"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes re-ran a piece on a group of EMT's who traveled to Pakistan after the earthquake to give basic aid and medical care to the victims there. It was an amazing story. These are people who were all but abandoned -- in part because of the sheer scope of the tragedy. In this one, beautiful and devastated valley, these New Yorkers were the only aid workers helping these people deal with sometimes severe injuries and illness.
One of the EMTs commented that one of the byproducts of their presence was that they were "inoculating the entire valley" against radical Islamist groups who would try to convince them that all Americans were evil. These people and their children -- and probably their children's children -- would tell the stories of how when their lives were devastated, this group of Americans came to help. At least for these people, our nation would be equated with care, healing and even humor -- all because of this group of people who took it on themselves to look beyond themselves and lend a hand.
We can't answer why we live in a world where things like the earthquake and tsunami, Katrina and Rita, HIV/AIDS and guinea worm, are permitted to happen. But we do know that every tragedy, every brokenness, is an opportunity for God's grace to break through -- if we will be its willing and joyful bearers.
The story came back to me as I was reading this morning's Daily Office Gospel. It's the story of the healing of the blind man in John 9. Jesus is walking and sees a man blind from birth, and his disciples ask him "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
And Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with the spit, put it on the man's eyes, told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam -- and when the did, he came back able to see.
Sometimes sin and brokenness just is. We don't understand it. We try to blame it on someone (usually someone else) ... and while there are times where the culprit can be named, sometimes it can't. And even when the culprit can be found, that doesn't necessarily help the victim. The disciples asked the wrong question. They didn't say "how can we bring healing to this man?" They said, "Whose fault is it?" It was Jesus who put them on the right track -- both by his words and his actions.
The point is not "whose fault is it" -- the point is are we using every opportunity, every occasion of deep brokenness, to bring the healing power of Christ. The power that literally gives sight to the blind.
This story is a charge to us. Jesus didn't say "I must work the works of him who sent me" he said "WE must." We are the Body of Christ -- and as long as we are in the world, we are the light of the world -- "the true light that is coming into the world" shines through us.
As for the formerly blind man, he was "inoculated" the same way the EMTs hope the people in that valley in Kashmir have been. The Pharisees came to him and tried to tell him that Jesus was a bad man because he had healed him on the Sabbath. They asked the man what he said about Jesus, and he only had this to say:
"He is a prophet."
Part of how I stay centered in my priesthood in a job that doesn't necessarily have to be done by a priest is by praying through the examination and vows of my ordination each morning. As I did that this morning, these words jumped out at me:
"All baptized people are called to make Christ known as Savior and Lord, and to share in the renewing of his world."
In this Gospel story, Jesus didn't lecture to the man about who he was -- he met him where he was, loved him and healed ." him. That "made him known as Savior and Lord" ... and the man certainly got the message. As St. Francis said, "preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary."
There was a certain amount of controversy at General Convention and since about the Millennium Development Goals being our #1 mission priority. Some say it's replacing our primary call to spread the Gospel with a set of secular goals. Some say it's replacing Jesus and Paul with Jeffrey Sachs and Bono. It's nothing of the kind.
What the MDGs give us is an opportunity to do as Christ did and to live as Christ yearns. To meet tragedy and brokenness where it is and to bear the unique healing presence of the divine to it. Just as he used mud and spit to make a miracle, we are to use what we have -- the abundance that already exists on this planet .. the superabundance and overprivilege we for whatever reason we in this country have ... to heal those who have not.
In identifying the greatest material brokenness that exists in the world today, the MDGs present to us the same opportunity the blind man did for Christ -- an opportunity for God's works to be revealed in the world. And if we resist the temptation of the disciples to spend our energy throwing blame. And if we resist the temptation of the Pharisees to spend our energy deciding who is in and who is out based on legalistic formulas. If we resist these things and throw ourselves joyfully and with great abandon into the job of getting face-to-face with those in greatest need and watching the healing power of Christ emerge, the Gospel will be spread and take root in ways more powerful than any tract can provide.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."