Foundry United Methodist Church

Summer in the City 2009

Outstanding Preacher Series

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño

 

 

Keep It Simple

Sunday, July 5, 2009

 

 

Mark 6: 6b-13

 

Bishop Carcano

 

Bishop Carcaño

 

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord, Christ Jesus.  Happy 4th of July weekend to all of you!  What a joy it is to spend this particular weekend in this great capitol city with its fireworks, music, food, and spirit!  Thank you for the privilege.  Most of all, thank you for the great privilege of being with you.  Foundry UMC is an historic church known for its contributions to this city, this nation, and the world and I am blessed to be here among you on this weekend.

 

Over this weekend, however, I have not been able to celebrate this 4th of July without thinking about what has happened to this country since the last 4th of July.  We now know that we are definitely in a recession.  We know that the consumer life style of this country cannot be sustained, and I would say, should not be sustained.  We know that the record of this country out in the world has been damaged and stained, and that overcoming the damage and the stain won’t come easily or swiftly.  We have come to know, I pray, that in recession, in gluttony, in complicit war, torture and deception, we have acquired a few bad habits as a country that we will need to break. 

 

I was catching up with my reading on the plane here and read with astonished horror an article by Luke Mitchell in this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine that brings to light the fact that we are still torturing persons at Guantanamo.  Somehow we have managed to redefine torture allowing ourselves some loopholes so that even today and even under the new administration we can continue to torture prisoners; a bad and destructive habit that we will need to break. 

 

This past week Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for cheating persons out of billions of dollars of their hard earned money, their retirement funds, the funds that would have allowed them to live in security over the years to come.   He has become the symbol of all that is wrong with our economic system and the way we live in this country.  But will Madoff’s conviction and imprisonment make any difference in a society that has convinced itself that it is entitled to wealth and comfort at whatever cost?  We have some deeply entrenched bad habits to break in this country. 

 

And you and I as disciples of Jesus Christ must not sit back and assume that somehow we have nothing to do in this time of national and global crisis.  We can and we must help this country break its bad habits, but even more we can and must hold up for this country and for the world a vision of  what the world could be in the mighty and powerful name of Christ Jesus. 

 

I love the way Eugene H. Peterson states it in his version of the gospel we heard this morning.  He says that the disciples went out into the world preaching with “joyful urgency that life can be radically different.”  And as they went forth in this spirit and conviction, “right and left they sent the demons packing; …brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies and healing their spirits (The Message).”  No less than those first disciples of Jesus, this is what you and I are called to do; to proclaim good news, being bearers of healing and wholeness for a hurting and struggling world.

 

“Oh, but life is so much more complex than it used to be,” you may be thinking. You may be right.  The population of Jesus’ time cannot begin to compare to the multitudes of today’s world.  The economic reality Jesus and his disciples faced represents but a mere fraction of the global economy of this generation.  The number of nation states that were around to fall into conflict and trouble was miniscule in comparison to the number of nation states that exist today.   If you are thinking these kinds of thoughts, wondering about the very possibility of serving in this world as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, I understand.  But, I would invite us to trust Jesus as he sends you and me forth into the world with good news just as he sent out the first disciples. 

 

In Eugene H. Peterson’s words, Jesus sent those first twelve disciples out in pairs, two by two.  He gave them authority and power to deal with every evil opposition.  And he sent them forth with these instructions: 

 

“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. 

You are the equipment.  No special appeal for funds. 

Keep it simple.

And no luxury inns. 

Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.

If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. 

Don’t make a scene.

Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”      

                                                            The Message

 

With those first disciples of Jesus you and I are likewise sent forth to serve in this world.  As I consider our charge, I am struck by the words and spirit of simplicity: Keep it simple, says Peterson’s version of the gospel. And I do believe that even in the complex, complicated, and convoluted world we live in today, if we keep it simple, if we stick to the simplicity of the marvelous good news of Christ Jesus, we can be faithful agents of God’s own transforming grace in this country and in the world.  But we must be willing to be those faithful agents.  This is the time to simply lift up our voices and simply live our lives in such a way that healing and wholeness can come to our lives and to the lives of all those around us.  It is possible if we will but keep it simple.  William Greider in his new book, Come Home America, speaks of this simplicity and it just frustrates me to no end that we as Christians didn’t say it and perhaps didn’t live it first as people of faith!

 

Greider states:

 

In the years ahead, Americans will suffer unavoidable

losses of familiar pleasures and be compelled to alter

some deeply ingrained habits of material consumption. 

These painful adjustments can be endured if the people

are confident the country is progressing toward a more

fulfilling transformation.  The essential trade-off could be

expressed on a bumper sticker:  Smaller cars for larger lives. 

 

So simple!  So true!  He goes on to say how we get there and it’s not through the means that most would expect.  He says:

 

Government can do many things, but it cannot transform

the society.  Only the people can accomplish that.  They

change the fabric of society gradually and in unannounced

ways with their behavior and creativity, guided roughly by

their enduring moral values.  (chapter on The Future of the American Dream…Imagining an economy that puts people first.)

 

I agree with Grieder; that it is about keeping it simple.  Simply sharing our enduring moral values.  And for us as Christians, our enduring moral values are always grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ.   We cannot just sit in our sanctuaries or sit in our homes or at our places of work considering the state of human life in this country and in this world.   We must get out there in the world and share what we have known of the love and the power of Christ Jesus; a love and a power that have transformed our lives.  Friends, let’s not get stuck now, let’s simply do it.   

 

I went on renewal leave in August and devoted some of my time in service to immigrants.  It was with our immigrant brothers and sisters that I saw once again the simplicity of the love and power of God among us; I saw Christ Jesus at work through those who have placed their hope in him.  I had gone to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico to serve immigrants who are deported back to Mexico.  Bus loads of immigrants are dumped on the U.S.-Mexico border several times a day at this place among others.  I joined a team of U.S. and Mexican volunteers who day in and day out receive these immigrants on the Mexican side of the border providing them with a cup of Ramen soup, a change of clothing, a bit of orientation for our immigrant brothers and sisters are tired, dirty, disoriented and always broke and broken. 

 

It was here that we washed the feet of the immigrants, cutting away the most horrible foot blisters I have ever seen, black and blue and bloody.  We nursed the feet of the immigrants with antibiotic creams, then bandaging them ever so carefully so that we did not add to their already unbearable pain.  All a sacred task, but it was the last bus of the afternoon that blessed my life with a clear sign of the simplicity of God’s own love and power. 

 

When we saw that bus arrive we went out to meet those being deported welcoming them and offering them respite.  After a while we thought all had gotten off the bus and started to walk with the deported immigrants back to a small tent set up for their care when someone pointed out that there was yet another immigrant.  He got off the bus carefully and began to walk toward us.  He was limping terribly, holding on to his left leg.  We thought he might have sprained or even broken his leg, not an uncommon occurrence for immigrants traveling through very tough terrain.  But as we met him and asked whether he was alright, he informed us that he was tired and weary but was alright.  He had a disability from birth that made him limp. 

 

Once we knew what his condition was we were able to see beyond him and realize that he was not alone.  Walking right behind him and holding on to his shirt were Jocelyn and Melvin, his children, 10 and 8 years old.  Jocelyn and Melvin, good Mexican names, no!  They were from Chiapas, Mexico.  His wife, and Jocelyn and Melvin’s mother, was suffering from a very serious illness and could not travel, but he had no work, the North American Free Trade Agreement had robbed him of his livelihood.  Thus they had no food and he had no way to care for that young wife and mother nor for their family so they had made the difficult decision to leave her behind and attempt to reach the U.S. to search for work to sustain themselves and to care for that wife and mother back home.  He said to me even without knowing my name or my religious affiliation, “As we left our home and journeyed forth, we trusted in God and God has not abandoned us.  Christ Jesus himself has been our faithful good shepherd.”

 

As I washed that father’s dusty and blistered feet he told me their immigrant story; four days of wandering in the Sonoran desert, burning to a crisp in the day and freezing at night, of sleeping on the desert floor afraid of being bitten by snakes and scorpions, of running out of food and water, of being robbed and abandoned by a Coyote, the one who was supposed to help them; a story of failure and fear, of despair and the dread of death.  He said that at one point he was sure that he would lose his little boy in the desert as that child began to dehydrate and fainted.  Jocelyn and Melvin were leaning on their father’s shoulders, one on each side of him, watching and listening.  I looked up from my task and said to Melvin, “Melvin, you are a very brave boy,” to which he said, “I’m not as brave as my sister.  She didn’t faint.”  He looked at his older sister across his father’s shoulders with adoring eyes and she looked down at the ground and blushed.  It was a tender, tender moment between two, a loving pair who had walked out into the desert and into life together in search of mercy and justice sustaining each other through love.  

 

When we left the care tent and said goodbye to Jocelyn, and Melvin and their father, two of us gave that father all the money we had on us which was not much.  They were not the only immigrants left at that care station, but we felt that with two little children he was the one most in need of help.  Silence fell over the small group of immigrants that was still there when we gave that father that money.  I sensed that they were holding their breath expecting that we might consider giving them some financial help as well.  As we left I looked straight ahead not being able to face the other immigrants for I could not help them in the same way.   But out of the corner of my eye I saw Jocelyn and Melvin’s father turn and share what little we had given him with the other immigrants.  And the silence was transformed into great joy, voices saying, “Gracias, hermano!  Gracias hermano!”  What a witness to those children; to Jocelyn and Melvin.  What a witness to us.   And I thought, “This is the sight and sound of the reign of God, of a world transformed by the enduring values of the love and the power of Christ Jesus.”  What we saw and experienced that day was such a simple thing.  But it was such a transforming thing!

 

I was reminded of the advice John Wesley himself gives us as Methodists.  He says very simply that we Methodists are those who pursue holiness of heart and life.  We Methodists are those who conform our lives inwardly and outwardly to the will of God.  We Methodists are a people of faith who seek to imitate Christ Jesus in all we do being a people of justice, mercy, and truth.  We Methodists are a people who know that simple truth that God’s love is universal, enough for everyone.  And we Methodists are a people who welcome God’s own love allowing it to fill our hearts and govern our lives.  (John Wesley’s Advice to a People Called Methodist, first paragraph)

 

Brothers and sisters, don’t get lost in this difficult moment in human history, and don’t lose the opportunity to give a clear witness to the good news of Christ Jesus.  Just keep it simple!  Be a people of faith, Christ’s own disciples sent forth out into this country and out into this world with God’s own authority and power that WILL bring healing and transformation to us all. 

 

 

 

 

 

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