Open Our Hearts to God
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we give thanks for your watching over our missionaries as they recently traveled to Bear Creek, South Dakota and San Pedro Sula, Honduras and safely returned to us with a greater understanding of your love. Reaching out to our fellow Christians, wherever they may live, Honduras, South Dakota or Church Hill, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural differences, we have witnessed how mission work opens our hearts, bringing to the forefront your love, giving us strength and courage to make a difference in this tumultuous and mixed up world.
Lord, unlock our hearts and help us follow in your footsteps as loving Christians and Doers of the Word. Amen.
Today is obviously amateur preaching Sunday. And, if its blasphemous to put a securities salesman in the pulpit, don’t blame me God. It was Sue Eaves idea.
The parish has sponsored recent mission trips to the Lakota Sioux Reservation, the 3rd Bear Creek trip, and a 4th mission trip to Our Little Roses in San Pedro Sula, and the on-going Sharon’s House restoration on Church Hill.
Our teenage missionaries represented our parish beautifully, doing God work by sponsoring a Bible School for the Lakota Sioux children and taking on maintenance projects at Bear Creek. We all can be so very proud of our young missionaries.
Twelve missionaries visited San Pedro Sula. We had worship every morning at Our Little Roses. At mid-morning, we painted the girls’ bedrooms and baths, and in the late afternoon and early evening, we would be with the girls with loads of activities. We had a joint Eucharist one evening and prepared a Virginia barbecue dinner which was inhaled by the Little Roses and missionaries alike.
We spent Sunday morning at the Episcopal Cathedral, our last full day in Honduras, and after church, as a group of 70, we went to the local Pizza Hut for lunch. After lunch, we went back to Our Little Roses for trick or treat fun, dishing out candy to the girls, and then lots of hugs and kisses as we said goodbye We sat around the hotel pool that late Sunday afternoon, physically and emotionally exhausted, and participated in a brief worship service reflecting upon the week. Overwhelmingly, the missionaries expressed how the trip had changes their lives.
Let’s explore how mission trips change lives, but first a few thoughts about Luke’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel, the wealthy farmer had more material wealth than he needed and decided to build larger barns to store even greater amounts of earthy assets. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against material wealth. But God was really upset with this farmer, and urgently said to him, “you fool, this night your soul is required, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
The farmer hoarded material wealth, but I suspect the main reason he incurred the wrath of God was that he shared little of himself with his neighbors and possibly his loved ones.
Grains, stocks, and bonds store very well, and allow for the accumulation of wealth.
Love and caring for our neighbor do not store at all. And every day we deny our neighbor, we deny ourselves.
If you will, there are two sources of wealth. One that comes from the accumulation of assets and another from giving of yourself. Paradoxically, one source of wealth comes mostly from taking and the other only from giving.
Emotional or spiritual wealth compliments the well worn statement often echoed by Doers of the Word: “I received much more than I gave.” Whether cooking for CARITAS or Freedom House, volunteering at the Children’s Center or Christian endeavors by so many St. Jamesers, when we give a little, we receive in abundance. So it is true with mission work.
We all know people who seemingly have received the good gifts of life including health, family, and security, but they hardly share emotionally with anyone.
How many times do we neglect to share our love with our neighbors like the wealthy farmer who reaped the wrath of God? How can we open or unlock our hearts to the love of Christ and follow in his footsteps?
Many of us go through life, sitting on the screened-in porch, with a deadbolt on the front door and a latch on the porch door. We exchange pleasantries with passerby neighbors walking down the street, and speak imminently with our friends sitting with us. But when the going gets tough out on the street, or on the porch, we dash for the front door, slam the deadbolt shut and hide from our neighbors and even loved ones.
Yes, you are looking at a porch sitter. But, please believe me, you can’t sit on the porch during a mission trip.
In December of 1996, Odilia Alverado came to our parish from San Pedro Sula to study English at Virginia Commonwealth University. When she first arrived, we met a young 18 year old, who was despondent, scared, and suffering from a lack of self- confidence. She wore her hair over her eyes to hide from us. At first, she would lock herself in her bedroom for hours at a time and participate as little as possible in family life.
As a side note, I remember one conversation at dinner with Hillary, Odilia and our son, Kyle. Kyle questioned the existence of God. Odilia put her fork down, looked at me with disbelief and said: “Freddie, Freddie: How can Kyle not believe in God. He has been given so much!”
Odilia’s self-confidence gradually improved during her six month visit with us. And now she is fluent in English, and a beautiful, vibrant young lady.
With a very modest income from working at Our Little Roses, Odilia lives in a little home with Bessie, another Little Rose, gives money to her needy mother, and shares whatever she has, unlike our wealthy farmer friend.
She hosted a generous party for the mission team at her lovely home and gave Hillary and me a wooden salad bowl with these words inscribed on the bottom: “Love to my Family West. Odilia.” Clearly, Odilia is wealthy in the spirit of Christ.
Do we have to go on a mission trip to feel a closeness to God – no. But mission work is about working side by side with Christ, in uncomfortable surroundings with no place to run and no place to hide. Mission participation opens our hearts, breaking
through the barriers we have so cleverly constructed in our lives. When our hearts are wide open and our defense mechanisms left in Richmond, we are candidates for life altering experiences.
When our hearts are spontaneously opened in an outdoor Honduras Cathedral watching a disadvantaged child pray reverently to God, a child who from our standards has little to be thankful for, our hearts are unlocked and we experience a closeness to Christ.
When Sue Eaves celebrated the Eucharist in the courtyard of Our Little Roses and the beautiful, peaceful Honduran children gathered around her, one could feel a closeness to Christ.
When Odilia Alverado, holding an HIV-positive infant in her arms, told Hillary that she loves us and we are her family, one could feel the closeness to Christ.
When a new Little Rose, just four days at the home, named Abrigail, sat next to me at the Pizza Hut for lunch, and later I learned that this apparent 3 year old is actually 6 years of age but suffers from malnutrition from living near a trash heap and forced by her mother to beg for food, one could feel a closeness to Christ.
When one missionary shared her innermost feelings with the group about how she misses her deceased mother, and said our love is a substitute for her mother’s love, one could feel a closeness to Christ.
The abundance of love and fellowship among St. Jamesers continues to amaze me. If you will, St. James’s has only one mission team and all of us are missionaries.
We send envoys to Honduras, South Dakota and Church Hill to represent the entire parish, including you. One mission is simply to do God’s work by sharing with our neighbor. And, in doing so, we abundantly receive more than we give. Mission work helps us to unlock our hearts, open the screen door, reach out to our neighbors and walk side by side with Christ, rejoicing and celebrating this life in His name. Amen.