Saturday, May 25, 2013

Finishing Their Work

It's Memorial Day weekend. The practice, who those who don't know, began in the aftermath of the Civil War in the south with something called "Decoration Day". Those who remembered the death of their loved ones in the war began going to cemeteries and decorating the graves of the lost. Over time the practice spread, and eventually it became tradition not just to decorate the graves of soldiers, but to commemorate anyone you loved who has gone to their "great reward".

My uncle, for example, will go to the grave of my grandfather this weekend. My grandfather is a vet. He fought in WWII. Was at the battle of the bulge as a 17 year old kid. But that's not why my Uncle goes. Every year on Memorial Day he leaves a golf ball on the grave. It's a simple tribute, but for a son who spent hours and hours with his Dad on the golf course, it's appropriate. It's a tribute to a great dad.

Tomorrow, in Gettysburg, there will once again be a memorial service at the national cemetery at which President Lincoln spoke so eloquently during it's consecration. Two minutes the Gettysburg Address lasted. Lincoln thought it was a failure and the words would be lost to obscurity.

How many of you had to memorize it when you were in school? I know I did. Probably the most famous two minute speech ever given.

The words are captivating, I think, because the Great Experiment - democracy - of which Lincoln spoke is still not that old. Certainly it's grown since the Civil War, but we need to remember that for the nations of the world at the time, democracy was odd... even threatening. Most of the nations of Europe at the time were still monarchies in one form or another, and they ruled most of the world as colonies. Colonies that had the same say in their governance the American Colonies had with Britain before the Revolutionary War. Democracies were the things of rebels and rabble-rousers. And I'm sure that many at the time wondered whether or not the cost of the Civil War was really worth it.

58,000 men had died at Gettysburg, and many, many others had been wounded at that battle. The townspeople from the area had to bury all the bodies. It was their backs that had dug the graves, and their hands who had cared for the wounded. It was those people who listened to Lincoln's speech that day, and all as the war raged on.

Lincoln's declaration, his address, was that the cost of the battle for the cause at hand was both dear and necessary. So dear and so necessary that it was worth further sacrifice of time, energy, money, and blood. Blood Lincoln himself would ultimately have to shed as part of the cost. And we keep teaching the Gettysburg Address to our children, because in the 150 years since Lincoln uttered those words more time, energy, and money have been spent. More blood has been spilled and more graves have been dug. We don't want our children to forget it, and we want to remind them that maybe, someday, it will be their turn to carry this Grand Experiment forward themselves.

Our nation isn't perfect. Our intentions haven't always been purely nobel. Such is the reality of democracy. It's a human institution practiced by humans. That's why we have elections. If the last bunch did things we didn't agree with, if they turned out to be bums, we vote in a new bunch. It's not perfect, but given the alternatives I think we can all agree that even with all it's flaws, democracy has been, and will be, worth the cost. That's the idea we want to pass down to our children. This idea that has become the way we govern cost something. It's been consecrated with blood. Care for it as a trust, and never forget what has been sacrificed so that you might have the chance, one day, to be entrusted with it's care.

The book of Hebrews is different than the other Epistles. Nobody really knows who wrote it. Authorship wasn't really ascribed to Paul until the 4th century, and while the translators of the King James Bible continue this tradition, it's writing style, grammar, and even subject matter is unlike anything else Paul wrote. Some people think one of Paul's students wrote it. Others have thought it might have been Priscilla, the woman Paul speaks of who raised Timothy to the faith. If, in fact a woman wrote Hebrews, afraid of the scandal of female teaching in a patriarchal world, it was all the more reason scholars speculate the early church buried the authorship. In the end, it might have been Paul, or it might not have been Paul.

But most scholars agree that the purpose of Hebrews was "encouragement". Encouragement to early Christians who were being persecuted, even slaughtered, and beginning to wonder if in the delay of the return of their Messiah, Jesus - which they had been promised was immanent - wasn't a delay, but rather a sign. A sign that he wasn't who others had been saying he was. Hebrews is a letter to people asking the questions, "Is our continued faith in Jesus worth the price?"

Much of Hebrews is a reminder of all of those who have suffered so that the faith could be carried down through the ages to us. Of course the author spends a lot of time talking about the gift of Jesus, the gift of his blood. But the author also speaks of Abel who dies at the hands of his brother because of the sacrifice he makes to the Lord. Of Enoch, the only man we are given account of who God takes without tasting death because of his faithfulness. The author speaks of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He mentions Rahab, the prostitute at Jericho who risked her life so sneak the spies of Israel into the city. He lists judges like Gideon, kings like David, and prophets like Samuel. People of high and low places who when their moment came, their moment of truth, did what they had to in order to keep the faith alive.

And what a faith it is!

A faith which aspires to the last being first. A faith which ascribes the highest moral order to a person giving up his or her life for their friends, and defining friend as anyone who was created by God. A faith that calls us to serve the least of these, and overcome hatred with love. It's a faith that often puts us at odds with the ways of this world. The way the world is organized and managed and ordered. It's a faith that isn't afraid to speak out to presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, generals, or dictators. Industrialists, bankers, stock brokers, or venture capitalists. The professional or totally unskilled. The sober and drunk. The wife and her child, and the widow and the orphan. Nobody is exempt from the demands of it. It's a faith which asked:

Do you love what Jesus loves?
Do you love who Jesus loves?
Do you love like Jesus loves?

A faith that aspires to restore what we believe was intended in the first place: a world where we hold one another and all that the Lord has created for us, in trust, with care and responsible stewardship. A world where justice isn't arbitrary, but fixed on something so deep it's at the foundation of everything created. A world where that justice is tempered with mercy, and we judge others slowly remembering we aren't God. A world where God is present. A comforter. A provider.

It is this faith, Hebrews tells us, that has been handed to us by Jesus, but has been intended for all since the beginning of the world. A faith that calls us to struggle against the sin of death and disease. Against those who seek to take advantage and wreak havoc upon others, particularly the innocent and those who can't protect themselves. A world where hearts seek to do the will of Jesus first.

Love. Love. Love.

And so in chapter 12, to those losing heart, losing faith, we are introduced to a new concept. In animistic religions both then and now, people engage in the practice of elder worship. That being the idea that those who have gone before us, now in some form shape our way forward now. Some elders in these traditions are agents on our behalf. Others are out to get us.

Hebrews though gives us another view of those who have gone before us. They are a part of the "great cloud of witnesses" who have already passed down the baton of this great race of faith, who now stand along the course of the race we now run, rooting us on. Figures of hope. Figures who carried the faith of love and grace down to us.

"We made it. So can you. We knew in part, but now we know fully. This reward is yours also. Don't give up. Come join us. Not just as one who is here solely by grace, but as one who helped carry that grace to others."

These are those who have helped carry the faith of love and grace to others. Some you've read about. Some you know. Some handed that grace to you, hand to hand.

I typed out this sermon on a MacBook that belongs to the church. It's a fancy shmancy machine that's probably more computer than I'll ever need. It's one of many laptop computers I've had over the years. Too many for me to remember, really.

But I still remember my first. It was manufactured by a company called Ultra and it had Windows 386 and some version of DOS loaded on it. That's so old that now Windows just uses one number - currently 8 and nobody uses DOS anymore. It had a black and white screen, and it came with one of the first mobile printers. It didn't have an ethernet port or was wifi capable because the internet was something we only heard about in the movie War Games.

(Remember that movie? Matthew Broderick, pre Ferris Bueller, as a teenage hacker who hacked into a defense computer that threatened to blow up the world with nuclear missiles? Kids, that was back during the Cold War and Berlin Wall, both of which you can read about it in your history books.)

It was the first laptop I had ever seen and it cost $3000 back in 1991, which adjusted for inflation is just over $5000 now. $5k for a laptop computer. Can you imagine? And there I was, a snot nosed kid toting around for what was at least a couple of years the only lap top anybody ever saw on the campus of the seminary where I was student. Not even the professors had one.

And all because my grandmother bought it for me. She thought I needed it to be the best seminary student, and eventually the best pastor I could be.

She took her turn carrying grace. Now she's in that great cloud of witnesses.

She's standing there with her grandfather, who - after her father, before his drinking days were up temporarily abandoned his family to life of booze and pool on the road - stepped into her life and brought stability and love. A grandfather so close she called him "Dad". It was he who she called out to on her deathbed earlier this year. The one who helped her know that she was coming home.

He took his turn carrying grace. Now he's in that great cloud of witnesses.

He's standing there with her. He and the drunk, my great-grandfather Po-Po, who came home, started going to this new thing called Alcoholics Anonymous so he could be a father and husband. An old drunk who found grace, and then sponsored countless others to learn how to live responsible lives in the world by following one simple rule: Don't drink.

He took his turn carrying grace. A drunken sinner. Now he's in that great cloud of witnesses.

Helen Dornette, a retired school-teacher, never married, who inherited a large sum money, but never saw fit to spend it. She invested it, plus that which she saved herself, and at the end of her life started giving it away. Some she gave to me in the form of a scholarship that enabled me to carry that insanely expensive lap top around that seminary campus.

She took her turn carrying grace.

There are so many for me... my paternal grandmother. Carol. Sherman and Henrietta. Joe and Weezy Myers. The Hersheys. Helen and Pat Price. Stan and Betty Weller. E Larry Moles. Dr. and Mrs. Flickenger. The Connors and the Reeves. Fred Blosser. So many others....

I'll bet you now some of those faces along the side of the road. Witnesses who carried the faith in grace and love, and helped hand it down to you. Maybe you need a moment, remember, and give thanks.

It is they, these good people, who line the course which ends at the foot of a cross. Cheering you on. Their cause... his cause... is worth the sacrifice. Today, we remember them. Tomorrow, let us finish their work, carrying the faith of grace and love so that one day we too will stand, cheer on those whose day is still yet to come.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How Can You Support our Haiti Ministry in 2013-14? Well, Glad You Asked! Here's How....

Have had a few inquires online as to how people can support our Haiti ministry. Thought I'd reproduce the information sheet we gave the congregation this morning that breaks down cost, and give folks some idea what they might want to contribute to and at what amount.

First, let me describe the opportunities:

Victory Christian Church Primary School (K-5) Tuition and Fees
On the average there are about 120 children enrolled at our sister congregation's primary school. There is state provided education in Haiti, but 1) it is not universally available to all children and 2) it very competitive to get into. A child who has the opportunity to get a primary education not only becomes literate (which is good no matter where you live) but has a fighting chance to get into a secondary school where they can continue their education. There have been a number of kids during our association with VCC (led by Pastor Marius and Pastor Maccine) who have been able to make the leap to a secondary education, and some of those to college. The school provides on average about 10-15% of it's own financing (families pay what they can), but without our partnership, the vast majority of children could not afford to be enrolled by the their parents. Education gives a parent, a child, a church, and a community hope. We like being in the "hope business". Here is the breakdown of cost:

Education and fees:
- $0.48 day/ $2.60 week/ $9.60 month/ $86.40 year - PER STUDENT
- $57.50 day/ $288 week/ $1,150 month/ $10,350 - 120 STUDENTS

Victory Christian Church Primary School Lunch Program
For the past ten years, Community UMC has providing a warm lunch to every student three out of every five days of the school week. The lunch usually consists of rice and beans, bread and something to drink. For many children these are the only meals they can count on receiving each week. Led by long-time CommUMC member and a true champion of the children of VCC, Flora DeVoe, this year we are seeking the necessary support to feed all VCC students every school day. The cost includes not only the food, but the cooks who are paid to prepare the meal and properly clean the plates/utensils, and cooking fuel. Here is the breakdown of cost for a daily lunch, all five days of the week:

- $0.36 day/ $1.80 week/ $7.20 month/ $64.80 year - PER STUDENT
- $43.20 day/ $216 week/ $864 month / $7,776 year - 120 STUDENTS

Labrauyer Medical Clinic (Living Hope Mission)
The village of Labruyer is about 20 miles from CapHaitien, but the journey to get there take about 90 minutes. A hub for trade (they have one of the largest rural market days in all of Northern Haiti), Labruyer is a service center for the villages and farms that surround it for miles. The Labrauyer Medical Clinic is a ministry of Labrauyer Christian Church, which has been led by Pastor Doleon since the late 1980's. The clinic, which is was started with Pastor Doleon by a nurse from Nebraska, lost it's primary forms of funding when that nurse retired, and returned to the United States. Now, partnering with our friends, Wilbert and Meg Merzilus of Living Hope Mission, the clinic - which now employs a bright young Haitian physician Dr. Odrigue Norestine -  is seeking to re-open the clinic five days a week. The clinic which addresses all issues related to basic health care is held in such high regard that the Haitian Ministry of Health funds a vaccination program for children through LMC to serve the community. Our medical professionals were able to see Dr. Norestine at work, and are all immensely impressed. Here's our proposal of support for the clinic:

LMC Staffing, Overhead and Medication Cost
- Partial Underwrite of One Average Office Visit (including meds): $2.50
- 20 Patients Per One Typical Day: $50/ per week: $250/ per month: $1,000/ $12,000 per year

Living Hope Mission Water Ministry
Our friends at Living Hope Mission are working with many committed servants (including our own Don Knepper) to host teams 6-10 times a year who do nothing but repair broken water well pumps. Nothing improves the health of a community faster or more effectively than clean water. With each pump serving hundreds - sometimes even thousands - of people, a broken pump forces people to walk further to find a source of clean water, or choose instead to pull water out of an area stream or river. With water-born illnesses, like Typhoid and Cholera, still very much a danger in Haiti (particularly to children and elderly) and other water ministries focused on digging new wells, Living Hope Mission has found an opportunity to improve the live of Haitians by repairing existing wells that have been broken. With a goal of $100,000, this new well pump repair ministry will be able to buy containers of well-parts, as well as equipment and transportation, to repair wells all over Northern Haiti. Here's the breakdown of cost:

Water Ministry
- Average cost to repair one pump: $250
- Two pumps: $500
- Four pumps: $1000

Ministerial Support
Pastors in Haiti work hard. Long hours for uncertain pay. You can help us support a pastor and in turn, the continued sharing of Christ's Gospel of love in Haiti by helping a church fund their salary:

Pastor's Salary Partial Underwriting:
- $150 per month
- $1,800 per year

Got all that? Also, you can make an undesignated gift and trust us to use your gift for Haiti wisely. Follow these simple steps to make a one time donation:

1) Review the options listed above.
2) Choose the amount you'd like to donate.
3) Click the "Donate" button above
4) Enter the amount you would like to donate.
5) Send an email to Cathy Dempsey ( who does all of our posting, with your name and address (so we can send you a statement - all gifts are tax deductible) detailing how you'd like to direct your donation. If you have no preference, simply just email us your name and address. If you aren't interested also in a statement, don't bother email us if you don't want to.

For a donation that repeats monthly or quarterly, simply call us at 419 991 4806 or email Cathy, and we can make arrangements to send envelopes or arrange e-withdraws.

Community UMC takes no "administrative fees". 100% (after the 2.7% fee PayPal takes) of all directed funds will go directly to the school or mission of your choosing. Undesignated funds not used to meet the needs of the work listed above will be used for things like shipping donated medications, school supplies, customs costs, and other needs which arise only in relation to our Haiti mission work. No funds will be used for Community UMC general fund expenses or other endeavors.

If you don't like the idea of giving PayPal or don't like using e-commerce, feel free to drop off or mail a check to our main office at our Shawnee Campus:

Community UMC
2600 Zurmehly Rd.
Lima OH  45806

Make all checks out to Community UMC, and put in the check memo in what ministry you'd like your donation direction (if you have no preference, enter "Haiti Undesignated").  If you have any questions, feel free to contact the church office via the email address above, or by phone at 419 991 4806 ex.111.