Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Mission

My favorite wiggly altar boy as Fr. John leads the service.

Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30
32Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

19:27Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.  What then will we have?’ 28Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.  30But may who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

Our Chanters' Stand mid-service.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower the followers of Jesus to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.  And so we learn that the Church has a mission.  And not just the church in general, but this Church, you and me in particular, we have a mission.  God has put us here for a reason, for a purpose, and God’s purpose is that we be a light in this dark place, God’s purpose is that we take the initiative and reach out and figure out what it means to love our neighbor.  God’s purpose is that you and I be witnesses of Christ, that we point the people around us to Jesus, that we freely, joyfully give what has been by God’s love and goodness given to us.

It was my turn to read the Epistle today.  Here I am chanting the Prokeimenon.

Or let me put it another way.  We live in a world that is controlled by Satan.  Look around you, even in your own life and mine, we all bear the terrible marks, the scars, the wounds of people’s choices not to love, of our own choices not to love, of choices to be selfish, to be corrupt, to steal, to hate, to lie, to get what we want at the expense of others, to choose drunkenness over responsibility for our family, to choose laziness rather than honest work, to sell our bodies for pleasure, to sell our souls for the sake of money or power.  And we are so much a part of it that we think it is normal.  We even behave this way in the Church.  And Satan has one goal, to destroy what God made to be good.  That’s what living in this world will do to us and to everybody around us.  Satan wants to destroy you.  And the fact that every single one of us will suffer an accident or get sick or grow old and die should give you an idea of just how powerful the kingdom of Satan is.

The Reader Joseph

Satan, and all the people he has corrupted, who think living this way is a good idea, wants to destroy this planet, this beautiful garden the Lord created.  But God has not stayed in his high heaven and simply watched as everything beautiful he has made is rubbished and corrupted by the evil one, while every man and woman and child is defiled by their own choice not to love God with all their heart, or to love their neighbor as themselves.  Instead God has launched an invasion, an invasion to reclaim this world, His world, for himself, an invasion to rescue, to set free the captives, the hostages held by a terrorist far more terrible than ISIS, Al Shabab or Al Qaeda.  And God has broken into this world in Jesus.  Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, behind enemy lines.  No one paid any attention to him while he was growing up.  But when he started preaching, and healing and performing miracles and challenging the spiritual authority of the Jewish leaders, many were attracted to him and his message, but many more were threatened.  Jesus came to reestablish God’s Kingdom.  And Jesus revealed himself to be it’s King.  But the kingdom of this world, the kingdom of Satan rose up to destroy him.  And they did to Jesus what they have done to every single other person.  They killed him, horribly, on the cross.  But Jesus did what no other person has ever done. As a man he died.  But as God, he stormed the fortress of hades, he broke down its gates and set free all the people held in the darkness of death.  And then he burst through the power of death itself and transformed his death-bound body into a new creation, a new man, the New Adam, over whom death no longer has any power, over whom Satan no longer has any dominion. 

But I was also asked to preach.

And the risen Lord Jesus is calling us to join this movement to save this world from Satan’s power.  That’s why Jesus is saving you.  That’s why Jesus is calling you to follow him.  That is why Jesus is giving you his Holy Spirit, to change you, to transform you, to empower you to be the presence and the love of the risen Lord wherever he leads you to be.  God is calling us, in fact our whole purpose, our reason for existence, is to be the beachhead of the kingdom of God in this place.  Jesus started the invasion of God’s transforming love; one person by one person God is rescuing, redeeming, healing, transforming and empowering, so that we begin by God’s power and God’s love to change the relationships and change world we are a part of. And you and I, and we in this Church, we are the army that Jesus has brought together, to take on Satan and his kingdom in this place, to do what Jesus would do if he were right here with us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to do just that, to empower us to be Jesus, to do the things that Jesus does, to be the presence of Jesus in our homes, in our neighborhood, and right here in this church.

That’s what Pentecost is all about.  And this is why today we celebrate All Saints Day.  Because from when Jesus walked on this land to today, there have been men and women and young people who heard what Jesus was saying, saw what Jesus was doing, understood what Jesus meant when he called them to be his disciples, and they followed.  Notice I didn’t say they went to church.  Even the devil makes himself comfortable in church.  Notice I didn’t say they put money in the offering from time to time.  The devil loves to make people think they’ve done enough if they put some money in the offering.  No, I said, they followed Jesus.  They understood that Jesus came to save them from their sin, they understood that Jesus asks for a change of allegiance.  No longer serve the gods of this world.  No longer serve the god of yourself and your agenda.  No longer serve the kingdom of Satan.  No, serve the risen Lord Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  And so these men and women and young people, these disciples of Jesus, these believers, these are the ones who have made a difference for Christ, who have been a light in the darkness of this world, who have loved in the midst of hate, who have been willing to follow Jesus, even if it meant leaving home and family, leaving security and career, leaving one’s people and going across the globe to help and serve and love a people completely different.

Satan hates the kingdom of Jesus, Satan hates the love Jesus’ disciples show; Satan has no defence against the deeds of love and power that Jesus’ followers perform.  And so he uses hate, the only real weapon he has, to try to destroy us.  And if he can make Christians fight each other so that the Church becomes his playground, he will do it.  And if he can blind Christian leaders to God’s agenda, God’s plan for his church and distract them from Jesus and his love and power, he will do it.  And if Satan can persuade Christians that all they need to do is come for the last part of liturgy that they have done their duty, that Christianity is just part of my cultural identity and because I’m American or because I’m Ethiopian I must be Christian, then Satan will blind us and step by step pull us away from Christ and make us content with spiritual nonsense.

But a true Christian will see what Satan is doing, and will hate what Satan is doing in this world and doing in our lives.  But we will not take up the devil’s weapons of hate. Instead we arm ourselves with the weapons of love, with the Fruit of the Holy Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.  Against this Satan has no answer.  Except to silence us. 

Leonella Sgorbati in Mogadishu

Leonella Sgorbati was born in 1940.  She was a strong Christian even as a child.  She felt called to be a nun and she also felt called by God to be a missionary.  She wanted to show people God’s love by helping them as a nurse.  She spent years working here in Kenya as a Consolata Missionary sister.  In 2002 she moved to Somalia, to Mogadishu and she opened a training centre to train nurses for the only hospital in the country.  On September 17, 2006, she was shot by Somali Islamists as she left the centre after teaching her classes for the day.  Her last words were “I forgive, I forgive, I forgive.”

In the predawn darkness of 2 April 2015, a group of men attacked the campus of Garrissa University and came upon a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Unions.  A large number of Christian students had gathered for a prayer meeting.  None of these students got up that morning thinking that this would be the last day of their life.  None of them got up thinking that they were walking to their death.  When they began praying, none of them thought that this would be the last thing they would do on this earth.  The room was attacked.  Everyone was forced to lie down.  One by one the men with guns asked each one if they could recite the muslim shahada.  If they could and they denied Christ, they could go free.  If they couldn’t and they refused to deny Christ, they were shot.  Right then, right there.  One after another, gunshots rang out.  One after another young men, young women refused to deny Christ, chose to be known as a follower of Jesus,  proclaimed their love for Jesus, prayed for their executioners.  One by one, until they were all dead.  147 Kenyan university students.  147 Kenyan men and women who chose to follow Jesus.  147 Kenyan men and women for whom being a Christian cost them everything.  Everything.

And you?  Does being a Christian cost you anything?  We’ve seen Pascha.  We’ve seen Pentecost.  Whose kingdom are you a part of?  Who’s side are you fighting for?  What does the fruit of your life tell you and everybody else?  We are in a war.  And the choices you and I are making have eternal consequences.  Jesus calls you to follow him, to be his disciple.  Pentecost reminds you that God is giving you everything you need, everything we need to be the presence of Jesus in this place, to be the beachhead of the kingdom of God right here.  And the saints we remember today remind us our choices will be costly, that following Jesus might cost us everything.  But on the last day, when our eyes are opened from the sleep of death, when that nurse, when those students rise again and see Jesus face to face, not a single one of them will regret the choices they made.  What about you?  What about you?

A sermon preached on Sunday morning, June 11, 2017
At Sts. Cosmas and Damian Orthodox Cathedral, Nairobi, Kenya

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