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I. Love is fair trade
Trinity Sunday: Deut. 6:4-9, Acts 2: 22-36, Mt. 11: 25-30.
Sermon for 11 June, 2006, St Peter’s Anglican Church, Lilongwe, Malawi
The lesson says: “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I
will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am
gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy,
and the load I will put on you is light.” (Mt. 11: 25-30)
One of the points here is that love is fair trade. In a relationship with each other, or
to God, we each have to put on a yoke and carry a burden. If we do it with the Gospel
the burden is light. Jesus as our redeemer takes on our heavy burden. Our burden is
faithfulness and openness, which is light compared to the burden of sin.
My wife and I are Americans. Before coming here we spent three years in
Mozambique as mission volunteers to the Anglican Diocese of Lebombo, in Maputo.
After some time Helen and I discovered that the Church in Lebombo Diocese had
given us completely new perspectives on the Gospel, and how it worked in everyday
life. We had never experienced church as vividly as this before. Unlike anything we
had ever seen in the US, we saw the diocese and individual parishes responding to
the every day emergencies and tragedies of a very poor developing country. We saw
the church responding to orphans, the tempting of young girls by prostitution,
unemployment, conflict, malaria, AIDS, water, street children, education, illiteracy
and the plight of the elderly. As one friend of mine put it: “The Gospel is the good
news. If a man is thirsty the Gospel is a cup of water.” The Bishop in Maputo says
that the greatest sin is indifference. While that’s not a surprise theologically, I had
never seen a church (as opposed to Christianity) start there. Take my yoke and put it
on you, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest.
I’d like to tell you a story about Mozambique that illustrates the transformation of
taking on the yoke that Jesus offers us.
In Easter of ______ Bishop Jim Curry came from my diocese in USA to visit Bishop
Dinis Sengulane in the Diocese of Lebombo. Bishop Sengulane says that Easter is the
best time to visit because it’s like coming to Jerusalem. We celebrate Holy Week in
Mozambique in a very special way by re-enacting the events of the week like they
might have happened 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. It’s very moving.
Bishop Curry participated in the work of the church that week: baptisms,
confirmations, renewals of vows, preaching, celebrating the Eucharist, observing
and listening.
Like me he also came away transformed after witnessing very different ways of how
the Gospel can save us all. He invited Bishop Sengulane to Hartford to help our
Diocese intervene against widespread gun violence in our capital city. In Hartford, a
town about the size of Lilongwe, more than 20 people have been shot in the past
two to three weeks. These are mostly young people—both victims and perpetrators.
Innocent bystanders, including children, have been killed. Think for a minute. An
African Bishop is coming as a missionary to help heal an intractable problem in one
of the richest areas of the United States.
Who’s poor?
Who needs development assistance?
Where do these stories lead us?
As we see all of us suffer in some kind of poverty. In America many people have lots
of money, but they also lock themselves up so they don’t need to be engaged with
“uncomfortable" things. They suffer from fear, the fear of losing what they have and
the knowledge that large parts of our society are not growing and prospering.
What’s worse is that many of us feel paralyzed. We don’t know how to use the
Gospel in our everyday life to engage and heal this poverty.
What does this mean for us here today in St. Peter’s Parish? As I described in
Mozambique, the church in Africa has unusual strengths that come from its
experience with the Gospel. We in the west have much to learn here. You have much
to give. All of our burdens can be lifted.
However, I have observed that in relationships between people from the “west” and
people from Africa both sides often act in what I call “parallel reality.” This can
happen in mission relationships, development projects, diplomacy, or just everyday
life. Sometimes it happens in my marriage. In “parallel reality” each of us imagines a
reality for the other party.
One form of it goes like this. “That man is an American. He must be terribly rich.
Surely he can save me from my poverty. All I need is 10,000 Kwacha, my life will be
transformed and I can live happily ever after. And furthermore, he will be better off
because he has given to the poor.”
Another form goes like this: “These people are so poor and helpless. They also aren’t
educated enough to know what they need, or how to run their lives efficiently.
Therefore I have planned a program that will provide them with new things that are
sure to make them independent. All we have to do is send them a container of
fishing poles, and they will be able to catch fish for the rest of their lives and they
will live happily ever after. Of course we’ll need to do measurement and evaluation,
and set up an accounting system to prevent fraud. We don’t want to see these fishing
poles being sold in the market or even smuggled to Zimbabwe. The Malawians will
understand the need for all this of course”.
Sound familiar? What’s missing in both realities is love. Love begins with a
relationship, and in the parallel realities we see no relationships. When I started
thinking about a Cristóvão’s strategic plan we were in parallel realities. I thought I
was loving, but I really had no idea about what Cristóvão needed or what would
work. I had a solution in search of a problem. Fortunately I knew enough to keep my
mouth shut and listen.
The blessings of the Bishop exchange are very different. Both realities appear to be
the same. Bishop Jim Curry became engaged with the Mozambican church and
ministered directly to its people. Bishop Sengulane will become very engaged in our
church and will minister in a practical way to one of our most difficult human issues:
senseless conflict and violence. We hope both our burdens will ease.
This afternoon I’m going to take up with the standing committee the idea of St.
Peter’s becoming engaged with one of the Parishes in my diocese. One of the things
that will make it develop is your prayer about what you have to teach us Americans
about your experience with the Gospel. The Americans’ challenge will be to sit still
and listen (that’s really hard for us), and be willing to share our experiences. As we
have seen, a relationship that takes place in parallel realities won’t work for very
long. One or the other of the parties will quickly become frustrated.
At the moment, there are no specific plans on the table. This is just an idea. I think it
can work because many parishes in my diocese are hungry for some kind of new
spiritual relationship with people who have different experiences with the Bible.
Obviously whatever happens will take a lot of discussion on both sides. I want to
leave you with the idea today that this church has infinite riches from its day to day
experience with the Good News of the Gospel. These are riches that can help
transform a church in the West, if they are willing to listen. Similarly, American
churches have much to offer, if you are willing to listen.
Over the next year think about this. How can a real relationship develop? I will work
on it from my end and I hope you too will become interested.
Let’s pray:
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you
rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble
in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will
put on you is light.
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