Almost everything I have of value comes from Honduras.
Even my passport.
Yeah, when I lived there in 1994, I lost my passport in a crowded movie theater. I had to take a long trip to the capital city, get a passport photo at a small camera shop, find the U.S. Embassy, and get in a long line for a replacement.
In a real way Honduras itself was my passport to the life I now I have.
After all, not only did I meet the bishop who would train and ordain me, I met my wife. I even met St. James’s there in 1995 for the first time. The first people who knew we were pregnant was last year’s mission team.
It’s a powerful connection:
I met my wife, got ordained and even started talking about my child in a tiny Banana Republic – where most folks are so poor … you can’t even see them.
Yes, for me, and for many of us here now, the waters of the Holy Spirit run deep in Honduras.
This year’s team – like every year – was the best one yet. We bonded, we laughed, we sweated, we served God. I don’t know about everybody else, but to me, it felt like we were disciples.
It felt like – for a moment, for a week – because of Christ – we were one in body and soul. I wish you were there too.
But, you know, in a way, in Christ, you were.
We go to Honduras during the season of Epiphany, because the mission trip is meant to be an eye-opener for our people. Serendipitously, the name of our host site is a church school called Epiphany.
Well this year, I had my own epiphany, at Epiphany, during Epiphany.
I had been feverish that week, but this was not a hallucination.
My little vision was subtle. I felt as if only I were seeing it, but others did too. It made me felt elated, embarassed and humbled all at once. It was … powerful.
Here’s what happened.
We had finished our week of work at the Epiphany Episcopal Church and School in the small industrial city of Villa Nueva. Villa Nueva is a humble but appealing town. Imagine a Honduran version of Mayberry. It sits in the valley right below some mountains.
We’d been painting all week as local workmen put up the roof on some new classrooms built in memory of our very own David Butterworth.
For our last day, we were preparing for a big fiesta at the church school with dozens and dozens of people from the town. Before the food was ready – we all went on a long walk from the church school to the top of a little mountain above town. It was a parade, really, more than just a walk. A parade of Christians.
Try to imagine about a dozen Americans interspersed with dozens more Honduran, some children some adults, all walking up a steep hillside path. We were led by the local priest – Padre Francisco Peña.
As we climbed and climbed the cobbles gave out to dirt, and the dirt gave out to mud.
As we climbed and climbed, the houses got smaller and smaller.
We climbed into a world of mud huts, mangy dogs and naked children covered in filth.
Even the Hondurans we worked with rarely ventured up the hill to see the musty world of the poorest of the poor.
Together our parade of rich and humble Christians alike walked happily and songfully up a hill into something that you can only imagine. We went to a place where the people are so poor – you can’t even see them.
You can’t even see them, because you don’t want to see them. If you’re like me, you find yourself looking at the dogs, or the chickens, or the shacks, maybe even just the dirt on their faces, because to actually look at the children living on pennies a day – its just too hard.
Out of fear, I suppose, or maybe something darker, I have a very hard time really seeing the poorest of the poor.
But then, darn it, my buddy Francisco pointed to this little girl, maybe 15 pounds by age two, who was totally naked but for a loin cloth and covered in filth. Along with her older brother and two sisters, she was huddled in a little pile of dirt, watching us as we came into their little world.
Francisco walked right over to her, scooped her up, and said, “Look at her belly. Touch it. Look into her eyes.”
And, you know, I really didn’t want to.
I was even a little annoyed by his Francis of Assisi routine.
But then he did it – this priest gave me a passport to another kingdom.
He gave me eyes to see. He whispered to me, “Her belly is not big because she has eaten. It’s big because she never eats.”
He said, “Look – this is the face of Christ – look in her eyes.”
And I did.
I did look into them. And then I walked away.
But when I looked back — that little girl was still looking at me. With her brother and little sisters, naked, in a little pile of dirt on a mountain side in the poorest place I’ve ever been, she saw me.
And something froze in my mind. And then it clicked. And then it kind of welled-up inside of me.
I had seen the face of Christ – and it scared me. I saw Christ – and it pierced me.
The face of Christ made me look away. It made me walk away. It made me look at myself in a new way.
And now, whenever I think of my Lord Jesus, I see the eyes of that little girl, and that poor little flock of naked children.
And it made me feel like a disciple. Because, just like the disciples, when I saw the totally passionate face of Christ, I walked away in shame.
The Scriptures say that the Anointed One takes the weak out of the dust, and lifts the poor from the ashes. He will set them before princes. Scripture teaches that the members of the body who are weakest are most important of all.
If you take Scripture Seriously, then hear this: Jesus is with the poor. And they are his eyes.
We also are an important part of Christ’s body, my friends.
But don’t you wonder — which part are we?
Jesus tells us in today’s lessons.
The Gospel says he went to a small town in the middle of nowhere and told the hometown crowd gathered there: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, and sight to the blind.”
That’s powerful stuff. But where do we fit in?
Well, if Jesus is our Lord, and he is talking to us too – then who are we: the poor, the captive or the blind?
Well, we’re not the poor, and we’re not the prisoners, so who are we? If we’re the richest and freest people in history – then what’s left?
We must be … the blind.
And that seems about right, in fact, when you look at our culture today. A culture rich with everything, but the sight of God’s grace and God’s truth, and most of all, God’s poor.
For the sake of our souls, we must find our completion, our fulfillment, in the One Body of Christ.
But we are blind.
Where are our eyes?
Where is our passport to wholeness in the kingdom?
With the poor and the oppressed.
They don’t have much, but they bear Christ’s face, and they have the eyes we need to see what Jesus sees.