Mission Experience And Prayer: 2 Stories

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EXPERIENCING PRAYER — MISSION EXPERIENCE _AS_ PRAYER

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT: COMMUNION MEDITATION — WHY ARE WE WAITING?

“That God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths”
— Isaiah 2:3

WHAT CAN WE DO WHILE WE WAIT?

Pray that the church will be a bridge as borders are closing — borders
between and among nations and borders of the mind; pray that our fear,
which keep us from connecting as companions, may be allayed; pray for
health and healing for people in our congregation, community, and the
wider world.

[This meditation thus far, and some of what follows, comes from the UCC
Calendar of Prayer.]

DO WE WAIT FOR A ‘GOD UP THERE’ TO MAKE THINGS BETTER, OR CAN OUR OWN
GOD-NESS GO TO WORK?

Prayer, even in the face of overwhelming fears about present and future,
can be liberating not just for others for whom we pray, but for ourselves.
Sometimes the God within us needs to be experienced. That experience also
is a form of prayer. That seems to have been what Jesus taught: he not
only spoke about the transforming power of God’s kingdom, he exhibited it
himself as he grew in wisdom and stature and in the favor of God and of
those who began to understand who he was.

If Jesus was fully human, as our faith in its richest expression
affirms, then we await the re-birth in our lives — for the second, third,
or umpteenth ‘coming’] — of the kind of growth we see in all the stories
of Jesus’ experiencing of the full range of humanity. Prayer rekindles our
hope of being fully human, “all that we can be.”

At heart, I’ve never totally left my original impulse to do youth
ministry (which almost always means working not only with young people but
with their parents, their families and their friends). I have always
sympathized with youth who in school are taught to look at the world
through the lens of critical thinking. They may not know they are doing
critical thinking, but they learn to ask questions about things they’re
told or things they see — can this be true? How can what I’ve just heard
(or read, or seen) possibly be true? If it’s true for someone else, must
it also then be true for me?

Imagine what it must mean for someone to give to the poor without ever
experiencing poverty. Imagine how hard it must be for many youth and even
adults to feel truly “family” among people who are obviously very
different. Imagine the difference between acknowledging in school or
church that the whole world is family, using words alone to express
something we’re all expected to believe … and actually bridging those
perceived differences by “connecting as companions” — in real time, in
the real world — with others.

For me, that’s worth experiencing because the bottom line of Jesus’
teaching is not found in what he said but in what he did; in how he lived:
an itinerant, homeless, global-family-celebrating, life of love. Did he do
it because he thought he had to? Or because, through prayer and growth, he
really wanted to? This is the kind of question youth seem willing to
wrestle with. This morning I’d like to celebrate that, using the message
the UCC shares with us this coming Saturday, December 4, in the Calendar
of Prayer.

Looking for a transforming experience, two teenagers from Original
Congregational UCC in Wrentham, Massachusetts, went to Honduras. Their UCC
Conference helped them help a Heifer Project there. Judy Doane and Rose
Becker, with 17 other youth and four adults, spent ten days seeing not
only the real effects of extreme poverty, but feeling a warm welcome from
the Honduran people.

The warmth in the welcome came from much more than seeing poverty at a
level that’s hard to imagine. It came from visiting a Heifer project that
provides work and income, on a small scale, to ordinary citizens hit the
hardest by macro-economics, which is all the rage in international
planning, it seems. Judy and Rose saw for themselves what a gift of bees,
through Heifer, could mean in a real situation. They also visited families
who had received cows purchased by people like themselves — here in a
world far removed from Honduras — through Heifer.

Judy and Rose could see for themselves the satisfaction some people
found in doing meaningful work with the help of “family members” they’d
never known in the far-away United States. They could see how this
contrasted with a situation even the friends Judy and Rose had briefly
left behind in America could hardly imagine.

And so Judy and Rose and the others — like hundreds of youth in many
church denominations — came home wondering if they had really changed
through their experience. More prayer helped them decide they could
themselves become ambassadors, here, for Heifer International.

What that meant for them was mounting successful fund-raising campaigns
in churches. What it might mean for others might be something different —
but the prayers that made these teens ready for a trip to far-flung family
made them continue in prayer about how to forge connections for others. We
cannot all travel in physical fact, but we can travel in the mind and
heart.

– – –

Sometimes new family members come here and the same thing happens. After
living in Egypt as refuees from oppression and murder in the Sudan,
Nyanjut Ajang, her husband Joseph Kuot and their daughter Victoria were
welcomed by St. Paul’s UCC, Westminster, Maryland. Their lives were
transformed — but so were the lives of the people in that church. Said
one UCC couple in that church:

>”We have a family from south Sudan, living, worshiping, eating,
shopping, and laughing with us. What does this say about our being God’s
children? How does that speak to our fears about those ‘different’ from
us? We’re not sure who’s teaching whom, but that’s part of the miracle
that came from two leaps of faith — one by a family from the Sudan and
one by a congregation from Westminster.”

– – –

As we celebrate the first Sunday in Advent 2004, we find ourselves at a
table with the Spirit-enabled Jesus, with Judy, Rose, Nyanjut, Joseph and
Victoria, and with people we never knew and never will know but who all
are, with us, in the family of God. We know that because the man who
opened windows for us onto the kingdom of God made the journey into that
God-reality just as we can and just as we do. We celebrate a kingdom that
sometimes for us is but dimly seen but which is here in ways we can learn
to comprehend; here in more ways than without the mind and spirit of Jesus
would seem impossible to believe. We are here with people who, as children
of God, don’t yet know who they really are, and to whom we would be
ambassadors. We thank God for the gift for whom once again we wait,
praying, experiencing, and growing.

AMEN.