David Vargas's presentation at Missionworks
Being in Cleveland, Ohio, this morning with a group of lay leaders and pastoral colleagues such as this, committed to be and to share the good news of Jesus Christ through the church's witness in and with the global community is not only a great joy and satisfaction for those of us in the leadership of Global Ministries, but more importantly it is a sign of life, hope and renewal in the mission and ministry of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Therefore, I thank God for this day that our God has made, and I hope that we all will rejoice in it.
This morning that our God has made, Jesus reminds us, once again, about the dangers, the challenges and God's demand on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, where one day a human being suddenly fell into the hands of robbers; and he was stripped of his clothes, beaten and left half dead.
Jesus also reminds us this morning about three other human beings who were going down the same road … on the same day
- the first one, a priest (a religious leader supposedly consecrated to God's service), saw the one who was assaulted, but passed by on the other side;
- the second one, who happened to be a Levite (an assistant to the priest), also saw the one who was laying down on the road, suffering from acute pain, … but also decided to move on and passed by on the other side;
- but a third human being who was traveling on the same road that day, and who happened to be a Samaritan (a person from another racial ethnic group, considered to be inferior by the Jewish dominant society), decided to stop on that road and take pity and care for the one who had been assaulted and almost murdered.
- It was that Samaritan, … a traveler on that road, who knows if undocumented or illegal, the only one who decided to take the risk of putting the wounded man on his own donkey, taking him to an inn, and paying the innkeeper to take care of him.
- And it was that Samaritan – probably the least expected of those other three travelers on that road – the only one who was a true neighbor to the one who fell into the hands of robbers; … the only one who had mercy on that human being.
My dear sisters and brothers, when in Global Ministries we speak these days about global mission and partnership as "acompañamiento" (that is, "being there in various forms and modes of presence"), we cannot avoid hearing Jesus asking us again the same question he asked the expert in the law two thousand years ago: "Who is the neighbor of the one who falls in the hand of robbers?"
Who is the true neighbor of those who are wounded and in need of healing today, …not only on the old and dusty road between Jericho and Jerusalem, but also on those other dangerous and challenging roads we find in our world
- Where pastors and lay leaders, churches and ecumenical organizations are engaged in ministries in the midst of fear and hopelessness, where people are desperate for meaning?
- Who is the neighbor of those who, belonging to the same human family as we, are experiencing in 2008 acute brokenness in their lives, in their families, in their communities, and even in their church?
- Who is the neighbor of those who are being oppressed by military dictatorships and of those who are victims of the war and turmoil that is destroying God's children in the Sudan, in Colombia, in Burma (Myanmar), in Israel/Palestine, in Iraq, in Georgia, and in many other places these days?
- Who is the neighbor of our own Christian family – the body of Christ – who is witnessing faithfully these days in places where Christianity is not part of the dominant culture:… in Nepal, in North Korea, in China, throughout the Middle East, in India, and in many other places where our Christian faith is the minority faith?
- Who is the neighbor of the poor, marginalized, hungry, the thirsty, those who are in prison, the victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and mudslides; and of those who are HIV positive, who are living with AIDS, or suffering from many other contagious diseases?
- Who is the neighbor of the children and youth who are being exploited, prostituted, or who are the victims of drug trafficking and addiction?
For almost three decades, the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ have maintained and treasured a partnership with the Lutheran Church in El Salvador in Central America. During the years of civil war in that country, especially after the assassination of Monsignor Oscar Romero, Bishop Medardo Gómez , the leader of that sister church, risked his life on several occasions while devoting his ministry to serve the widows, the orphans, the elderly and other victims of that horrible strife. He was not only an inspiration for us, but we also considered him one of the saints of our times.
In one of his visits to our offices in Indianapolis during those years of war, I had the opportunity to interview him for one of the advocacy videos we were preparing those days as part of our educational initiatives for peace. During that interview, I asked Bishop Gómez the following question: As you reflect on your ministry and the relationship of the Lutheran Church with the churches and church organizations in the United States, what does the term "solidarity" really means for you these days? As a colleague in the pastoral ministry, can you tell me what true "solidaridad" is?
Bishop Gómez' response was very simple. First, he made a reference to the Apostle Paul's description of the body of Christ and the interrelation between all members of the body (1Cor. 12:12-31). In his response, he emphasized Paul affirmation that "there should not be divisions in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers," he quoted, "every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
To conclude his response, then Bishop Gómez looked in my eyes and said:
"David, I have the feeling these days that sometimes you – the churches in the United States – do not feel our pain in El Salvador as it were your pain. You may know about our pain and the statistics related to our suffering, but I am not sure that you feel that pain and suffering as if it were yours. And according to the Apostle Paul, you are supposed to feel it. There is no other alternative if it is true that we belong to the same body."
My dear friends and MissionWorks family, … being that neighbor for God's people and creation at the point of deepest need is what Global Ministries is all about.
And having the courage to walk down that road where people are hurting physically, emotionally, spiritually and economically, is the greatest challenge the we face, as Disciples and UCC, who (as we claim) are committed …
"to a shared life in Christ and to an ecumenical global sharing of resources and a prophetic vision of a just, sustainable and peaceful world order, joining with God's concern for the poor and the oppressed."
To have the courage of not only walking down that road where many refuse to walk (even church entities), but more importantly, the courage to stop,
- the courage to experience the pain of those who have been beaten on that dangerous road,
- the courage to advocate for those whose human dignity is being destroyed, and
- the courage to participate in the healing of their wounds …
is the Critical Presence vocation that our God, our stubborn God, insists to invite each of us to affirm in our church's testimony as we move outside of our temples and outside of our nation to engage in mission in the global community, … especially on those scary and uncomfortable roads where people, God's children and God's creation, continue to be assaulted and wounded, not just between Jericho and Jerusalem, but in so many other places of this planet.
And that's what true "acompañamiento," partnership and solidarity entail. Just that, friends. Just that!
David A. Vargas
October 4, 2008