Alison Fischer at St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Bakersfield, CA
July 30, 2016
Good morning, Church. Please be seated.
Fourteen years ago, in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, a seed of the Kingdom of Heaven was planted under a mango tree by a small group of teenagers who wanted to help the orphaned and abandoned children who were the most vulnerable victims of their impoverished conditions. One of these teenager was Wilfred Blair Rugumba. Wilfred and I are the same age, we are both nearing 32 and it is a privilege to call him a friend and former colleague. Wilfred’s discipleship and devotion to being God’s hands and feet inspires me because he boldly identifies needs in God’s kindom and figures out how to improve or solve the situation, all while leading people closer to Christ. In the slums, teenage Wilfred and his friends identified that these youths needed and deserved guidance and the investments of others so that they could have the opportunity to not only survive but perhaps, break out of the cycles of poverty. So they met under a mango tree and shared God’s love for the youths through action and word. Then it developed into actually taking these children into their home and raising them to the best of their capabilities, honoring that every human being deserves a safe and healthy living environment and the opportunity of an education. 14 years later, Wilfred and his friends are leading a thriving congregation called Light the World Church and Wilfred is the Director and Pastor of Mercy Childcare Ministries that serves the orphaned and abandoned children and impoverished families of Uganda. With only their mighty faiths and mustard seed sized resources, these young men and later their spouses honored their calls to serve as the hands and feet of Christ.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that is the smallest of all the seeds, then grows into the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree so that it can serve as a home and source of life for the birds. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.
I often wonder if we, as individuals and society, cause our faith and relationship with the Divine to be too complicated. We have a loving and gracious God who created every single one of us with a divine purpose for this life to experience and share joy, love, and compassion. We have a guide in the Holy Spirit who is our companion and champion and feeds us wisdom to lead our best lives. Then there is Jesus. Our Savior who came to this earth to teach us what we should value in this life and how to live it. And His teaching all boils down to a continual and embodied worship of our Holy Trinity through loving ourselves and each other with the same amount of love that we have for our Creator and Jesus. When we as individuals and society live righteously through loving our neighbor as ourselves and living in devotion to Jesus, that is when the Kingdom of Heaven is facilitated here on earth. Like the leavened bread, when we create a base of a perfect starter dough, or perhaps devotion to Christ, and create the right conditions, such as living justly, lovingly, and faithfully, then the chemistry that is beyond our control happens and we receive and are able to offer sustenance.
But we, in our human nature, have created a multitude of obstacles to keep our bread of life from rising, our mustard seeds from sprouting, and ourselves from experiencing the glory of a relationship with Christ and being Disciples of Christ for the world. How often do statements arise such as “A stronger or better person or Christian than me should be doing this.” “My sins are too great and I am not worthy” “I want to serve God, but another person is more talented, courageous, or intelligent than me and I should let them complete this task” or “I would like to strengthen my Discipleship, but I am weary of getting hurt or failing if I take a risk”.
It is important to realize that when these callings, needs, injustices, and inspirations are presented to us or placed on our hearts, that is the Holy Spirit identifying each of us to become active in the Kingdom of Heaven. These callings, needs, moments to rectify injustices, and inspirations for ministry, no matter how large or small the task, are God assuring us that even with our faults and limitations, our faith and devotion to Christ enables us to accomplish greatness beyond our comprehension to serve God’s Kingdom. Scripture assures us that we are God’s beloved, God is well pleased with us, and The Holy Trinity needs each of us to be out in the world to facilitate the Kingdom of Heaven right here on earth. Our relationships with the Divine enable obstacles, vulnerability, and failure to not only be tolerable but even to become moments of Glory as we are focused on Christ rather than our own ego.
The Story of Mercy Childcare Ministries and Wilfred Rugumba would be inspiring even if the success was one home for orphaned and abandoned children, but the Kingdom of Heaven had more needs for Mercy to meet and people to serve in Kampala. Today, Mercy Childcare Ministries is located in a piece of property that is known as Mercy Village and it cares for 220 children either in the village, sponsored in boarding schools, or sponsored in foster homes and it employs over 60 staff members. Recognizing that medical care is a human right rather than a privilege, they recently opened a medical center that is the only medical center to serve the thousands of people in their area. Mercy offers a savings, credit, and micro loans program to empower individuals out of poverty to prevent the disruption of families. Mercy Village now has 7 homes for the children that are led by loving house parents so that the residents may have a stable environment to allow an opportunity to thrive. The latest development is a church plant located in Mercy Village. One of my favorite aspects of the Mercy Ministries is that when a parent or guardian that abandoned a child in the past, returns for their children, Mercy mentors the family to empower them to turn their lives around so that there is opportunity for reconciliation and redemption, and this model has worked time and time again. Our society has a lot to learn from this Ugandan ministry. Thousands of lives have been saved and changed for the better because of a group of teenagers obeyed God’s call to gather under a mango tree. Now imagine if these young men had thought “Yes, but someone else is better for this task.”
We must remember the hard work that is required from our faith and commitment to discipleship. The leavened bread in your life is not going to rise if your life and actions do not follow Jesus’ teachings rather than the ways of the world or work hard to accomplish your goals. With faith, you pour everything into your relationship with Christ and it is necessary to build this relationship in the right way. Today’s parable teaches of a man that, with joy, sells all that he has to buy the treasure in the field or the pearl. We are called to rid ourselves of the past and secular life for Jesus. I love the pearl analogy because pearls are developed from irritants in the oyster. The irritants in our past and present lives create great opportunity for value and beauty when we admit we are powerless over them, give it to God. As today’s Epistle from Romans states, “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Life devoted to Christ, especially with the pearls that we are graciously given, must remain humble and aware of our commission to love our neighbors as ourselves. I urge you to not be too prideful with our Holy scriptures and think it is our responsibility to judge as to whom is the good and bad fish as stated in today’s Gospel. The judgement is for Christ and God’s alone. Our responsibility is to love and recognize that every person; no matter their gender, their race, their nationality, their social status, their health status, their sexuality, their political party, their income bracket, we are all one in Christ. He never said “I love all y’all, except them” and so we must not either. Our faith requires a continual commitment to honor the holiness in one another, to bring the Good News of Christ to all we encounter through our actions and words, to empower others to improve their lives, to be charitable, hospitable, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Because if we do not, and if we disrupt the Kingdom of Heaven by trying to sort the fish ourselves, then that is when the judgement day is to be feared. So let us focus on the being empowered by our mustard seeds sized faith situations, the bread we may offer, and life in Christ so that God’s work may develop the Kindom of Heaven on Earth. What is the opportunity underneath the mango tree in your life? Amen