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1 Corinthians 1:3-9 • November 27, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Welcome to Advent brothers and sisters in Christ. Advent is the beginning of another church year. A word whose Latin roots literally mean “coming.” So often when we think about coming, we think about something that is going to happen – something in the future. We rarely think about something that has already happened or is happening. I challenge you to do just that this Advent. Don’t spend time longing for what is to come. Focus your attention this Advent on what has already come and what is already here.
Two weeks ago, I was working – and yes, even those who think I’m not capable of doing hard, labor intense work – I was in fact working. Working alongside a mission team of 13 from Good Shepherd and a handful of brothers and sisters in Christ from El Salvador.
We were excited to be in El Salvador, working on a project that God had called us to be part of. We couldn’t wait to get started!
On one hot and sunny day, my mission team brother in Christ Mark and I were given a new task. We were in the Gitsemane community of Los Buenos, El Salvador helping three families build new homes through Thrivent Financial for Lutherans’ Builds program and Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador. The homes that we built are extremely modest by our standards – the entire house would fit easily inside nearly every one of our living rooms. But they are miraculous homes of unimaginable size and beauty and safety to Salvadorian families who have lived most of their lives in homes with dirt floors and corrugated steel walls and roofs made from plastic sheeting.
Mark and I had work to do. Our task was to move several cement blocks using our hands and a wheelbarrow. We didn’t have to move too many blocks on this day, but that didn’t make the task any easier. Mark had moved several hundred of these blocks just a few days earlier. I saw how hard he worked that day and so I’ll admit that I was more that just a little reluctant to participate in this particular task. Reluctance aside, we grabbed our wheelbarrows and off we went to retrieve 40 pound cement blocks. We loaded seven blocks in our wheelbarrow and headed back to the job site – which for your information was up hill most of the way and on a road that isn’t much better than a section line in North Dakota. The first trip wasn’t too bad. One delivery done. I was actually feeling pretty good.
Off we went for a second trip – this time not quite as easy. Quite quickly, my attitude became negative. These blocks were getting heavy. What in the world were we doing? This is nuts. Doesn’t El Salvador know that there is a really cool machine called a Bobcat that would make moving these blocks much less pain inflicting on my body?
They call this mission work? Who in their right mind would call this anything but slave labor? I must have been nuts when I decided to come to this crazy country in the first place. As you can hopefully tell, I was getting frustrated and tired and ready to give up. All of a sudden, someone flew past me on my left like I was standing still. Someone who was carrying three of these incredibly heavy blocks on his shoulder and acting like it was no big deal. Someone who wasn’t whining or really even sweating that much given the intensity of this work.
Someone who’s name is Francisco. Francisco – a man nearly twice my age. A brother in Christ who strengthened me on that day and showed me how God was active in the life of this community through the important work we were doing in this little village. The home we were working on was for his family. The first home his family has ever lived in that will have floors made out of something other than dirt.
We were nearly two days into our work week when one of our translators took me aside and said that the masons and volunteers on the jobsites were wondering why devotions weren’t as part of the work day this week. They knew that 2 of us on our mission team were pastors.
I was so focused on the getting to work and getting as much work done as we could possibly do in the short time we had, that I completely forgot why I had felt called to travel to this little village in El Salvador in the first place.
So for the rest of the week, we stopped each day to gather for devotions. We shared a piece of scripture together – in English and Spanish. And then I would offer a short devotion with the help of our translator and an ELCA publication called Christ in Our Home. We’d close our devotion time with prayer for each other and our work together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
My focus had been to get as much work done as possible in order to bring hope to El Salvador through these new homes. My Salvadoran brothers and sisters in Christ taught me that our work was important, but they also taught me that it is even more important to celebrate how God is already present. How God is already active and at work in the world.
And when our week of work concluded, these brothers and sisters in Christ sent me home with a very special gift for being a pastor to them during the week. The stole I’m wearing today.
The images that you’ve been seeing are just some of the people and places where I’ve experience God’s presence and love in the past year. A love that is always with us. Right in front of us if we just stop long enough to listen and take a look.
A few months ago, my wife Wendy and I were blessed to walk the same streets and garden paths in Italy that Saint Francis of Assisi walked nearly 800 years ago.
So, as we begin another year in our life in Christ together as the church, I offer a blessing to each of us in the spirit of Saint Francis. May it strengthen us and remind us that Christ has come, that Christ is with us today, and that Christ will come again. The gift of God’s coming to us in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift we receive in Advent. Receive this blessing.
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that Christ may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.