Nicaragua Sunday – 10/18/15

Call to Worship: (Find a volunteer who would like to read)

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.”

ONE: Lord make us instruments of your peace

MANY: Where there is hatred let us sow love

ONE:  Where there is injury, pardon

MANY: Where there is doubt, faith

ONE: Where there is despair, hope

MANY: Where there is darkness, light

ONE: Where there is sadness, joy

MANY:  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console

ONE: To be understood as to understand

MANY: To be loved as to love

ONE: For it is in giving that we receive

MANY: It is in pardoning that we are pardoned

ALL: It is in dying that we are born to eternal life

 

Invocation Prayer:  Katie Obiedzinski  (written by Erin Lade & Katie Obiedzinski)

Let us pray:

Loving God, as we reflect on our time in Nicaragua, we are filled with gratitude for the loving hearts we witnessed.  We ask that you continue to shine your light on the leaders, staff, teachers, and students who work with our partners in Nicaragua.  Guide them as they work together to live lives of love and connection.  We ask, too, that you open our hearts to love as they love, to love as you love.  Amen

Opening Scripture: Carol Angle

Romans 12:4-7: For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them!

 

Sermon: (Each reader should introduce yourself)

Brantley Dean:

Can you briefly introduce the context for your journal?  Maybe give context for the group journal process in general, also give context for the hike?

 

“Why do I like coming to Nicaragua? Looking across the morning’s view I remembered.  Not only the gorgeous landscape, but the social world it encompassed.  But I also know that view could make anything gorgeous-closer in those lives seem hard-basic, even barely housing, no guarantee of running water, poverty.  I know I shouldn’t think this-but that’s why I like coming here, the gap between my lifestyles.  Is it weird that I’m slightly envious?  Yes, probably.  Because the same forces that make my life feel frantic and non-stop have also impoverished these lives-unchecked capitalism U.S. policy-except I get to enjoy the spoils (even if ambivalently like eating an entire bag of jelly beans in one sitting-in the end (it makes) you feel gross).  I think I like coming here because the folks who walked away from these spoils-or who have chosen to share them-gives me hope-for myself too.”

Kate Hein:

On Monday morning rode to the Jubilee House Community, where Christ Church delegations had stayed for the prior four years. Jubilee House is an intentional community, formerly from North Carolina, that moved to Nicaragua 20 years ago to help desperately poor people recover from the effects of a disastrous hurricane.  We sat in a circle and listened as Becca, one of the community members, described the ongoing Jubilee House development work in agriculture and health care.

 

“At the Jubilee House clinic, Becca described some items and services they needed just “fell into their hands”, like a portable ultrasound.  The timing was uncanny. I wondered was it just a coincidence? Or a God thing?  What is the likelihood that I would visit the Jubilee House to see my college’s name and find out that they funded the first doctor at the clinic?  Or that I would find out upon my return that my freshman year roommate discovered her life’s calling visiting the Jubilee House during our junior year?  When I got home, I reached out to Amber, to express my gratitude for her service and dedication, now knowing what it takes to make this commitment and knowing I could not do the same.  Thirty years later, she continues on her life’s work and I am so proud of her and the many role models we met in Nicaragua who do the same.  These are selfless women (mostly) who have dedicated their lives to serving others in need.  It’s just so impressive and their sacrifice, leadership, and commitment go so largely unrecognized.  Today we celebrate those around us who give selflessly.”

Philippians 4:8 Finally beloved, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if anything is excellence or worthy of praise, think about these things.

Emma Hein:

On Tuesday we made our first of two visits to Inhijambia, the outreach program for street children.  At the Phase One building we met four adolescent boys who had moved up through the Inhijambia program to become peer counselors. These young men were thoughtful and articulate. Each one introduced himself and shared his story. They all said that of the many gifts they had received from Inhijambia, the greatest one was simple kindness.

 

“Today we met four boys at Inhijambia, Kevin, Bayardo, Zekieve and Felix.  This was the first time they had opened up and told their personal life stories.  The amount of courage it must have taken those boys to speak about their lives to a group of strangers is incredible.  Seeing how young they were and dealing with addictions and gangs, made me feel for them, cry for them, for we are the same age and there was an instant connection.  I feel lucky and grateful for the love and support I have at home, especially both my parents that love me unconditionally and so do much for my well-being.  I thank God for being where I am and hope more boys can go through this program to feel the same as me.  For feeling lost can only last until you have the courage to ask for help.”

Sue Buffum:

Inhijambia staff members then escorted us to the place where many of the street children had come from: Managua’s enormous and infamous covered market. Inside the market, our first stop was a public library where  Inhijambia gives literacy lessons to street people.  About 20 literacy students were gathered there to greet us. Their appearance shocked us.

“I have had the privilege to travel all over the world and visited many lesser developed countries- Thailand, China, Vietnam, Bolivia, India-but I realize now that it was mainly as a tourist.  I visited local markets in every country but none had the same impact as the market in Managua.  When we walked into the library I was initially quite warmed by the applause we received. As I looked at the distorted faces, the splotches of bald spots on some heads, the dirty bodies and sullen eyes I was overcome with a feeling of nausea.  It was just too powerful a picture.  And when I shook some of their hands I was truly upset with myself that my first reaction was that I wished I had my hand sanitizer. What kind of person am I that my reaction is so self-centered? These people truly have nothing and I am so privileged.  They could clap and show joy, which at least made me smile. I could feel God’s love was present.  There truly were some light hearted moments, like when I observed a woman in the market wearing a Spring Lake 5K tee shirt.  Good chance it came on a Peaceworks container.  I must try a lot harder to show compassion and empathy and share more than just the financial resources with which I have been blessed.”

Matthew 25 ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Erin Lade:

The eco-hotel supports an education and therapy program for local children with disabilities. On Wednesday we visited the program, which was called Los Pipitos. In a small, attractive building that had been renovated in 2014 with funds from Christ Church, we met the teacher, the physical therapist, and the children themselves. Most of these children had either cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.

 

“I had no idea what to expect when we got off the plane last Saturday having the least experience with the trip.  I felt optimistic-about the idea I could make differences in the lives of the people here who were struggling.  Passing the absolutely devastating poverty and experiencing the past couple of days, I realized how naïve my aspirations were.  Today, seeing Los Pipitos, I had the same feeling of helplessness in the big picture.  Despite the awesome efforts of the very hard working teachers and therapists, I wanted to give the kids all the help they deserved.  I played soccer with Hernando, and I wished he had the equipment that could give him the ability to support himself.  I wanted to have the adorable little baby to have somewhere safe to nap in.  Then I started to draw with Valerie and I began to see a connection between us through Art.  Most of the kids couldn’t understand my Spanish, but being able to draw with them and smile at their drawings helped to form a relationship, in my opinion, that was deeper than verbal communication.  Valerie smiled as she showed me a picture she drew of me, braid and all.  When I too drew a portrait of her, princess crown and all, the smile on her face was so bright.  I had been learning this the entire trip, but I think this is when I realized that just a smile on a kid’s face was helping in the big picture.  There’s always more we can do, but sharing our happiness is a good start.

Katie Obiedzinski:  Within minutes of entering Los Pipitos, a boy named Eliaso ran up to us with a toy camera in his hands. Eliaso didn’t know who we were or why we were at his school but that didn’t matter.  We were there and we were there to play with him.  Throughout the staff’s presentation, the boy in the blue shirt with a great big smile went from person to person taking ”pictures.” He’d disappear every now and then, usually returning with a new treasure in his hands to show us- a xylophone, a ball.  After the presentation I looked for this happy boy and found him playing with blocks.  With his boundless energy the block play didn’t last long-he was soon off to play with a basketball. Bouncing, throwing, and kicking - it didn’t matter that we weren’t speaking the same language, it only mattered that we were there together.  We played the same game over and over-uno, dos, tres, arriba! and I’m not sure whose smile was bigger.  The same happened with Jorge, an 18 year old whose eyes sparkled when he smiled.  Again we connected with a basketball- the same one Eliaso left behind when his eyes spotted something new - dribbling the ball over and over.  We didn’t have to talk; we just shared that ball, smiles, and lots of high-fives. I won’t forget these special boys, just as I won’t forget Leo at the horse farm, the boy with the tattoos at the market library; I felt the same spark at Los Pipitos today.  These connections have changed me and they won’t be forgotten for a long long time. They are with me at home, in my classroom, everywhere. And a basketball?  I won’t be looking at a basketball the same way again.

Jay Lawson:  (Read by Caroline)

We spent Thursday morning in the town of Masaya, visiting a women’s empowerment program called Axayacatl. The leaders of the program welcomed us and we learned that domestic violence is common, and that the laws against it are not always enforced. We learned that for desperate women victims of violence, the best helpers are other women who have escaped an abuser and can lead by example.

This is a journal entry by Jay Lawson:

The hospitality (of the women at Axayactl) was more than gracious.  It was time to leave, but there was this one question I just had to ask.  During the entire presentation, mounted on the wall, she stared at me with a wry whimsical smile…there was no question she was a witch.  She was clearly on her way up.  Mounted on her broom, she headed for the sky.  I sensed the answer to my question, I wanted to hear it for myself. “So tell me about the witch.” Our hosts smiled and shared that in their advocacy for endangered women they had been called “witches” by their opponents.  Witches are to be reckoned with. They decided to wear the mantle.  In an extremely odd way, that was a Jesus thing to do.  And we are called to be like this counter cultural Jesus, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to follow him.  It is the only effective strategy that ultimately offers hope, justice, and life to all! …The Gospel is not just counter-cultural, it enters into culture, identifies with culture, and through the cross, redeems culture.  After all, culture is one of God’s best intentions.  And so our “Witches” they identify with the poor, the disadvantaged, the imperiled, those lost on the very edges of society.  They reach out hoping to grab a hand before it plunges into despair.

 

Mike Obiedzinski:

After a morning of learning about domestic violence, we had a relaxing midday meal at a thatch-roofed restaurant high above a beautiful, unspoiled crater lake.

 

While eating lunch overlooking the Crater Lake, I heard playing John Lennon’s beautiful anthem of peace.  The song, “Imagine.” And imagine I did.  I imagined a world of peace, with no hurt. A world where human life is valued as the miracle it is.  Imagining a day when women’s suffering in Nicaragua is eliminated.  A day when they no longer live in fear, or are driven to suicide as the only escape.  Well, that day will come.  Not tomorrow, not next year, maybe not even in our generation. But the momentum has begun thanks to the Axayacatl organization.  Through their grass roots effort they are empowering these women to stand up for themselves against abuse.  They are educating them and teaching them to be financially and socially self sufficient.  The women are learning the basic skills of agriculture, raising live stock and legal representation.  The basic skills to function independently, but within the woman’s cooperative support structure.  Today we witnessed Christ Church in action.  We saw the fruits of our donations, efforts, and support.  Our community, from miles away is literally helping to save women’s lives through the Axayacatl organization.  This is news to me. But for Christ Church this has been a journey.  One to be proud of.  One that must continue!  So although I’ll always imagine, I’ll never stop praying.  Through God’s grace Ill pray that these women find peace in their lives and in their hearts.  And as John Lennon sang, “We will someday live as one.”

Hebrews 11:1 – “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

 

Katie Lade:

 

On Friday we went back to Inhijambia, this time to their Phase Two day program for girls. The girls had prepared an elaborate welcome for us, with demonstrations of crafts, singing, and traditional folk dancing. Then Mirna Sanchez, the program director, led us to a quiet, private meeting room that had been constructed with funds from Christ Church. One by one, the girls of Phase Two entered the room, sat down beside Mirna, and told us the heartbreaking stories of their former lives as street children. Mirna explained that for the girls this was a form of therapy: telling their past was a way of owning it.

 

As my departure drew closer, I asked myself, “Why was I travelling to an impoverished country with strangers where you risk malaria and contaminated water?”  What concerned me most, however, was my inability to speak or understand Spanish.  This trip was definitely out of my comfort zone.  But I quickly realized, as the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words.  Our mere presence at the various organizations showed our concern and love for others.  I didn’t need to be fluent in Spanish, a simple smile, hug, and respects were good enough.  On Monday when we visited Jubilee House I was drawn to the quotes and remarks scribbled on the outside wall.  One said, “Do everything you can, and then do more.” This quote has guided me throughout this journey.  And I leave asking myself, Can I do more?  Each day has left a permanent mark on my mind and on my heart.  However, the visit yesterday to Inhijambia has scarred me for life.  The pain and suffering those young girls endured is sickening and unbelievable.  It broke my heart.  I thank God for Mama Mirna and pray that she and her selfless staff have the strength they need to continue their mission of reaching for the moon.  I leave here with a greater awareness of the suffering many of the most vulnerable go through.  I am thankful for new friends and for the work of Christ Church.

Dan Ocone:  I first travelled to Nicaragua with a PeaceWorks delegation 5 years ago and I thought I would come away revolted and depressed by the poverty I would witness.  This did not happen. To the contrary, I felt inspired. This trip was the same. Yes, we witnessed many painful situations. But the organizations we visited are run and staffed by Nicaraguans, who, though they themselves are poor by our standards, devote their energies and resources to improving the lives of their worse-off neighbors.  I imagine I am more grateful for the opportunity to aid and be inspired by them, than they are for my modest help! Our partners all make a real difference in many lives. Conditions in Nicaragua have improved since my last visit, and I am only optimistic for the future of the country.  Thank you for the time we shared together, the love, and laughter, and new friends.  We pray we keep in mind our experiences as we go forward in life.  May they keep us aware of our global community.

1 Corinthians 13:13

And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity.

 

Benediction: Marilyn Devroye

Let us pray:

May there be peace within

May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be

May you not forget the infinite possibilities of faith

May you use these gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given you

May you be content

Let this presence settle into your bones

And allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love!  Amen

 

 

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Sermons & Presentations

Once, when Jesus was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, An Altar in the World, tells a story about a time when she was guest preaching at an Episcopal church in the south. She arrives early to check out the sanctuary & get settled in. She immediately noticed that behind the altar there was a striking mural of the resurrected Jesus, stepping out of the tomb. After greeting a member of the altar guild, a manicured and proper southern lady, Barbara walks up behind the altar to get a closer look at the mural. She says that Jesus looked “as limber as a ballet dancer with his arms raised in blessing…except for the white cloth swaddling his waist, Jesus was naked. His skin was the color of a pink rose. His limbs were flooded with light.”
Barbara felt protective over Jesus with so much skin showing, he is all exposed in such a public place. She recognized the beauty in this painting that in Jesus' moment of transcendence, he remained human, he came back wearing skin. But then she also quickly noticed that something was missing, the wounds in his hands and feet were apparent – though not grotesque. His arms were thin but strong, but then staring at his underarms, she noticed - that Jesus had no body hair! “Beautiful, isn't it?” asked the woman who was polishing the silver. “It surely is that,” Barbara said, “ but did you ever notice that he has no body hair? He has the underarms of a six-year-old and his chest is a smooth as a peach.” And the woman shrank in awkwardness. “Uh, no, um, wow…” she said.

This may or may not have sent me on a Google hunt to find a picture of a hairy Jesus, but alas, in the collective Christian imagination, Jesus is really into hygiene. Seriously though in a majority of these portraits, Jesus skin is silky and “rosey” and white and “hair free.”

And this perfectly manicured Jesus is problematic especially when I imagine Jesus in our gospel reading today. First of all - let's get something straight up front, Jesus was not fair-skinned, which is another sermon for another day. Second of all Jesus most certainly did not have access to spa treatments, sunscreen, or a personal trainer. I mean seriously though it looks like he baths in milk and does mint julep masks every day! And yes, Jesus was crucified, but he looked damn good doing it! The reality is that Jesus was a poor drifter teacher who trudged around in dirt and grim and touched lepers. And who knows, Jesus may have even been uglier or fatter or shorter or grey-haired or balding than our perfect-bodied Jesus! Why would that be such a scandal?

It would be a scandal - because we are generally uncomfortable with our own bodies – we decided to manicure Jesus' body and make it perfect to make us feel a little more at ease about the imperfections and struggles in our own bodies.

So Jesus' messy body – with smelly feet and bad breath and hunger and pain and a couple grey hairs – one day in his travels encounters a man who's body is covered in leprosy. And the man's frail and weak body covered with open wounds throws himself on the dirt ground at Jesus' feet in desperation. And Jesus heals him and restores him to his community. And I need Jesus to have a messy, real body in this scene. Because imagining the rosy pink flesh that is unblemished and perfect touching the broken body of the leper with open wounds just doesn't do it for me. “Rosey-skinned”

And perfect bodied Jesus doesn't fit in this story for two reasons:

1) Jesus' body certainly stands in contrast to our leper friend. The leper's flesh is rotting and open to infection, while Jesus' skin is shiny and new. If Jesus' body in our cultural imagination is perfect, unblemished, without warts or bad breath or hangnails, then we can hold his body at a bit of a distance. And the reverse is also true, Jesus can hold our bodies at a bit of a distance – and he would hold the body of a man with leprosy at a distance.

2) Leprosy is contagious, physically and socially – by touching this man, Jesus risks, pain, brokenness, loss of feeling, loss of limb, being socially ostracized. So when Jesus' body touches this leper – he risks being contaminated with this curse – this social and physical death. He puts his body on the line. And to top it off Jesus risks his own religious authority – if he contracts leprosy, everyone will think that it is his fault- that he deserves this suffering because he has sinned.

And so rosey-skinned-unblemished-no-body-hair-Jesus just doesn't do it for me in this scene. He is too ethereal, too perfect to risk touching a leper. The rosey-skinned Jesus has a special body and he can stand apart from us – he doesn't really get what it's like to be human. The Jesus with body hair, he is on our team, he is vulnerable, he touches lepers. He has skin in the game. He is moved with pity to touch a man who is untouchable.

But here is where the rubber hits the road, (START SLIDESHOW) just like the portrait of Jesus' perfect body we idealize the perfect human body now more than ever, and our relationships with our bodies are so complicated and loaded that we often cope by ignoring our bodies until they scream at us for attention.

Think about the struggles that land in our bodies: Struggles in our sex lives, with body image, with our relationship to food, our ability to balance rest and work, our relationship with other people's bodies, bodies that don't fit quite so easily into nice categories. We have an insidious cultural habit of demeaning and objectifying bodies in order to sell perfume. And don't get me wrong the Christian church has been the worst, trying to control our sexuality, and creating negative images of our bodies to suppress and oppress certain people with shame.

All of these complications and struggles divorce us from our bodies. Like the leper our bodies are fraught with illness – we are the most addicted, overweight, prescribed adult cohort in human history. These sacred vessels created in God's image are at risk of being subsumed by the quest for the “perfect body.” This dichotomy between our own body and the perfect body - divorce us from our bodies – suppress the beauty that we already are for some ideal or we ignore our bodies because they are loaded with shame

So here's the deal – This leper story is a story about isolation. This man is divorced from his own body, and kicked out of his religious, social and familial support system to battle this disease alone. And to top it off he is isolated from God, in their cultural context, this disease is proof that he has sinned before God and is therefore paying penance for his sins in suffering. So this man is left utterly isolated.

Jesus' miracle here is that he restores this man to his own body. When you have leprosy you lose sensation – you lose your connection to your nerves, which can eventually cause loss of limb. And so when Jesus heals him – he now is restored to his own body. This man is also restored unto his community, and they can now begin tending to the wounds of his soul from the pain of social isolation.

Like the leper we need Jesus to restore us to our own bodies and to restore us to authentic communities that can help us heal.

Why are people cast out in our society because of their bodies? Maybe they are too fat, too thin, too old or too young. Maybe they happen to love the “wrong body.” People are isolated because they are differently-abled, or their bodies carry the weight of illness or chronic struggles. We carry shame around in our bodies, not just eating disorders and a distorted idea of what “healthy” bodies look like but the general feeling that we are unaware of our bodies and our connection to God through them.

When we affirm Jesus' imperfect skin, we also need to affirm our own sacred skin. How does our culture try to divorce us from our own bodies? How do we lose touch with the sacred goodness of each unique body that is created in God's image, with one uniform and oppressive definition of “healthy” and “beautiful?”

Here me now when I say, “you are a person of beauty and worth, created in God's image.” How does that mantra change us? How can we develop rituals to remind ourselves of the sacred connection of our bodies and souls and minds? What does cherishing and affirming your body look like for you? Is it a yoga practice or a sport? A good bath, a long walk? Is it a nap or a morning routine?

Jesus says, “This is my body – broken for you”

Jesus body was broken

Our bodies are broken

And yet we celebrate them today as a place of sacredness – that God calls “GOOD.”

A beautiful miraculous gift – these things that we walk around in

These bodies that heal and breathe and walk and sing and dance

These bodies are our spiritual homes

May we gather in communion today with this mantra

“I am a person of beauty and worth – created in God's image”

And may that mantra heal us and draw us into communion with God and each other.

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