Just Do It
By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel
GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE
FROM GOD OUR FATHER
AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, AMEN.
When I was going through two weeks worth of mail this week, I came upon the newsletter of the St. Paul Area Synod. St. Paul has just become a sister synod of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala and is offering a study seminar to Central America this summer. The group plan to meet with the Lutheran bishop in Guatemala and see the work being done in La Isla, a very impoverished part of Guatemala City. We saw where La Isla was when we were down for our mission trip, but did not get to go there and see our Lutheran work.
The seminar is also going to El Salvador to study the ministry of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was gunned down in his cathedral while saying mass, March 24th, 1980. As we have heard from Pastor John, Romero was considered a quiet intellectual who many believed would never upset the power structure of El Salvador; the rich and powerful were pleased by his election. When he began to oppose the oligarchs and speak out on behalf of the oppressed he encountered opposition. When priests and nuns were tortured and murdered, the quiet archbishop became bold in speaking out against the government. He even wrote to President Jimmy Carter asking him to stop sending hundreds of millions of dollars to the military regime. After his death, he is remembered and honored as one who gave his life for his people, a prophet and a martyr in our own day.
It is clear from our Gospel today that the work of God’s people is to do God’s work. Jesus described His own ministry to the Pharisees who came to Him:
“I am casting out demons
and performing cures today and tomorrow
and on the third day I finish my work.
Yet today, tomorrow and on the next day
I must be on my way,
because it is impossible for a prophet
to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”
This is Jesus’ fourth passion prediction that he must go to Jerusalem to die. His end is death on a cross but His life’s work is healing and helping people. The Pharisees were often Jesus’ opponents but here they come to warn him about the intention of Herod Antipas, the king who was plotting to kill Jesus. It is no stretch to see Herod and the powers and principalities of all the years as one in opposition to the Word of God and the work of God. It has been ever thus that the when God is active, Satan is also at work; it has always been that the powers of this world will oppose God. As St. Paul wrote in our second lesson,
“For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ;
I have often told you of them,
and now I tell you even with tears.
Their end is destruction;
their god is the belly;
and their glory is in their shame;
their minds are set on earthly things.”
The devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and promised that if Jesus would worship him Jesus would possess them all:
“To you I will give their glory and all this authority;
for it has been given over to me
and I will give it to anyone I please.
If you then, will worship me,
it will all be yours.”
“Worship the Lord your God
and serve only Him.”
From the prophets persecuted and killed in Jerusalem to Jesus, the Son of God who was crucified and rejected, to witnesses through the centuries to Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, God’s work has been opposed and God’s messengers killed.
As Lutherans, we like to recall one of our own who spoke God’s Word knowing full well where it would lead, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He had a teaching job at Union Seminary in New York but returned to Germany in 1939. He opposed Hitler and was executed by direct order of the Fuehrer in the last days of the war, just before the Flossenburg Concentration Camp was liberated by the Americans. Hitler knew he had come to his own end but would not allow Dietrich Bonhoeffer to survive him.
It is interesting to speculate what would have become of someone like Bonhoeffer had he not been killed. He wrote of a religionless Christianity, a Christianity come of age that would have moved out of the church buildings and inherited traditions to become something new in the daily life of the German people. Instead after the war things pretty much returned to what they had always been and the churches grew emptier and emptier.
At our text study this week, one of the pastors commented how George Barna, the sociologist of religion, has written about the end of congregations as we know them and how the future of the church may be small house churches, gatherings of highly committed people who pray for one another and challenge one another in their Christian life.
For two weeks our mission group met—eight people—and we prayed for each other and shared our faith, sometimes we added a couple of Guatemala people to our group. Alfonso came and played his guitar and sang beautifully for us. One evening, Niko came and motioned us to join hands. He prayed a long and fervent prayer. I didn’t know many of the words he said, except Señor, Lord, but it was enough to pray with him to commend ourselves to the Lord’s care.
In Central America there has been a mass movement to Evangelical churches and away from the Roman Catholicism that has been dominant for five hundred years. It has been suggested that at least one fourth to one half of the people of Guatemala are now Evangelical or Pentecostal Christian.
In Chicoman, a small village above the Oasis, the orphanage where we worked, there is a little Church of God. My how those people could sing—it sounded like a fiesta every night! To a good American Protestant, the pastors seemed undereducated, the theology simplistic, the ritual impoverished. But instead of the gilded altars and towering domes of the colonial churches, these little churches were filled with people. People were praying and praising and believing that God was active in their daily lives.
In Zapote, the Alliance church was starting a day care and after school program, feeding children nutritious meals and training their mothers how to better rear their boys and girls. Fathers have turned from drink, stopped beating their wives and children, started working two and three jobs and have begun to build homes, solid homes, one cement block at a time. The children were going to school. They are proud of their new stoves with chimneys so that the smoke from the open fires no longer fills their houses or their babies fall into the flames.
It was easy for me to raise an eyebrow at their theology or question the enthusiasm of some of the evangelical missionaries but these people were working to help and to heal and save. Lives were being changed, people healed, demons cast out, Jesus’ work in the world today. Men and women come to know Jesus as their Savior and personal Lord and turning their hearts and minds and lives to Him find purpose in this life and will inherit eternal life.
America is not Guatemala. It is not so easy for us to form small groups who will pray together and study together and even suffer together. But we can do God’s work here. We can volunteer and help, we can study and learn; Bible studies are great small groups. We can worship and praise God. We can pray for those who don’t know Jesus, whose belly is their God and who glory in shame. We can invite people to church, lend an ear to listen, care and name the reason—our faith in Jesus Christ. We can stand in solidarity with the poor both here at home and abroad and see in the least of people, those who are family in Christ. We can ask ourselves—and don’t let this become a cliché—what would Jesus have me do in whatever situation I find myself. What would Jesus do?
My brothers and sisters here in Eugene, along with my sisters and brothers in Central America, all those who believe in the Lord Jesus, who love Him and serve Him, stand firm in the Lord. Amen.
Copyright 2007 James D. Kegel. Used by permission.