, refusing to listen, with our ears stopped up, even some of us in the Church, who think that being religious somehow keeps us safe.  But the day is coming when we, like the rich man, will find ourselves simply getting from God what we deserve.

But I have a question I want to ask you.  I realize I am taking some liberties with the text.  But what if the rich man, instead of living the totally self-centered life, what if he saw the wrong of his ways ?  What if he repented?  What would it look like?  We don’t know any of his other circumstances.  But we do know his relationship with Lazarus.  In the parable, the rich man is aware of Lazarus, based on his conversation with Abraham when he is in hell.  The rich man even knows Lazarus’ name.  But he chose to ignore him in this life, and did nothing to relieve his suffering and need.

But we can guess that if he repented, he might use his riches, not for himself, but for good, and to help Lazarus.  Lazarus’ most pressing need is his health.  The rich man would have given some of us money to get medical help for Lazarus.  And once that emergency was dealt with, there are the issues of food and shelter, which, again, the rich man with his resources was in a position to do something about.  And then long term, I can envision an effort to help Lazarus go back to school and get some training so that he could work and make his own living.  And should Lazarus struggle to find someone to hire him, I can see that the rich man might give him a position on his own staff.  Can you see the difference that this would make.  Not only would it make a difference in Lazarus’ life; it would make a profound difference in the rich man’s life.  No longer would he view what he has as his own to spend on himself and for his pleasure.  Instead he sees who he is and what he has as belonging to someone else, belonging in fact to God, to be spent on those things God is doing.  This is what we call stewardship.  What you have is not your own, it was given to you by God.  And the purpose that God has given you all of these things and these talents and all this time is not that we can then spend it on ourselves, but so that we can give it away and spend it on those things God is doing.

Tragically for everyone, the rich man chose to do other things with his possessions, with his talents, with his time.  But I have another example, this time of two men, who made different choices.  Our church is named for them, and today is their feast day, when we remember them and thank God for their example.  But there is a challenge.  The Orthodox Church actually commemorates three sets of brothers who served as physicians during the 3rd and 4th centuries.  They are called unmercenary physicians because they helped people out of love and practiced medicine without receiving payment.  And the three different sets of brothers all came to be known as Cosmas and Damian.

The Cosmas and Damian from Syria and Arabia were Christian brothers who were physicians and were rounded up in a persecution during the 3rd century and tortured and beheaded.  We commemorate them on October 17.  The Cosmas and Damian of Rome were Christian brothers and physicians who were martyred outside Rome by a jealous pagan physician in 283-284.  We commemorate them on July 1. The Cosmas of Damian of Asia Minor were twin physicians who refused payment and whose gifts of healing led to a spread of Christianity where they lived.  And they took seriously the command Jesus gave to his disciples: ‘Freely you have received, freely give.’ (Matthew 10:8) They died peacefully and were buried in Mesopotamia.  And we commemorate them today.

Can you see the difference between these brothers and the rich man in our parable?  Instead of holding on tightly to possessions and money and spending it on themselves, Sts Cosmas and Damian gave it all away.  And God made them a tremendous blessing to their Church and their community.  They used their talents, and their gifts and their possessions to pursue God’s agenda of love.  They made a difference in the name of Christ.

Now I could make the obvious turn here and ask each one of you, how are you spending your time, your talents, your money and possessions?  Heaven or hell should not be any surprise to any of us – all we need to do is look and see what kind of steward we are being right here and right now.

But what I really want to do is stimulate a discussion about our Church.  We as a Church are named after Sts. Cosmas and Damian.  But are we like them?  Do we understand that who we are and what we have belongs not to us, or to any group in our midst, but to the Lord?  Do we understand what God’s agenda of love might be for us?  What would it look like if we made the decision not to exist for ourselves, but to give ourselves completely to what God is calling us to be? And what is God calling us to be?  Think with me for one more moment.

We are very wealthy.
We are both multi-ethnic and international.
We are centrally located.
We are at the heart of the largest and fastest-growing archdiocese in all of Africa.

Jesus says to us the same thing he said to Cosmas and Damian – ‘Freely you have received, freely give.’

What is keeping us from dreaming?  From asking, ‘God, what do you want us to do with all of these facilities and this property and all of this talent and all of these resources that you have given to us?

We could undertake to build a conference center to serve Kenya’s Orthodox Christians.
We could undertake to establish an excellent Christian bookstore – the very first Orthodox Bookstore in Kenya.
We could build a home for retired clergy, or a monastery, or a convent.
We could partner with other organizations and establish a first-response clinic in Kibera.

There is a world of need in front of us, which is another way of saying; there is a world of opportunity right here.  So we have a choice, not just as individuals, but as a Church.  We can just sit here and do what we’ve always done.  Or we can ask God, ‘What do you want me to do with all of this that you have given me and made me to be?  What do you want us to do with all of this that you have given us and made us to be?  So what do you think we should do?  I challenge you to pray about this.  Ask God to show us what he wants us to do.  And then like Dr. Cosmas and Dr. Damian, start doing it with everything we have.

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, St. Cosmas and St. Damian, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and save us.

Thursday, October 22, 2015